An associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, has purportedly been caught on camera calling a student a “bloody bastard” for allegedly not standing up for national anthem and not saying ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ during an online class. In a video doing the rounds online in several student circles, Dr Seema Singh can be seen shouting at the student, telling him to leave the class and threatening to cut his marks.
“…This is the minimum you can do for your country. If you do not get out of class, I will give you zero. I have 20 marks for you, will give zero to all 120 of you if you don’t leave the class. You have to stand up for only two minutes in honour of the national anthem, and you cannot do that? You bloody bastard, this is also on your parents. Do you have any shame? Are you in school, bloody bastards?” she can be seen saying in the video, which you can watch below.
Singh is an associate professor at the institute’s humanities department and the class she was taking was preparatory English meant for SC, ST and OBC students, as well as students with physical disabilities. IITs across the country conduct this year-long English course to equip SC, ST, OBC and PwD students to pursue their engineering courses. All students in the reserved category who clear the cut off but don’t get the seats can voluntarily sign up for this course to seek admission a year later.
At the end of the year, the faculty member conducting the course gets to decide whether the student has passed or failed. Based on the result, the student then gets allotted a seat in any of the IITs across India. The faculty member, students say, plays a crucial role in determining the career trajectory of the students, indirectly rendering them powerless to hold the faculty member accountable even if they indulge in unethical behaviour in class.
In another video, Singh can be seen shouting at a student from the same class, for sending her a “silly” email asking for a few days leave after the demise of her grandfather.
“I got a mail from a student who said that her grandfather died two days ago and she won’t be able attend classes for a few days. It is very shocking and a total non-application of the human mind. If somebody’s grandfather has died, how does that prevent him/her from attending classes. I do understand… I am a Hindu… I know that there are some customs to be done, but I also know that during these times, there are restrictions over all these religious rituals which we do post death. It is not important whether the grandfather died of COVID-19 or something else, what is important is that the government has set down completely clear rules which need to be followed,” she can be heard saying in the video.
Further, she laid down the procedure that needs to be followed if a student wants to request for leave, conflating events such as a wedding, death, or someone’s birth anniversary, and adding that a faculty member like herself has the right to independently take decisions on the matter even if the head of the department has approved the leave request.
“You have been told the importance of attendance, and I don’t know why are still sending such silly emails. And I don’t understand – if your grandfather had died, you would not be writing such a mail. Maybe someone else would have written. But you write such a silly mail to your English teacher and you expect that it be accepted?” she can be heard saying.
Moreover, she said that a student should be mentally strong to deal with such situations instead of writing emails. “It is the mental strength which matters. As a student of humanities and social sciences, I will tell you one thing: how you meditate and strengthen yourself mentally is what matters in today’s time. Make yourself mentally strong, apply your mind,” she said.
In another video shared by the students, the professor can be clearly seen daring students to reach out to the “minority affair committee” 0r the “ministry of education”.
Institutional caste-based exclusion
The Bahujan community and students across various colleges have strongly opposed her remarks. The incident has also created a stir on social media, with #End_Casteism_In_IIT trending on Twitter by later Monday evening.
The issue, Bahujan students say, isn’t really about the national anthem, but her attitude towards the SC, ST and OBC students trying to get a seat in one of the IITs.
“This video is connected to the larger issue of reservation. If you notice, the very nature of the course is based on the merit-based education system, wherein it is assumed that SC, ST, OBC students are not eligible to study here; that they need a preparatory English course to enter this institution. Her anger, therefore, is directed towards those students who want to study in an institution dominated by oppressor caste communities. And even if they get a seat, it should be on her [or any other faculty member’s] terms,” said a member of Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student body in IIT Bombay.
In the same context, the member points out the usage of the term ‘bastards’ in the video. He says it isn’t singular and hence, isn’t directed towards one particular person but to the entire batch of over 120 students who come from SC, ST and OBC communities. “Her comments are based on her own caste-based assumptions,” he said.
“In addition to the usage of the term ‘bastards’, you must also note that she calls the students and their parents dumb in the second video, which again is rooted in her casteist attitude. One must also look into the genealogy of the term ‘bastard’ to better understand its exclusionary usage,” he added. In the first video, towards the end, the professor can also be seen calling the students “dumb” for not responding to her question.
Secondly, he says, the professor is assured of the idea that there would be no consequences for her for such bullying – clear by how she dares the students present to approach the ministry of minority affairs. “It means she knows what she is saying and that there is such thing as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. She is aware of the power and immunity she holds as a faculty member,” he said.
“She knows that the savarna-dominated IIT administration will protect her from any backlash. She uses hyper-nationalism to cloud her casteist mentality and forces the students to stand up for the national anthem which the Supreme Court of India had declared is not mandatory. However, even when students complied to her demand, she still uses it to abuse and throw casteist slurs at them again and again,” said an official statement issued by the APPSC.
APPSC have made the following demands (quoted verbatim from their official Facebook page):
1) Immediate termination of such casteist and authoritarian professor
2) She be booked under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and
3) Set-up a permanent SC, ST, and OBC Cell at IIT Kharagpur and all other IITs. This Cell should act as a anti caste discrimination cell, take strict actions against casual and structural casteism and work towards sensitising the campus about casual and structural forms of discriminations.
While the students who were present in the class don’t want to lodge a complaint because their dreams of going to an IIT are on the line, APPSC along with other students organisations at IITs are considering writing to national commissions of scheduled castes and tribes addressing the matter.
In an email sent to the IIT Kharagpur administration, Singh has apologised for her remarks saying that her comments could have been a result of COVID-induced stress. The response, Bahujan students say, isn’t satisfactory because mental stress, they say, cannot be used as an excuse to shield one’s casteist behaviour.
Here is Singh’s full statement:
“I am writing this to express my sincerest apology for what happened last week. It was definitely not my intention to hurt anyone, especially my own students who are as dear to me as my own children. It was never even the slightest intention to be discriminatory towards any segment of the student community.
In retrospect, I realise I went overboard. I feel like this may have been due to extreme stress of being Covid positive, suffering from poor health, social isolation, lack of any kind of support, and other incriminating personal factors which I cannot share.
In my seventeen years of service to this institute, such has never happened before. I have been most sincere and dedicated in the performance of my duties to the institute. And I would never wish any personal mishap to spoil the fair name of the institute and all its stakeholders.”
Secondly, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes have written an official letter to the chief secretary of West Bengal, the secretary of the department of higher education, the director general of police (West Bengal) and IIT Kharagpur’s director stating the commission has decided to investigate the matter as Singh’s remarks have “hurt the sentiments of many Indians specially the SC community”.
The letter also states that if the aforementioned offices don’t respond in 15 days, they will exercise their powers guaranteed by the constitution.
“Please note that in case the Commission does not receive reply from you within the stipulated time, the Commission may exercise the powers of Civil Courts conferred on it under Article 338 of the Constitution of India and issue summons for your appearance in person of by a representative before the Commission,” said the letter attached below:
Meanwhile, the doctoral researchers at IIT Delhi have put out a petition asking IITs across the country to establish permanent SC, ST and OBC committees where students can reach out if they face any kind of caste-based discrimination on campus.
This report was updated with Dr Seema Singh’s response on April 28, 2021, at 11:35 am.
Featured image credit: IIT Kharagpur official website