RTI Responses Provide Clear Proof of IITs Flouting Reservation Policy in Faculty Recruitment

A group of us students were putting up a poster in the IIT Bombay campus notice board when a staff member belonging to the Dalit community approached us.

He was aware of the recent discussions in which the Ambedkar Phule Periyar Study Circle (APPSC), a students’ organisation on the campus, had raised questions to the institute over its allocation of more than 4,000 square feet of land for a gaushala (cow shelter). The APPSC had questioned the priorities of the institute in providing resources in 2019 for a cow shelter and building it through the COVID-19 pandemic even though there had been no ‘official’ demand for it by any section of the institute, while ignoring the demands of the SC/ST (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Students’ Cell, an official body of IIT Bombay, together with several other student bodies, for a small space for the SC/ST Cell office. Only after many years of repeated appeals did the institute finally, in July 2022, grant the SC/ST Cell a small space of its own within the office of the Gender Cell.

Referring to these discussions, the staff member said, “Everyone here thinks that SC/ST communities are treated as sarkari jawai (sons-in-law of the government), and that we undeservedly get everything without toil. But there is nothing we get without a fight. IIT doesn’t listen whether you request or whether you protest. Even for the smallest things, you need to wage a long struggle.”

In his opinion, the administration and faculties of the IITs tend to circumvent reservation policies as far as possible. He told us that his seniors at the institute had gone on a hunger strike for many days before they were given space and recognition for the SC/ST Employees’ Association. “The IIT administration is full of wicked-minded people, so they gave us space far away from administrative buildings,” the staff member said.

This is not the isolated opinion of an individual but the everyday experience of any person from the SC/ST community in any of the IITs. From their inception, the IITs seem to have found it very difficult to accommodate students from reserved categories. They claimed to be the epitome of excellence and the highest symbol of merit within higher education in India and simultaneously created the perception that the implementation of reservations meant a loss of merit and a compromise on the notion of excellence.

It was because of the persistent efforts of the anti-caste movement that finally in 1972, the IITs were forced to implement mandatory reservations for students from the SC/ST communities. In 2007, another push came with the Union government’s decision to implement a 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in centrally funded institutions, including the IITs.

These reservation policies were limited only to the entry of students and were met with very stiff resistance. Following this half-hearted implementation of the reservation mandate and strong resistance from the ‘upper-caste’ faculty and students, a very hostile environment was created in the various campuses for students admitted through the reserved categories. A majority of these students, if not all, undergo everyday humiliation as notions of unbelongingness are attached to their presence in these institutions.

While bringing to the foreground the caste biases that are overtly tilted against the SC, ST and OBC presence in these institutions of higher education, we began to look closely at the caste composition of the teaching staff in the IITs.

There has been a considerable shift in the composition of the BTech student body after the implementation of the OBC reservations in 2007, followed by the special reservations (supernumerary seats) for women to increase their numbers in the IITs. A fundamental contradiction in all the IITs since then is that while more than 50% of the students come from SC, ST and OBC backgrounds, the faculty is still overwhelmingly dominated (by more than 95%) by persons belonging to ‘upper-caste’ communities. Many of these teachers are of the opinion that the reserved category students are less ‘meritorious’.

In 2019, the then-education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal tabled in the Lok Sabha the following data on the composition of IIT teaching faculties. A total of 8,856 faculty positions were sanctioned in all 23 IITs, but only 6,043 positions were filled. Of these 6,043 positions, there were only 149 (2.5%) teachers from the SC category and 21 (0.34%) teachers from the ST category. There was no mention of any teachers from the OBC category.

Based on the response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed on March 23, 2021, by Siddharth Joshi, then a post-doctoral fellow at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, we calculated the number of OBC faculty members in prominent IITs. The results are tabled below.

Table 1: Number of OBC faculty members in the IITs

IIT General SC ST OBC Total
IIT Bombay 667 6 1 10 684
IIT Kharagpur 625 11 1 27 664
IIT Delhi 509 10 3 27 549
IIT Kanpur 443 9 1 11 464
Total (%) 2244 (95) 36 (1.52) 6 (0.25) 75 (3.18) 2361 (100)

Source: RTI filed by Siddharth Joshi on March 23, 2021

The results of our calculations did not surprise us. But what was stunning was the number of ‘upper-caste’ faculty members in the four IITs named in Table 1. Only 5% of the faculty members come from SC/ST and OBC backgrounds when people from these communities are estimated to comprise about 70-80% of the Indian population. Judging by the data, it appears as though the IITs are exclusively employing ‘upper-caste’ teachers.

The majority of ‘upper-caste’ teachers often express their dislike of the reservation policy as well as students from the reserved communities. These biases surface overtly in the PhD admissions. Since the BTech admissions are carried out centrally, there is a limit on the intervention of the IITs’ departments and faculties. This is why almost 50% of the student body of the BTech department belongs to the SC, ST and OBC communities. But the composition of the PhD student body is very different, as can be seen in Table 2, which is based on the response to an RTI filed on March 23, 2021, by Siddharth Joshi.

Table 2: Composition of PhD student bodies

IIT General (%) SC (%) ST (%) OBC (%) Total
IIT Bombay 2497 (70.66) 305 (8.63) 60 (1.7) 672 (19.01) 3534
IIT Kharagpur 2422 (65.67) 433 (11.74) 79 (2.14) 754 (20.44) 3688
IIT Delhi * 2519 (74) 194 (5.76) 60 (1.78) 597 (17.71) 3370
Total (%) 7438 (70.22) 932 (8.8) 199 (1.87) 2023 (19.09) 10,592

*IIT Delhi had a small number of students from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society, but for the sake of uniformity and the purpose of comparison in this table, we subtracted the number of EWS students from the total number of students.

Source: RTI filed by Siddharth Joshi on March 23, 2021

Table 2 informs us that in the three main IITs, more than 70% of PhD students belong to the general category while only about 30% come from the SC, ST and OBC communities. According to the compulsory reservation policy, at least 49.5% of the students should be from these backgrounds. This difference reflects the biases of the general category teaching staff toward students from reserved backgrounds, as faculty members have considerable say in the admissions process of PhD students. There is an undeniable link between the caste biases in the PhD admission processes and the absence of teaching staff from SC, ST and OBC backgrounds. The only way forward is to ensure an increase in their recruitment.

Until recently, faculty space was ‘sacrosanct’ in that there was no reservation mandate. But with the coming of the Central Education Institutions (Reservations in Teacher’s Cadre) Act, 2019, the IITs were forced to implement the reservation policy for the recruitment of teachers as well. Neither the IIT teaching staff nor the administrative staff welcomed the compulsory implementation of the reservation policy. So the government formed a committee headed by V. Ramgopal Rao, the then director of IIT Delhi, to suggest measures for the effective implementation of reservations in the admission of students and the recruitment of faculty in the IITs.

Also read: Why Are There Still Such Few SCs, STs and OBCs at IIMs?

Persistence of caste privilege

More than 100 years ago, in 1919, the maharaja of Mysore constituted a committee led by Leslie Creery Miller, a civil servant in British India, to make suggestions for the incorporation of suitable measures to secure a more significant representation of the backward communities in government services without compromising administrative efficiency. Brahmins comprised only 3.4% of the total population in the state, the maharaja noted, while they occupied more than 70% of the government jobs.

This issue was very similar to what we see today in the continuing preponderance of ‘upper-caste’ people occupying 95% of the faculty positions in the IITs.

Representative image of students in an IIT campus. Photo: Frederick Noronha/Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

The Miller Committee suggested preferential selection, fixing the minimum proportion and relaxing the qualifications of backward classes in the recruitments. The committee also recommended that a fair proportion of teachers should be recruited from the backward communities to ensure sympathetic treatment of the backward class students. While noting efficiency as an important aspect, the Miller Committee argued, “The efficiency of the service as is ordinarily understood is not the only end in view, but that due regards should also be paid to the general efficiency of the state measured by the social and educational results of a proper distribution of high offices among the different communities.”

The task of the V. Ramgopal Rao Committee was similar to that of the Miller Committee. The committee offered two sets of suggestions and asked the government to select and implement either one.

The first set of suggestions recommended that all IITs be excluded from the Central Education Institutions (Reservations in Teacher’s Cadre) Act. This would mean that the IITs would not need to implement the reservation policy in the recruitment of their faculties. Meanwhile, the IITs could start a new ‘preparatory programme’ of two years for reserved category students to introduce them to the IIT teaching and research systems, while reserved category students could also get into the PhD programmes in the IITs through the proper procedure. This programme was intended to increase the pool of reserved category students in the PhD departments.

In its second set of suggestions, the committee proposed that reservations should be applied only for assistant professor positions. If seats were not filled due to ‘unsuitability and unavailability’ of candidates, they could be de-reserved to allow general category candidates to be recruited instead. Meanwhile, the positions of associate professors and professors would be excluded from the reservations mandate. The second set of suggestions also insisted upon the ‘preparatory programme’ for PhD students from the reserved categories.

The suggestions of the Ramgopal Rao Committee, especially the second set of suggestions, were just a repetition of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), now called the Ministry of Education, in 2008, with no new measures to enable a more equitable composition for the IITs. The committee report in fact refers to the MHRD guidelines and claims that the IITs follow them thoroughly, but the data from the institutes clearly shows that even 12 years after the guidelines were issued, only 5% of the faculty in the IITs belong to the SC, ST and OBC communities.

The Ramgopal Rao Committee that was instated to improve these conditions contradicted the very purpose of its formation. In fact, it was clear that the committee, instead of proposing measures to strengthen the position of persons from SC, ST and OBC backgrounds, found innovative measures to flout the directives of affirmative action, which in turn would ensure that Bahujans, who constitute about 70-80% of India’s population, would continue to have a marginal presence in the faculty space. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the V. Ramgopal Rao committee’s objective appeared to be securing the privilege and opportunities of the ‘upper-caste’ communities. By overstepping the given frames of reference and suggesting measures contradictory to the constituting purpose of the committee, what the committee offered was how IITs could escape the implementation of reservations.

Mission mode recruitment

Fortunately, the Union government rejected the recommendations of the Ramgopal Rao committee. As part of its Mission Mode Recruitment (MMR) measures to fill vacancies in Central government departments, it asked all the IITs to start a special drive to fill the vacancies in their faculties.

The government also asked all the IITs to send in a monthly report on the actions taken to fill the reserved faculty positions. This monthly report was the method through which the government wanted to monitor the whole process with more transparency.

In an RTI that we filed on May 20, 2022, we asked for copies of these monthly reports. But what we learned was that most of the IITs had not bothered to follow the government’s instructions and had not sent monthly reports to the Ministry of Education.

With the material we did receive from our various RTI queries regarding the performance of the IITs in implementing the MMR, we found that some IITs notified category-wise vacancies but did not explain how they came up with those specific numbers of vacancies, while some IITs did not even bother to notify the number of vacancies.

We also noted that, while responding to queries on the MMR, the director of one of the IITs told the Indian Express on the condition of anonymity: “The positions have not been filled because of non-availability of candidates. We are not against the quota. There is a dearth of PhD candidates belonging to the reserved categories. Hence positions are not filled despite our best efforts.”

The non-availability of applications is one of the major justifications given for the lack of SC, ST and OBC faculty members in IITs. But the following data clearly points out that there is no shortage of applications from eligible candidates. Many IITs still have not completed the recruitment process, so they could not give us the number of selected candidates. Out of 23 IITs, only 11 gave us the complete information; of these 11, seven IITs publicised available vacancies for the MMR.

Table 3: IITs publicising vacancies for MMR

IIT Vacancies for MMR Applications Shortlisted Selected
IIT Bombay OBC 48 1090 46 18
SC 18 918 27 9
ST 11 187 6 4
Total 77 2195 79 31
IIT Madras OBC 25 963 15
SC 13 708 10
ST 6 119 4
Total 44 1790 29
IIT Indore OBC 5 503 42 5
SC 11 261 14 3
ST 8 40 1 0
Total 24 804 57 8
IIT Hyderabad OBC 53 671 7
SC 30 390 5
ST 15 126 0
Total 98 1187 83 12
IIT Guwahati OBC 83 10 0
SC 46 1 0
ST 23 1 0
Total 152 1915 12 0
IIT Gandhinagar OBC 23 598 19 0
SC 11 350 13 1
ST 6 74 6 0
Total 40 1022 38 1
IIT Bhilai OBC 3 454 68 0
SC 4 257 20 0
ST 2 60 4 0
Total 9 771 92 0
Grand Total 444 9684 81

Source: RTI filed on May 20, 2022 by Pranav Jeevan, a research student at IIT Bombay

A total of 9,684 applications were received for the 444 vacancies, and only 81 candidates were selected. Data from these seven IITs tells us that they received 21.8 (almost 22) applications for each vacancy, but still recruited only one candidate out of every 120 applicants. The IITs published a minimal number of vacancies, but filled only 18.24% of the seats. It is fascinating that IIT Guwahati declared 152 vacancies, the highest number of vacancies announced by any IIT. It received 1,915 applications but could not find even one ‘meritorious’ applicant suitable for a faculty position. Similarly, IIT Bhilai received 771 applications for nine vacancies, but also did not recruit a single faculty member.

Table 4: IITs that did not declare vacancies for MMR

IIT Applications Shortlisted Selected
IIT Kanpur OBC 526 36 24
SC 383 22 18
ST 75 5 5
Total 984 63 47
IIT Delhi OBC 723 9 0
SC 631 6 0
ST 126 1 0
Total 1480 16 0
IIT (ISM) Dhanbad OBC 902 12 5
SC 528 3 1
ST 107 2 1
Total 1537 17 7
IIT Jodhpur OBC 460 3
SC 300 2
ST 70 1
Total 830 96 6
Grand Total 4831 60

Source: RTI filed on May 20, 2022 by Pranav Jeevan

Four IITs did not declare the number of vacancies. Even so, they received 4,831 applications, of which they recruited 60 applicants for faculty positions. IIT Kanpur recruited the highest number of faculty members among all the IITs in the MMR. It received 984 applications and selected 47 candidates, meaning IIT Kanpur found one ‘suitable’ candidate among every 21 applicants. If we exclude IIT Kanpur from the analysis, out of 3,847 applications, only 13 candidates were selected by the other three IITs, which means the remaining three IITs selected one candidate among every 295 applicants.

If we look at the performance of all the 11 IITs, then a total of 14,515 applications were received and only 141 candidates were selected. This means that only one faculty member was recruited from among 103 applicants, making the possibility of any applicant to be selected less than 1% (0.97%). It would be interesting to learn what might be the possibility of a general category applicant being selected for a faculty position in an IIT. Three IITs out of 11 did not find even one applicant capable and meritorious enough to be a faculty member.

This unsatisfactory performance clearly shows that these institutes are unwilling to fulfil the essential reservation requirements. The data also makes it clear that the MMR is another way to bypass the constitutional mandate to recruit SC, ST and OBC candidates. There is much furore about the MMR in all the IITs to create a perception about their recruitment efforts, but the reality seems far from this promise.

Also read: Despite Eligibility and Competence, SC/ST Aspirants Not Made Faculty in AIIMS: Parl Panel

Structural discrimination

One can see from the Ramgopal Rao committee report that institutionally and historically, the IITs have fostered a deep reluctance to implement reservation policies and have tried their best, in fact, to resist them. The data gathered through the RTIs we filed makes it clear that these institutions are only pretending to put an effort into recruiting SC, ST and OBC candidates as faculty members through the MMR and are in fact, actively trying to undermine reservation at every stage.

The data shows that there are a vast number of applicants from these communities and blatantly contradicts the claims of the IITs that there is a ‘non-availability’ and ‘non-eligibility’ of candidates for posts in the reserved quotas. Instead, we see a clear display of structural discrimination and prejudice against SC, ST and OBC communities, which constitute the majority population of India.

A hundred years ago, the Miller Committee report argued that reservations for the backward communities means ‘progressive reduction of the inequality’ and redefined the meaning of ‘efficiency’, stating that it could only be achieved with the proper distribution of candidates from different communities in high offices. Though we are celebrating our 75th anniversary of independence this year, the dismal representation of SC, ST and OBC communities in the IIT faculties indicates that Indian academia still has a long way to go in overcoming its deeply rooted prejudices and biases.

Pramod V. Mandade is currently a PhD candidate in the Humanities and Social Science Department at IIT Bombay. 

Pranav Jeevan P. is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay.

This article was first published on The Wire.