Published On: Thu, Mar 15th, 2012

After anti-ragging drive, HRD ministry plans law to curbe cast bias in education

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The government is considering a proposal to make caste discrimination in institutions of higher education a punishable offence.

The HRD Ministry has been jolted into action by an increasing number of suicides by Dalit students over the past few years and an appeal by the forum of SC/ ST parliamentarians.

Sources said HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has decided to take the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010 back to the cabinet with an amendment that recognises discrimination of any kind (caste, religion and gender etc) as a malpractice. The Bill will also define the penalty for it.

To ensure that the institutions keep caste bias in check, the accreditation of a college or university, which will be made mandatory in future, will also depend on the “approach of the institution in matters of equity and inclusion”. Sibal has decided to introduce this provision in the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill through an amendment.

“Lately, there have been complaints of SC/ ST students being ill-treated in their colleges. This has happened in different forms such as unfair marking or teachers being unhelpful. So the ministry feels that there have to be some changes and responsibility fixed at the end of the institution,” an HRD official said.

The most recent incident that allegedly carries the taint of discrimination on campus was the suicide of AIIMS student Anil Kumar Meena (22) on March 3. Students alleged that Meena, who came from a tribal family of farmers, couldn’t follow lectures in English and that teachers, too, were not helpful.

Though neither the ministry nor the UGC maintain a record of suicides stemming from caste bias in higher education institutions, there have reportedly been about 20 such suicides in the past five years.

Most of the cases have been reported from institutes of technical education and medicine.

While some of the deaths of Dalit students have been attributed to caste discrimination specifically, the cause of others remains largely unknown.

In the past year, three such suicides were reported of which the families of two students had openly alleged discrimination in the respective institutes.

The incidents even forced UGC to issue two embarrassing circulars in June last year asking universities to keep their biases in check. Now, the HRD ministry is set to stem this menace by making discrimination a malpractice and encouraging affirmative action in the direction of inclusion.

“By affirmative action we mean measures such as holding bridge courses or remedial classes for disadvantaged and quota students like the one organised by IIT-Delhi every year. In the case of private institutes, which do not reserve seats for SC/ STs, the accrediting authority can look at how the institute is trying to support disadvantaged students through freeships,” a ministry official said.

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