Vipin P Veetil, a teacher at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras who resigned in July alleging caste bias, has written a letter to the Union education minister for a fair probe and suggested that a high-ranking faculty member at the prestigious centre should temporarily step down.
“The Head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-M must step down for a fair investigation into the issue of caste discrimination," Veetil’s letter to Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.
Veetil, 36, was a faculty member of the same department till he resigned alleging caste bias after a two-and-a-half-year stint.
News18.com has seen a copy of the letter, which was sent by Veetil on August 27, 2021.
Veetil, an Other Backward Classes (OBC) member, told News18.com that he received a reply from the education ministry, but did not make public the content of that response.
In an email to News18.com, IIT-M said it does not allow discrimination of any kind. The IIT has set up a three-member committee to look into the allegations by Veetil, and a probe is underway, the institute said.
According to Veetil, he wrote two letters — on August 5 and August 16 — to the administration, stressing that Jyotirmay Tripathy, who heads the department of humanities and social sciences, should “temporarily step down" conforming with the “due process" during the investigation.
“The Director of IIT Madras has not responded to either of my letters,” he wrote to the minister, and made the same allegation in his conversation with News18.com over the phone.
“Once we get in, we have to get up, and if we do get up, we are told to get out,” he told News18.com. He added his appointment happened under the general category.
“I did not see the reason to avail this provision of reserved category because I had a good qualification background,” he said.
Veetil studied in Europe on an Erasmus Mundus postgraduate scholarship at age of 22. He finished his PhD in economics from George Mason University, Virginia and is also a postdoctoral fellow from Sorbonne University in Paris.
The controversy began in May when he wrote a letter to all faculty members at the humanities and social sciences department, alleging discrimination against him.
Veetil alleged inherent casteism in the day-to-day functioning of his department, said he was not allowed to teach a course because of his caste, and demanded a proper grievance redress mechanism. In his complaint to the institute’s internal grievance committee, he named four faculty members, including Tripathy.
“I am glad that you have mentioned my name, though unsure how the future will unfold,” Tripathy wrote back on May 14, a couple of days after Veetil shot off his letter.
Veetil told the education minister through his letter that such “threats capture not only the psyche of Tripathy himself, but more generally, reflect the hostile environment for non-Brahmin individuals within the Department”.
“Tripathy should be considered for positions of power only after the ongoing investigation of the internal grievance committee and that of the National Commission for Other Backward Classes is complete.”
On May 5, 2021, he filed a complaint with the commission, which sought a response from IIT-M.
“As the Head of the Department, he (Tripathy) is in a position to tamper with evidence pertaining to the ongoing investigation."
“The faculty members interviewed by the (probe) committee depend on the Head of the Department for promotions, research grants, and access to resources,” Veetil said in the letter to the Central government.
The administration or the director should have considered Tripathy’s removal to ensure a fair probe, as his presence “sends the wrong signal” — or maybe it is “the right signal” to convey that those in power are protected, Veetil wrote to the education ministry.
His letter said such oversights could have been avoided. “Unfortunately, such oversights are not oversights at all. They are features, not bugs,” the letter added.
The letter said “affirmative action must be implemented at the higher levels of administration including that of the Board of Governors and Heads of Departments".
“One positive step in this direction would be for the next Director of IIT Madras to be from the Schedule Castes, Scheduled Tribes, or Other Backward Classes."
IIT-M responded to a query by News18.com on Veetil’s grievances over the in-house probe.
“IIT Madras does not permit discrimination of any kind including religious or caste discrimination," it said in an email. There are grievance redressal mechanisms in place for students as well as employees, and the process is initiated promptly when a complaint is received," the institute said.
On Veetil’s case, IIT-M said: “In this instant case too, as soon as a complaint was received, a committee has been constituted to look into it. The committee members, as always, do not include anyone connected with the complainant or the department/individuals against whom the grievance is lodged. The committee is enquiring into the matter and is expected to submit its report shortly.”
Veetil told the minister he shot off three letters to the IIT-M administration flagging his concerns on caste discrimination last year as well.
And on March 17, 2021, he had a conversation with the dean-academic courses and mentioned that he “was not allotted a new course because of my caste", according to Veetil.
Later, he took the matter up with the dean-administration and all faculty members of the humanities and social sciences department. He demanded the constitution of “a committee to study the question of caste discrimination within the department".
In his letter to the education ministry, he said: “The monopoly of one caste over major decision-making positions must end if we are to become an open society, a society where science can flourish.”