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Emergence of a rare Dalit teacher in IIT-Kanpur "disturbed" certain faculty members

By PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd)*
Dr Subrahmanyam Sadrela, a faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kanpur since January 1, 2018, and one of the rare Dalit members of the faculty in IIT group of institutions, is facing the threat of revocation of his PhD thesis, and thereby also jeopardizing his job and career.
Dr Sadrela did his BTech from the Institute of Aeronautical Engineering affiliated to JNT University, Hyderabad, and his MTech and PhD from IIT-Kanpur. The real reason seems to be revenge for his accusation of discrimination and harassment, on January 12, 2018, against four of his colleagues.
The accusation was found to be true by the three-member fact-finding committee set up by the IIT-K director in its report of March 2018. The Board of Governors (BoG) of IIT-K set up another enquiry by a retired Allahabad High Court judge. His Report of August 2018 also found that the teachers were guilty of violating the conduct rules of IIT-K and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Thereafter, the BoG decided that the teachers violated the conduct rules, but not the POA Act, diluting the judge’s findings. Dr Sadrela filed an FIR against the four teachers on November 18, 2018.
An anonymous complaint against Sadrela emerged on October 15, 2018 alleging that parts of his PhD thesis were plagiarized. The complaint was referred by the Director to a nine-member Academic Ethics Cell.
The Ethics Cell came to the conclusion that there is no allegation of plagiarism with regard to the scholar’s research work comprising his creative and technical part of the dissertation, including detailed experiments, tables, figures and the conclusions drawn from them. The only instances of copying were restricted to certain introductory passages in several chapters and mathematical basics and preliminaries. These seem to account for 12 to 13 pages of Introduction out of the 300 pages of his PhD, according to Dr Sadrela.
The Ethics Cell ruled against the revocation of his thesis and recommended that Dr Sadrela should rewrite the passages in question in his own words and submit an updated thesis in a month, and tender an apology letter to the Director for his “misdemeanor”. This was fulfilled by him promptly.
Yet, the Senate at its meeting on March 14, 2019 voted to have his PhD revoked. If the BoG accepts the Senate’s report at its forthcoming meeting, Dr Sadrela will be stripped of his PhD and may also lose his job.
The following conclusions emerge from the above facts:
  • The emergence of a rare teacher of the SCs has disturbed the minds of certain faculty members, suffering from centuries-old caste-bias and caste-based attitudes.
  • For his temerity in intruding into the rarefied space of IIT faculty, Tthe life of a scholar and teacher from an “Untouchable” community is made difficult by harassment coming within the definition of “atrocity” under the SC and ST (POA) Act.
  • Continuing efforts are being made to get rid of him, or perhaps allow him to remain, provided he submissively accepts his humiliation, by imposing punishment out of proportion for the marginal impropriety, even though there is no plagiarism in relation to substantive part of his PhD thesis.
R Subrahmanyam, secretary, Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development should consider taking the following urgent steps:
  1. Take every step possible to protect Dr Sadrela from further harassment and to get proceedings against him dropped in the light of the Ethics Cell’s report and his fulfillment of the steps recommended by the Ethics Cell.
  2. Take other steps to see that SC, ST and SEdBC members of faculties of IITs and other institutions are fully protected and enabled to carry on work and life with equal dignity. This will require continuous special care, watch and initiative by the Ministry at the highest levels.
  3. Take action against all those who have participated in the enterprise of chasing out the rare well-qualified SC teacher.
This case raises certain other important issues.
It is possible to harass and humiliate SC and ST teachers in faculties of IITs and other such higher educational institutions because they are few in number. Larger numbers will make them less vulnerable.
It is necessary to take a list of all persons belonging to SCs, STs and SEdBCs who have acquired qualifications from IITs and have a drive to appoint them to existing vacancies. There are such persons who have kept out by the recruitment process.
IITs, IIMs etc. are striving hard for autonomy. If they are granted autonomy the intolerant regime of some influential narrow-minded members of faculties will have full play against faculty members belonging to SCs, STs and SEdBCs and also students of SCs, STs and SEdBCs.
This is the same situation at micro- level that faced Dr Ambedkar at the national level in the Round Table Conference of 1932, from which certain protective Constitutional provisions for the SCs emerged in 1935, which were subsequently extended to STs and SEdBCs as appropriate to them after Independence and Constitution of India.
If autonomy is contemplated for IITs, IIMs and any other higher educational institution, it should contain effective provisions of protection and equal treatment and dignity for faculty members and students of SCs, STs and SEdBCs.
There has been no systematic effort in our educational system to educate students, teachers, recruits to IAS and other all-India and Central services and State services, and officers and personnel of various departments and public and private institutions, at the recruitment stage as well as later, about the vicious and pernicious nature of the centuries-old caste-system-with-“Untouchability”, continuing to this day, the great harm and injury it has done to the SCs, STs and SEdBCs in every aspect of life, and the constraint it has imposed on the progress of the country and its economy, and the importance of sincere cooperation with all measures of Social Justice for the three deprived classes.
It is high time that appropriate modules for this are introduced at different stages of education, training and career, covering all public activities.
These measures are important not only from the point of view of justice and fair play for the SCs, STs and SEdBCs, but also in the larger interest of social and national integration on the basis of Equality and equal dignity.
---
*Former secretary, Ministry of Welfare, Government of India. 
This article is based on the author's letter to the secretary, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India

Comments

Anonymous said…
Why compromise on quality. Was he recruited without reservation through normal recruitments? Is his research comparable to other profs at IIT. These things need to be confirmed first
Anonymous said…
It would be nice if the author had gone through the complete story without
giving it a caste angle. A Ph.D. student's thesis had a very large
portion of his thesis copied from other thesis and publications. It was not
limited to the introduction only. Even if it would have been in
introductory chapter only, it would have been a strong case of plagiarism.
Only a couple of years back another M.Tech. thesis/degree of a general category

student was revoked by the senate/board. There was no signature campaign or
blogs etc. in support of the student because plagiarism is plagiarism
irrespective of the caste or religion of the student. Senate standing body
entrusted with recommending the awards of the degree (SPGC) found that the
thesis has to be withdrawn and recommended to the Academic Senate which
agreed with the recommendations of the SPGC and Senate recommended to the board for revocation of the degree since a Ph.D. degree without a thesis
has no meaning. It is unfortunate that the author has not tried to find all facts and precedence.
Anonymous said…
It is untrue that SC, ST or OBCs are not there in IITs. They are, but most of them have never declared themselves to be belonging to these categories as they have come through general category. I myself belong to OBC but no one in my family have ever used the reservation and nobody in IIT faculty know about it.

In this case, when looking at plagiarism, caste should not be looked at. In fact in this case Dr.Saderla's thesis supervisor should be held responsible for allowing the plagiarism and not mentoring the Dr.Saderla with proper ethics. And the supervisor is a general category high cast person. He should be punished for not doing his work with integrity and honesty.

I how you can understand why I am choosing to be anonymous.
Anonymous said…
The problem is much bigger. Just look at all the directors of IITs. Why mhrd is not selecting sc/st/obc persons for these positions . Is it not bared on presumption that that only higher caste persons can be in leadership role. If we can have reservation in parliament then we can have it in directorship position also.

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