Wednesday, March 14, 2012

[ZESTCaste] HRD Minister Kapil Sibal plans law to curb caste bias in education

Ritika Chopra New Delhi, March 15, 2012 | UPDATED 09:00 IST
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal plans law to curb caste bias in education

The government is considering a proposal to make caste discrimination
in institutions of higher education a punishable offence.

The HRD Ministry has been jolted into action by an increasing number
of suicides by Dalit students over the past few years and an appeal by
the forum of SC/ ST parliamentarians.

Sources said HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has decided to take the
Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational
Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010 back to the cabinet with an
amendment that recognises discrimination of any kind (caste, religion
and gender etc) as a malpractice. The Bill will also define the
penalty for it.

To ensure that the institutions keep caste bias in check, the
accreditation of a college or university, which will be made mandatory
in future, will also depend on the "approach of the institution in
matters of equity and inclusion". Sibal has decided to introduce this
provision in the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill
through an amendment.

"Lately, there have been complaints of SC/ ST students being
ill-treated in their colleges. This has happened in different forms
such as unfair marking or teachers being unhelpful. So the ministry
feels that there have to be some changes and responsibility fixed at
the end of the institution," an HRD official said.

The most recent incident that allegedly carries the taint of
discrimination on campus was the suicide of AIIMS student Anil Kumar
Meena (22) on March 3. Students alleged that Meena, who came from a
tribal family of farmers, couldn't follow lectures in English and that
teachers, too, were not helpful.

Though neither the ministry nor the UGC maintain a record of suicides
stemming from caste bias in higher education institutions, there have
reportedly been about 20 such suicides in the past five years.

Most of the cases have been reported from institutes of technical
education and medicine.

While some of the deaths of Dalit students have been attributed to
caste discrimination specifically, the cause of others remains largely

In the past year, three such suicides were reported of which the
families of two students had openly alleged discrimination in the
respective institutes.

The incidents even forced UGC to issue two embarrassing circulars in
June last year asking universities to keep their biases in check. Now,
the HRD ministry is set to stem this menace by making discrimination a
malpractice and encouraging affirmative action in the direction of

"By affirmative action we mean measures such as holding bridge courses
or remedial classes for disadvantaged and quota students like the one
organised by IIT-Delhi every year. In the case of private institutes,
which do not reserve seats for SC/ STs, the accrediting authority can
look at how the institute is trying to support disadvantaged students
through freeships," a ministry official said.

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