Interaction with learners

The case of Prince Jaibir Singh’s admission to IIT Bombay

The recent Supreme Court ruling ordering one of India’s leading institutions, IIT Bombay, to award a seat in the BTech program to Prince Jaibir Singh, a Dalit student from Ghaziabad, clearly shows how the first Indian institutions report a lack of empathy, a bureaucratic rationality that misunderstands India’s social divisions and infrastructural inequalities, and a lack of imagination when it comes to fulfilling their constitutional obligations to social justice. No wonder the Supreme Court justices chose to exercise their constitutional powers to guarantee Justice. ”The phrase itself dates back to BR Ambedkar’s distinction between“ formal ”and“ real ”equality, and his insistence on the role of the state in both equalizing opportunities and ensuring better representation of the most marginalized. formal rationality as a consequence of the bureaucratization of modern societies. For Weber as well as for Ambedkar, substantial rationality and substantial equality provide complete justice, the imagination and understanding of which are often sorely lacking in the best of our institutions. formal rationality merges with the ignorance and arrogance of Hindu caste practices, the bureaucracy becomes both hostile and t cruel.

For Prince Jaibir Singh, the inability of our institutions to offer alternatives in cash, checks or other instruments, or to allow late payments with or without fines is the most crippling effect of institutional hostility towards Dalits. and other disadvantaged groups. Behind this failure lies a deep disinterest in taking affirmative action policies seriously, a lack of capacity to think through how to provide quality education while advancing the goals of inclusion. Likewise, this example reflects an adherence to the illusory inclusion of the Digital India slogan rather than a critical academic perspective on how to approach social realities. These arise from a belief in technical solutions and taking privileged positions for granted.

Students like Prince already have to overcome the first layers of obstacles in the form of coaching courses, before they step through the sacred portals of IITs, where they face other forms of discrimination and humiliation. In homes and classrooms, in dining halls and playgrounds, upper castes express their privileges in a thousand ways through rebuffs, sarcastic remarks, not acknowledging their learning needs, or even the circumstances. that they had to overcome to enter the IITs.

One way in which institutions and their processes could be made more responsive and empathetic is to increase the representation of faculty and administrators from “communities that have not yet had representation in the state,” to quote Ambedkar. The ongoing special recruiting campaign for SC / ST / OBC / EWS via Mission Mode Recruiting (MMR) – long resisted by many IITs – is therefore welcome. If at least some of these newly recruited professors advance to leadership positions, one might hope for a real transformation towards “complete justice”, to ensure that the trauma caused to students like Prince does not recur. Most importantly, it can democratize elite academic spaces, make them compassionate and culturally conducive to all learners.

However, the actual course of MMR does not inspire much hope. Responding to a missive from the Ministry of Education and fearing a halt in the regular recruitment cycle, the recruitment process appears to be rushed, with little evidence of due diligence in designing processes, guidelines and criteria, and with little to no discussion of the important issues of merit, exceptional ability, quality judgment and assessment of research and teaching ability. These would require a deliberative process, consultation with education experts, explicit awareness of the excellent body of research on social exclusion and discrimination, and dialogue with academics from successful marginalized backgrounds. to break down barriers to make a name for themselves.

IITs, for example, benefit from a flexible faculty recruitment policy and such flexibility works primarily in the interest of unreserved applicants. However, for MMR, the lack of clear guidance from state agencies has resulted in many variations in recruitment processes, minimum criteria, flexibilities and waivers granted for age or exceptional qualifications. , and selection procedures. The constitutional mandates and ordinances of the Indian government regarding the list system and the granting of flexibilities tend to be quite blatantly flouted. Illegitimate limits are set on the number of teachers to be recruited in Mission mode. Outstanding candidates who have applied are not recommended in the general category, and competition for these positions is made more severe than for general candidates.

Top-down decision-making is reflected in the design and implementation of screening criteria and selection procedures, and there appears to be a great deal of arbitrariness in the interpretation and implementation of national guidelines for booking reservations. teaching posts in different institutions. The online process of screening, interviews, recruiting seminars, and interacting with faculty is stressful, and it’s not clear why the process can’t be made more relaxed and candidate-friendly, now. that the restrictions related to the pandemic are considerably relaxed. At the same time, the large number of candidates, especially candidates of exceptional quality, testifies to the confidence these candidates have in the state to ensure social justice.

Many of those applicants with high-quality posts were reluctant to apply in response to the usual slippery advertisements available at IITs. By creating numerical criteria (as low as 49 in some cases), ignoring issues of quality and promise, and failing to relax some of the technical criteria, CHEIs can effectively ensure that good quality applicants are screened and that less qualified candidates are recruited, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy to corroborate existing prejudices about the “merit” of candidates in the “reserved” category.

Ultimately, whether it is Prince Jaibir Singh or the poor implementation of the MMR, what is evident is the lack of interest in promoting quality and a conscious and unintentional strategy. to consolidate existing privileges and hierarchies. The “complete justice” advocated by the Supreme Court requires much greater investment in ITIs to reflect on the principles of substantive equality and substantive rationality.

This column first appeared in the paper edition on November 26, 2021 under the title “Excellence et exclusion”. The writers are professors of sociology at IIT-Bombay. The opinions expressed are academic and professional