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Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

IIT Kharagpur in a racism scandal

  • Bureaucrats who draft eligibility criteria are often masters of the art of using weasel terms that cannot always be pinned down as being discriminatory

Is it the colour of one’s skin or the rationality of one’s outlook that qualifies one to be appointed a visiting examiner at a prestigious engineering college in India? It’s a question some academics want asked of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kharagpur, which they suspect has made a racial preference clear in a circular sent out to its staff.

In an “Office Order" dated 13 February 2020, the institute conveyed a “decision of the Competent Authority" that its panel of evaluators for PhD theses had to have at least three professors (or equivalents) from research organisations or industry who were “foreign" but not of “Indian origin". On the face of it, this may be an innocuous effort to diversify the panel and include examiners who have no link with India whatsoever. Yet, in practice, say some of those acquainted with how selections go, the exclusion of foreign citizens with an Indian lineage effectively reduces the field of applicants for these roles to Caucasian academics from the West. Moreover, it is unclear why such a criterion needs to be specified at all, given that science and technology transcend genetic differences.

Was IIT Kharagpur’s exclusion inadvertent? Or deliberate? If a balance of opinion leans towards the latter, it is because primitive attitudes persist across the country that accord Whites a higher status than others. Also, bureaucrats who draft eligibility criteria are often masters of the art of using weasel terms that cannot always be pinned down as being discriminatory, but nevertheless achieve such effects once implemented. Even if IIT Kharagpur’s order can withstand judicial scrutiny, it arguably still needs to be called out.

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