Scientists, Scholars Decry Caste Discrimination Against IIT-K Academic Subrahmanyam Saderla
The institute's board of governors on Tuesday dismissed a recommendation of the senate asking that Dr Subrahmanyam Sadrela's thesis be revoked over charges of plagiarism.

New Delhi: A number of eminent scientists have endorsed a statement of solidarity against the “caste-based discrimination and institutional harassment” of a Dalit academic from IIT-Kanpur, Dr Subrahmanyam Saderla. The experts are among the 400 scholars, academics and activists from 16 countries, representing a wide range of institutes in the fields of science and technology.

The dignitaries include American mathematician and Fields Medal recipient David Mumford, Indian physicist and Padma Bhushan awardee Ashoke Sen, and Thomas Kailath, a distinguished information theorist and recipient of the US’ National Science Medal. The signatories from Indian institutes are the Chennai Mathematical Institute, the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institute of Science, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and several IITs, including some from IIT Kanpur.

The statement comes after the institute’s senate on March 14 voted to revoke Saderla’s PhD thesis on the ground of plagiarism. The charge come after four senior professors — Ishan Sharma, Rajeev Shekhar, Sanjay Mittal and Chandra Shekhar Upadhyay — were found guilty of caste-discrimination. The faculty members were deemed guilty after undergoing several inquiries, including a three-member fact-finding committee established by IIT Kanpur, an inquiry conducted by a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court on the IIT Board of Governors’ request, and one conducted by the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes.

All three inquiries had found that the four professors had committed offences under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. The Kanpur Police had registered an FIR against the four under provisions of the Atrocities Act as well as the IT Act, and Section 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.

Saderla had faced a campaign of caste-discrimination immediately after he joined the institute, as pointed out by the several inquiry reports.

The allegation of plagiarism was been raised via an anonymous email when Saderla’s complaint against the four professors was still pending a decision. The institute’s Academic Ethics Cell’s subsequently reviewed Saderla’s PhD dissertation and had found “no reason to revoke the thesis”.

The institute’s Board of Governors will meet on April 9 to consider the Senate’s recommendation and take a final decision.

“The ethics cell found that there was no plagiarism in the creative and technical part of the dissertation, and had recommended that Dr. Saderla rewrite certain introductory sections and resubmit his thesis, along with a letter of apology. However, the Senate vote, which was conducted despite the lack of a quorum according to information received, went against Dr. Saderla,” said the statement of solidarity.

The statement has alleged that the “IIT Kanpur management has been under pressure from the Ministry of Human Resources Development in the Union Government with regard to the handling of Dr Saderla’s case”.

“The four senior professors accused of caste-discrimination against Dr Saderla are well connected,” said sources. Following the success of Saderla’s complaint, a “powerful lobby of upper-caste professors in IIT Kanpur have been conspiring to push Dr. Saderla out of the institute”, they added.

The NCSC’s inquiry report explicitly mentioned the role played by the HRD ministry in the matter, the statement said.