New Delhi: The mothers of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi, who had allegedly committed suicide following alleged caste-based discrimination, have moved the Supreme Court seeking to end such bias in universities and other higher education institutions across the country.
While Vemula, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University had committed suicide on January 17, 2016, following alleged caste bias, Tadvi, a tribal student at TN Topiwala National Medical College, committed suicide on May 22 this year due to alleged caste-based discrimination by three doctors in her college.
The plea said it seeks to enforce the fundamental rights, particularly the Right to Equality, Right to Prohibition of Discrimination against caste, and the Right to Life.
"The present petition pertains to the rampant prevalence of caste-based discrimination in higher educational institutions throughout the country. There have been several incidents of caste-based discrimination against members of the SC/ST community which reflects flagrant non-compliance with the existing norms and regulations in place for the same," the plea said.
The petition said these incidents are violative of the fundamental rights to equality, equal opportunity, right against discrimination, abolition of untouchability, and right to life guaranteed under Article 14, 15, 16, 17 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petitioners sought directions to the Centre and the University Grants Commission (UGC) to strictly ensure enforcement of and compliance with the UGC, (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012, popularly called "UGC equity regulations".
They sought directions to the Centre and the UGC to ensure that all the universities, including deemed universities and higher educational institutions, comply with the UGC Equity Regulations in "letter and in spirit".
The petitioners have sought direction of the court to ensure that all the universities and Higher Education Institution (HEI) establish equal opportunity Cells on the lines of such other existing anti-discrimination internal complaints mechanisms, and to include members from the SC/ST communities and independent representatives from NGO's or social activists to ensure objectivity and impartiality in the process.
"To direct Respondent no. 2 (UGC) to revive and fund the activities of the Equal Opportunity Cells/SC, ST Cells in colleges and universities for sensitisation on caste issues," the petition said.
It sought direction to all universities to take strong disciplinary action against victimisation of students or staff who file complaints alleging caste-based discrimination and to take necessary steps in the nature of interim reliefs that restrain the HEI from creating a hostile environment against students who file such complaints.
Besides these directions, the petition sought various steps to ensure end of caste-based discrimination at the campuses.
"Since 2004, there have been over 20 documented instances of students committing suicides across the universities in the country. Various committees setup to look
into these deaths have concluded that SC, ST students have faced systematic discrimination in matters of allotting supervisors, caste-based abuses, problems in matters of scholarships, and more," the plea said.
The plea said "in the present petition they are not raising the issue of individual trial or the merits of the case, neither are they claiming relief in relation to the individual cases. The petitioners are filing the present petitions in public interest."