IIT-Madras in caste row as Asst Prof Vipin Veetil quits citing discrimination

Economics Dept faculty member says he will pursue ‘appropriate action’; resignation letter goes viral as social media recalls past controversies at institute

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There have been allegations of caste discrimination by students of IIT Madras — particularly hostel residents — in the past, too.

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-Madras), one of the nation’s premier educational institutions, faced allegations of caste discrimination on Friday with the resignation of an economics faculty member.

Assistant Professor Vipin P Veetil, in his resignation letter, alleged ‘multiple instances’ of caste discrimination at the Chennai institute, and the letter shortly went viral. IIT-M has been a caste row hotspot for many years now. There have been allegations of discrimination by students — particularly hostel residents — in the past.

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The discrimination happened at the hands of ‘individuals in position of power irrespective of their claimed political affiliation and gender’, said Veetil. The institute neither denied nor confirmed the events, according to media reports. It said all matters of student and employee grievances would be attended to promptly, per the prescribed process.

Veetil’s allegations

In his letter, Veetil said he had been facing discrimination ever since he joined the faculty, in March 2019. “There were multiple specific instances of discrimination and I shall be pursuing appropriate actions to address the matter,” he said.

Vipin P Veetil, Assistant Professor of Economics at IIT-Madras. Pic: https://www.iitm.ac.in/

“One of the curious phenomena I’ve observed at the institute is that the Bayesian prior among many is that caste discrimination is rare occurrence. My own experience and conversations with members of SC and OBC communities suggest that the Bayesian prior is far from true,” he added. “Societies progress one small step at a time, or do they?”

(‘Bayesian’ refers to statistical methods based on Bayes’ theorem, which assigns probabilities to events based on experience or best guesses before experimentation and data collection.)

Also read: How female deities helped foster caste violence in TN

In his letter, Veetil suggested that the institute constitute a committee to examine the experience of SC and OBC faculty members. Such a panel should comprise SC/ST commission, OBC commission and psychologists, he suggested.

According to the IIT-M website, Veetil is a post-doctoral faculty member in the Department of Economics. He completed his schooling in China and bachelor’s in economics at Hindu College, Delhi University. He earned his PhD from George Mason University in the US.

Previous controversies

On the morning of Thursday, July 2, a 22-year-old engineer was found dead inside the IIT-M campus. Preliminary investigations said the man, who worked as a project assistant, died by suicide.

Related news: Engineer found dead on IIT Madras campus, police suspect suicide

“The man has been identified as Unnikrishnan. He was on a project at IIT-Madras. He has left a note saying he was unable to cope with work,” a police official said.

In December 2019, IIT-Madras faced protests from Dalit members residing in neighbouring Velachery as it allegedly closed a gate that had allowed the locality’s residents to freely enter the campus. Land for the campus had been acquired decades ago from the ancestors of the Dalit community members under certain conditions, it is alleged.

In 2018, a controversy had erupted as Dalit students of IIT-M  said untouchability was practised in the hostel canteen, where separate entrances, exits and wash areas were instituted for vegetarian and non-vegetarian students.

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