By: Ishu Kumar and Udita Singh (CCS Interns)

The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi has sanctioned “etiquette” classes for the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes students. What is striking is that the classes are meant exclusively for SC/ST students. Ironically, there seems to be some degree of disagreement within the IITs itself.

A Times of India article quotes a head in IIT saying “in all logical integrity, it is meant to boost the confidence of students who come from a different background”, while it quotes an unidentified faculty IIT-D faculty member disagreeing on the same, “A campus is a symbol of assimilation of many minds and several lives. To carve out a group on the basis of their origins and put them through a training programme- I would term it nothing short of apartheid.”

Reality is, and many acknowledge that students coming from rural towns and cities find it a little hard to blend into the fast-paced city lives that their batchmates might have grown up in. However, that is a problem independent of caste. Interestingly, it is discriminating in another way, it presumes, those from the mainstream are in no need of such classes!

Several foreign universities have courses to cater to students from non-English speaking countries. These courses are a response to certain academic needs, and not based on color of skin. For arguments sake, if one were to accept that students from reserved categories are not academically as sound as general category students at the beginning of the university year, this would mean that India’s institutions could use alternate academic courses to support reserved category students (or other lagging students). In the same article, TISS director S Parasuraman puts very valid point across the table. According to him, it is not useful to segregate students at all. He rightly says, “Every student who joins IIT knows his/her maths, but may not be able to write good English. All students from rural and underprivileged backgrounds need adjustment but putting them through a training programme is not the answer. IIT-Delhi needs to have a long-term support system in place and hire better counsellors for every student, not just SC/STs or OBCs,” he says.

Hence, the only justification for a “lets culture them” course would be the proposition that scheduled castes are ‘less cultured’ than others, and we are yet to find any empirical evidence or scientific theory to support such a proposition!