Tensions continue to rise at IIT Indore over apology letters and quality of food.
Jyoti Punwani reports.
IMAGE: Indian Institute of Technology Indore students gather outside IITI Director Pradeep Mathur's bungalow to draw his attention to their grievances.
Is a peaceful demonstration by students wrong?
The Indian Institute of Technology Indore authorities certainly seem to think so.
On January 18, students of the prestigious institute protested on campus outside the residence of IITI Director Professor Pradeep Mathur, against the sudden closure of a popular canteen that had been running on a trial basis.
They repeated the protest the next day, and the director addressed them the next evening.
Now, students are being asked to submit apology letters for having participated in the January 18-19 protests.
Almost all the first year students and about 40 second year students have been asked by their faculty to submit apology letters. The demand is being made even of those who did not attend the protests.
As reported on Rediff.com, a day after the protests, the general secretary of the elected Students Gymkhana was removed from his post. Two faculty members visited his parents in Bihar to inform them about his activities.
Parents of other students, including Gymkhana members, were summoned. Many students received notices to appear before disciplinary committees.
But while the backlash to the students' protest has been swift and harsh, the source of their discontent -- unhygienic and overpriced food in their hostel mess, and a reduction in buses for about 400 post-graduate students who live 18 km away from the campus -- remains unaddressed.
For the last two years, students have been asking for the removal of the contractor who runs their mess and also a separate canteen on campus. That has not happened.
On the contrary, insects and algae allegedly now appear in the food and water served by the private cafeteria, which is run by the same contractor.
IMAGE: An Indian Institute of Technology Indore student's Facebook post alleges cockroaches spotted inside the cafeteria's food display.
Last week, says a student's Facebook post, a dead insect was found in a vegetable patty at the cafeteria. An earlier tweet by another student shows cockroaches inside the food display counter of the café.
Students do have one alternative to the existing caterer: Another private canteen which they find too expensive. On February 7, this canteen announced discounted rates -- a 30% discount for undergraduates and 25% for post-graduates.
But a comparison with its old and new rates shows that for undergraduates, the reduction in rates ranges from Rs 5 to Rs 1! Only in one item is there a Rs 10 reduction.
For post-graduates, even after the discount, the rates of all items have remained the same, and have actually gone up by Rs 5 in one item!
At their wits' end, and unable to communicate with the authorities since their representative body, the Students Gymkhana, stands dissolved, students have taken to social media.
A February 6 tweet marked to the Food Safety and Standards Authority, challenging it to conduct raids on the campus, has received a reply from the regulatory body: 'Your query has been forwarded to the concerned division for further action.'
The PMO has also been tagged in the tweet.
IMAGE: An Indian Institute of Technology Indore student's allegation of harassment by faculty.
These issues were described as "internal issues" by the media coordinator when Rediff.com spoke to her earlier this month. They were being sorted out by the authorities in consultation with students, she had said.
But the students maintain there is no communication regarding these issues. They have now sent e-mails describing the situation to all concerned government authorities, in which they quote the director as saying: 'Students will not decide which cafeteria runs inside the campus' and 'providing transportation is not the obligation of the institution'.
'Given that the mess/cafeteria food is primarily consumed by students, this amounts to effective non representation of students in decision making bodies of the institution,' says the letter.
The letter points out that there is no bus stop outside the campus, and post-graduate students have to make their own arrangements for transport.
The authorities' attitude washing their hands off their responsibility to provide transport -- which the post-graduate students are willing to pay for -- goes against the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee, says the letter, and asks whether IIT Indore is waiting for another Nirbhaya to occur.
The letter has got a response from just one of the many authorities it was sent to: The National Human Rights Commission. The mail from the NHRC says the letter has been received and a Diary Number allotted to it.
The students are now hoping the NHRC will follow up on this mail.