Over 800 IIT alumni have written an open letter to the Director of IIT Kharagpur after a viral video showed one of its professors abusing and screaming at students, who belong to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, during an online class a few days ago. The letter, signed by alumni of various IIT branches in India including Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras, and Roorkee, says that the alumni are ‘disgusted and shocked’ by professor Seema Singh’s behaviour towards students who were attending her Preparatory English Course class. A preparatory course is a one-year course run by IITs for students belonging to SC, ST communities and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) to fill the seats reserved for them.
Three video clips of the professor calling the students names and shouting at them were shared online a few days ago. In one of the videos, she was heard shouting and abusing the students, seemingly upset with the students for not standing up during the national anthem. “Shameless creatures, you have to stand up for only two minutes for the national anthem, you cannot do it, and bloody ba****ds, this is on your parents, I am calling your parents that. Do you have any shame?”
In one video, the professor was heard saying, “What I have to do, I will do. Nothing on earth can prevent me from doing that thing. Go to the Ministry of Woman and Child Development, go to the Ministry of SC/ST and Minorities, nothing will prevent me from doing what I have to do to you. Is it clear? Hello, bloody ba****ds, is it clear? (sic).” Another video shows her reprimanding a student for sending her an email expressing their inability to attend classes as their grandfather had died.
In the letter to the Director of IIT Kharagpur, the alumni have said, “IITs are already notoriously hostile to Dalit, Adivasi and backward caste students. It is evident from the videos that Professor Singh is a habitual offender and believes her casteism and abuse will go uncensured. We cannot allow this.”
The letter puts forth six demands, including the termination of Professor Singh. The alumni have also asked the institution to ensure necessary support to students who were screamed at and abused. They have also asked for an anti-caste discrimination cell on campus that can take strict action against casteism.
“We demand that 1) IIT KGP and Professor Singh issue an unconditional apology to the students. 2) The institute terminate Professor Singh. 3) The institute take strong punitive action against Professor Singh - her behavior attracts provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. 4) The institute arrange for all necessary support to concerned students to cope with the unwarranted humiliation,” the letter says.
“5. The institute set up a SC, ST, and OBC Cell (along the lines of those in other universities and UGC letter no. F.1–26/76 (CP/SCT) dated June 27, 1979) to act as an anti-caste discrimination cell, take strict action against casual and structural casteism and work towards sensitizing the campus about structural discrimination. 6. The institute take all steps necessary to ensure that students are treated with dignity and respect, and that casteism is eradicated from the campus,” the letter adds.
On the morning of April 29, 845 former students of various IITs had signed the letter.
Meanwhile, Hindustan Times reported that the professor in question has written a letter to the students apologising for her behaviour, saying that she did not mean to hurt the students’ feelings. Hindustan Times, which has accessed the letter, reported that in her email, Seema Singh has said she ‘went overboard’ as she was under stress after she tested positive for coronavirus. “It was never the slightest intention to be discriminatory towards any segment of the student community,” she has reportedly said in the email.
IIT Kharagpur is investigating the incident after an official complaint was made against the professor. The incident had sparked much outrage on social media after the videos of the professor went viral and calls were made for the professor’s termination as well. Officials on the campus had earlier said that such behaviour will not be tolerated.