AARAK SHUN http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/AARAK-SHUN/articleshow/9512625.cms

A knock on the door always makes Amit nervous. If it is daytime, he quickly moves the book rack so that it hides the framed photo of B R Ambedkar, dressed in a dark suit and looking at some distant horizon. If it’s night, Amit lies still in bed, staring at the fan. As the banging goes on, he slips in and out of sleep. In his dreams he often sees a boy putting a noose around his neck. Sometimes he sees the boy hanging from a rope that’s furiously twisting by itself. Then there is dead silence. He can’t go back to sleep.

Amit, a student of IIT-Kanpur, is not suicidal. He has been to a shrink, though, and says he lives in some kind of dread. For two years, life on the campus was beautiful – at least until the day his classmates found out his caste, a fact he had masked with a caste-neutral surname. The Ambedkar photo had already made some "friends" suspicious, and when a clerk in the scholarship section "exposed" his caste, Amit’s world changed. He lost his place on the dining table. The batchmates became hostile: jibes in the classroom or an accidental jab in the ribcage every now and then became a common occurrence. And the midnight knocks started. "They don’t want me to study. People may think it’s a seat of high learning but for me it’s living hell," says Amit, who has a brilliant academic record. "People here don’t believe in merit. They will push you if you perform better than them," adds the final-year student who is too scared to give his real name.

Amit is not paranoid. His fear is real. In 2008, the year he joined the institute, a fellow student called Prashant Kureel was found hanging in his room. In 2009, an MTech student, G Suman, killed himself. And in 2010, Madhuri Salve, a final-year student, used her dupatta to hang herself from the ceiling fan. All three were dalits and IIT authorities were quick to blame academic pressure for these deaths. "It’s because of constant ragging and brazen casteism on the campus that my son killed himself," says Sunder Lal Kureel, the father of Prashant, as he continues his fight for justice.

But in this battle, Sunder Lal is alone. There are no middle class-led candlelight vigils at India Gate for Prashant. There are no campaigns by TV channels, just the lonely battle of a broken man. There are many like Sunder Lal in their peculiar tragedy. Since 2007, 18 dalit students pursuing engineering and medical courses in the country’s top institutes, including the IITs and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, have committed suicide. And here’s the real shocker: only one of them, Jaspreet Singh of Government Medical College, Chandigarh, left behind a suicide note. None of the others who hanged themselves or jumped from a building blamed anyone for pushing them to take the extreme step. "All of them had complained to their families about harassment at the hands of faculty and fellow students, yet they didn’t leave a suicide note. Only Jaspreet’s was there because his father found his body. We wonder what happened to all the other suicide notes," says Ratnesh Kumar of Insight Foundation, which is trying to get justice for the families. "We’re sure the notes vanished because the victims had accused the authorities of harassment."
Hidden in these missing notes are the dirty secrets of India’s top institutes, where dalits have been treated as outcastes ever since reservations were introduced for SC and ST students in the 1950s. Nobody likes to talk about this dark side. Now, as filmmaker Prakash Jha takes a "fresh look at the issue" with his Aarakshan, the dalits fear that the film may reinforce old biases. "We get only 15% seats, while the OBCs get 27%. But, it’s the dalits who have to face the brunt of hate campaigns," says Surya Dev, a 25-year-old engineer from Guna, MP, who now works with the Insight Foundation helpline.

Ironically, anti-dalit sentiment erupted in 1991, when the V P Singh government decided to implement 27% reservation for OBCs. In the Capital’s "Left-leaning" university, JNU, caste clashes took place between students; in the dining-halls of IIT-Delhi, dalits were forced to sit on separate tables, and the walls of urinals in Delhi University were covered with puerile graffiti. And the authorities just watched. "The atmosphere in our institutions is very brahminical as the upper castes dominate the faculty. In such an environment, the lower caste students automatically become outcastes," says Dilip Mandal, who teaches at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).

Many dalits have paid a price for being what they are. In 2008, Narendra Divekar and Nitin Kamble, who worked as cameramen at the Centre for Distance Engineering Education Programme at IIT Bombay, took part in a meeting of the institute’s union for backward classes. A torrent of casteist abuses from the centre’s web coordinator, Rahul Deshmukh, followed almost immediately. Deshmukh told them that they were "not fit to work here". A complaint was made to IIT authorities and the police. But the abuse went on. Unable to handle it, the duo tried to commit suicide outside Deshmukh’s office.

Many, however, have fought back. Dr Ajay Singh, who joined AIIMS in 2002 with the same marks as the cut-off for "general" students, was the only dalit in his hostel wing. He was barred from entering the carrom-board room and one day someone scrawled "Nobody likes you here. F**k off" on his door. But Dr Singh fought back and that led to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointing a three-member committee, headed by University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdeo Thorat, to look into caste harassment in the country’s top medical institutes. The report was shocking: dalit students were bullied into vacating their hostel rooms, leading to a ghetto being formed on two floors of a hostel; they were specifically targeted during ragging; they were not allowed to play cricket and basketball; they were not allowed to eat in the "upper-caste mess"; and the teachers ignored them in class, sometimes deliberately failing them in exams. Shamed by the damning report, AIIMS took some remedial steps. "Now the hostels are allotted through a lottery system and general harassment has come down a bit, but all the recommendations of the panel are yet to be implemented," says Dr Singh, who now works with a government hospital in Delhi.

But resistance is growing on some campuses. "Now the number of upper-caste and reserved category students is almost the same. It’s not easy to bully them," says Mandal of IIMC. And dalits are now not prepared to be shunned by the system. "We started celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti on our campus to unite us," says Manju Kumari Rao, 28, a former student of Benaras Hindu University who was once denied permission to go abroad on an exchange programme because she was dalit. "We don’t want to join the system, we want to change it."
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