Our Special Correspondent
Police clash with protesters at IIT Madras on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, May 31: The National Commission for Scheduled Castes views IIT Madras's recent de-recognition of a Dalit-dominated students' study group as a "prima facie" violation of the law to prevent atrocities against the community.
Commission chairperson P.L. Punia has sent a notice to the tech school seeking its reasons for punishing the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, which had distributed an anti-government pamphlet ahead of celebrating B.R. Ambedkar's birthday on the campus on April 14.
"You cannot deprive a Dalit student group of the right of expression and right to hold discussions. They have been targeted, it seems," Punia told The Telegraph.
An anonymous complaint against the pamphlet's contents had prompted the Union human resource development ministry to seek an explanation from the institute, which de-recognised the group on May 24 on the technical ground of guideline violations.
Government sources had told this newspaper that the ministry nudge would have made it difficult for the institute not to act.
"Prime facie, it appears a violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. We have asked for a detailed report," Punia said.
The commission, which has taken cognisance of the matter suo motu (on its own), issued the notice on Friday. It will hold a hearing after going through the institute's report, Punia said.
If, after the hearing, the commission feels the institute has failed to protect its Dalit students and has victimised them instead, it can ask the tech school to lodge an FIR against those of its members it believes responsible.
"The commission has the power to direct the institute to file an FIR. We will take that decision after hearing them," Punia said.
Although the anonymous complaint, forwarded by the central ministry, had accused the pamphlet of polarising Dalit and tribal students and spreading hatred against Hindus and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the IIT had punished the study circle citing only guideline violations.
The institute's guidelines for such student bodies, though, are vague and lack clear dos and don'ts. The only clause the study circle may be said to have violated is one forbidding student groups from using the institute's name "without official permission".
Rajya Sabha MP and former Mumbai University vice-chancellor Bhalchandra Mungekar contested the IIT's stated reason.
"Whatever reason the administration may give, it is just a pretext. The real reason is that the views expressed by the students were not acceptable to the powers that be," he said.
The nominated MP added that IIT Madras must undo the punishment, which he described as "unconstitutional and immoral" and amounting to "suppression of the freedom of expression".
Mungekar had headed a panel that probed the alleged harassment of Dalit students at Delhi's Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, where they had been awarded low marks in a 2013 examination.
He told this newspaper that Dalit students continued to face harassment at many educational institutions.
Some of the teachers, he said, adopt a vindictive attitude towards these students, who come from poor backgrounds and lack confidence, instead of trying to boost their morale. This leads to feelings of isolation and depression among these students, sometimes leading to suicide, he said.