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Mothers of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi have approached the Supreme Court by way of a Public Interest Litigation petition seeking enforcement of mechanism to curb caste-based discrimination in Universities and Colleges.
Both Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi had taken their lives after being allegedly subjected to caste-based harassment at their Universities. While Vemula was a Dalit student and worked as a Dalit rights activist, Payal Tadvi was a tribal student.
In their petition, the mothers of the two deceased students have prayed for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India particularly the Right to Equality under Articles 14, 15, 16, and 17, Right to Prohibition of Discrimination Against Caste under Article 15, and the Right to Life under Article 21.
The petition states that caste-based discrimination and harassment at campuses came to light for the first time in 2006 when an incident was reported from All India Institute Medical Sciences (AIIMS). As per that report, students from SC and ST communities were addressed with derogatory slurs and subjected to discrimination even by the Professors. This incident paved the way for the setting up of the Professor Sukhdeo Thorat Committee which found that there was a prevalence of caste-based discrimination on campuses.
The findings of the Committee were, however, rejected by the AIIMS and the recommendations made therein were not implemented. The petition goes on to point out that since 2004, there have been over 20 undocumented instances of students committing suicide on account of being subject to caste-based discrimination and harassment.
“Since 2004, there have been over 20 documented instances of students committing suicides across the universities in the country. Various committees setup to look into these deaths have concluded that SC, ST students have faced systematic discrimination in matters of allotting supervisors, caste based abuses, problems in matters of scholarships, and more.”
The University Grants Commission (UGC) notified the UGC, (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012 (Equity Regulations) which was aimed at elimination of such discrimination.
However, these regulations did not prove effective and did not provide for an independent mechanism for grievance redressal. The regulations did not provide for components such as anti-ragging committee or the internal complaints committee provided for by the UGC in its guidelines to tackle ragging and sexual harassment, the petition submits.
Therefore, the Equity Guidelines, the petition claims, are not sufficient to deal with the issue of caste-based discrimination. Thus, this present petition has been filed.
“There have been several incidents of caste based discrimination against members of the SC, ST community which reflects flagrant non-compliance with the existing norms and regulations in place for the same. These incidents are violative of the fundamental rights to equality, right against discrimination, equal opportunity, abolition of untouchability, and right to life guaranteed under Article 14,15,16,17 and 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The petitioners have sought a direction from the Court for strict compliance with the Equity Guidelines by all institutes governed by the UGC as well as others in letter and spirit.
Further, a direction is also sought to all higher education institutes and Universities to establish Equal Opportunity Cells on the lines of such other existing anti-discrimination internal complaints mechanisms. These cells should include members from the SC and ST communities, the plea states.
A direction from the Court is also sought for Universities and Institutes to publish on their websites measures taken to eliminate such discrimination,
The petition also seeks sensitization workshops, peer learning mechanism etc to be organised on campuses.
Importantly, strict action should be taken in case of such incidents of caste discrimination, the petitioners pray.
The petition has been drawn by advocates Disha Wadekar and Kushal Nandwani, settled by Senior Counsel Indira Jaising and filed by Advocate Sunil Fernandes.