Lessons Unlearned: Nine years after the Thorat Committee report

Published on: January 25, 2016

 
In 2007, then prime minister Manmohan Singh set up the Thorat Committee Report following grave and widespread allegations of differential treatment and discrimination against students belonging to what is commonly regarded as students from marginalized sections of society  as also students from the Adivasi sections of society. Dalit students also known as students from the Scheduled Caste category and Adivasi students complained of direct and subtle forms of discrimination that were painstakingly documented by the Committee. The committee consisting of professor SK Thorat (chairperson) and Dr. K.M. Shyamprasad  and Dr. R.K. Srivastava(members) was set up to “enquire into allegations of differential treatment of SC/ST students in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMMS). This was in the wake of media reports and complaints to the Government about the said harassment and abuse. The committee was given the mandate to look into all matters connected with the said harassment.”
 
The AIIMS being a 100 per cent grant-in-aid institution of the Government is to comply with all the directives of the Government and provide for the constitutionally guaranteed safe guards to the weaker sections particularly the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.
 
The observation and findings of the committee in summary form are relevant after the continuing alienation experienced by students from weaker sections, including Dalits in institutes of higher learning. The context of the Thorat Committee investigation had been the anti-quota agitation in AIMMS.
 
The Ministry for Human Resources Development (MHRD) has 40 central universities under it. There are another five under the government of India. How many of these Institutions have internalized the findings of the Thorat Committee Report?
 
In 2007 the Thorat Committee that thoroughly investigated the had recorded some disturbing findings from India’s premier medical institute. Excerpted below are the findings and recommendations from the report.
 
Excerpts from the Thorat Committee Report
 
Absence of special programs in AIIMS
 
AIIMS has not taken any initiative to arrange remedial coaching in English language, basic courses or any other spheres for SC/ST students as is required by the educational institutions. About 84 per cent of SC/ST students mentioned the need for remedial coaching in English language and basic courses.
 
Assessment and Examination and Teachers Support to SC/ST students
 
AIIMS examination system involves both internal and external assessment. A large component of the examination has a high subjective element. The examination system with 50 per cent internal assessment and with significant role of individual faculty, gives scope for faculty to misuse this privilege, if he/she wishes to do so.
 
The internal assessment and the training are linked so that through a mentoring and hand holding process the teacher gets the best out of the student while imparting skills and knowledge. The following are the responses of the students to the questions about discrimination in teaching sessions, laboratories and clinical.
 
Lack of consultation and interaction – About 69 per cent of the SC/ST students reported that they do not receive adequate support from teachers about half of them give inaccessibility and indifference as reason for less contact with teachers. About one third give caste background as reason for avoidance by the teachers. Thus it emerged that the SC/ST students do not receive the kind of support that the other students received from their teachers. Given the dependence of students on teachers for learning and skill, the lack of adequate support to the SC/ST reflects in performance and psychological problems.
 
Discrimination in Teaching – Of the total responses about 72 per cent of them mentioned some kind of discrimination being faced in teaching session.
 
Evaluation of Theory Paper-About 76 per cent of students mentioned that their papers were not examined properly. About 88 per cent mentioned that they got fewer marks than they expected. Only 20 per cent mentioned that they got feedback on their answers papers.
 
Discrimination in Practical and Viva- -About 84 per cent of respondents mentioned that evaluation in practical and viva was unfair. About 85 per cent of them mentioned that the SC students don’t receive enough time with the examiners, as compared with the higher caste students About 40 per cent of the students also mentioned that more difficult questions are generally put to them. About 76 per cent of the respondents reported that the examiner had asked the caste background; about 84 per cent mentioned that their grades were affected because of their caste background.
 
The self reported experiences of SC/ST students indicate that discrimination take the form of avoidance, contempt, non- cooperation, and discouragement and differential treatment by teachers towards these students.
 
Class representatives- A representative of the class has a role in facilitating academics and even his/her role has been discriminatory. Only on few occasion the SC/ST students are elected as class representative. About 80 per cent of the student respondent reported differential treatment being faced. in distribution of instructions, in informing schedule of examination or rescheduling of classes, class trips and cultural activities.
 
Problem in the Hostel
 
Segregation in Hostel- Over a period of time and particularly in the wake of the anti-quota
agitation, several students belonging to the SC/ST categories have shifted to the two top floors of Hostels 4 and 5 leading some sort of segregation on caste line. The SC/ST students are forced to shift to these hostels by a sustained pressure in the form of humiliation, abuse and even violence by the higher caste students. About half of the respondent students indicated caste harassment by higher caste students as reason for shifting from other hostel to hostel 4 and 5.
 
Inter-personal relation in hostel, Mess and Dinning
 
1. Social isolation -Students living in hostel where a majority students are from higher caste complained of social isolation in inter-personal relation. About 88 per cent of the students reported experiences of social isolation in various ways. and 84 per cent of the student respondent reported violence in various forms..
 
2. Discrimination in Mess- While the general messes are open to the reserved categories, about 76 per cent of SC/ST respondent students mentioned that they faced restrictions on the joining the private messes. There is a caste divide in formation of private mess.
 
Social segregation in games and sports and cultural events
 
Participation in game-The SC/ST students faced discrimination in participation various games. About 88 per cent faced discrimination in access to basket ball game followed by 60 per cent in cricket.
 
Participation in the Cultural Event PULSE-The AIIMS organize a big cultural event which goes by the name of PULSE “. About, 32 per cent of the SC/ST students have not participated in the PLUSE all together. About 68 per cent participated in PULSE in various capacities. Of these about 80 per cent participated as observer and volunteer and only 11 per cent as competitor and 7 per cent as representative in any committee. The SC/ST students feel that the PULSE organizing committee works in a biased manner such that the SC/ST students are not give due participation
 
 
Ragging and Caste Overtone
 
Even though ragging is officially banned in the AIIMS, there appears to be a month period of unofficial ragging. Students of SC/ST category have stated that ragging has serious caste
overtones and several forms of humiliation are meted out to them.
 
Problems of SC/ST Senior and Junior Residents
 
There is sufficient reason and evidence including Supreme Court observations that AIIMS followed a reservation policy which is not in conformity with the directives of the Central Government while selecting junior residents (postgraduate students). These mechanisms effectively denied a good number of opportunities to the SC/ST community...

This should be quickly corrected. Discrimination of residents of the SC/ST category is evident in a subtle as well as direct manner.
 
The Residents who did not cooperate with the administration in the anti quota agitation had harrowing experiences as repercussions... The case of Dr. Ajitha Gill is a unique example.
 
Circumstances of the SC/ST Faculty
 
Post based Roster system of selection and appointment was never followed by the AIIMS for the faculty even though it is a requirement under Central Government rules and directives. This has been to the disadvantage of the SC/ST category of faculty. A recent Supreme Court order has exposed several wrong doings on the part of the AIIMS administration faculty appointments and promotions. The SC/ST group was adversely affected by these methods of appointment. Faculties are discriminated by the HOD’s in allotting thesis guidance for post graduate residents. This reduces their research opportunities and has to compete with their colleagues with lesser publications. Clinical opportunities are also reduced so that they do not get full exposure to clinical problem solving. Conference/ workshop and external academic participation is selectively blocked in many ways.
 
Anti-quota Agitation
The anti-quota agitation was planned by a group of people who had strong views against the reservation bill to be passed soon in the parliament. Various people have given evidence to support the view that the administration of the AIIMS played a proactive role in the organization of the agitation. The AIIMS became the venue for this so called national agitation because it could paralyse health care services to thousands and thereby attract public attention. Paralyzing of the health care services including emergency services would put pressure on the government. The administrative support which was widely covered in the media went to the extent of penalizing and punishing several students and staff that did not support the agitation.
 
The manner in which the Dean Dr. Deka was humiliated needs further investigation.
 
 
Summary and Observations of the Thorat Committee
 
  • The AIIMS has a liaison office with a Liaison officer who is a senior faculty member and staff to assist him.
 
  • The liaison office deals with appointments of SC/ST non –faculty staff and submits annual reports to the Ministry of Health, SC/ST cell on the compliance of the institution to the directives of the central government regarding post based rosters.
 
  • AIIMS does not have any grievance redressal system or mechanism to deal with complaints of non-compliance of constitutional protections and safeguards to the SC/ST community against the incidences of discrimination in AIIMS.
 
  • The AIMS does not have a special cell for SC/ST students to deal with their difficulties (academic, financial, language) to cope with a strenuous academic program, taking into account their backward origins.
 
  • AIIMS does not apply the rule of post-based roster in the selection of senior and residents and faculty.
 
  • The liaison office does not deal with appointments of senior residents or faculty who are also staff and reservation rules apply to them. The liaison office has not submitted any reports to the government about the compliance of reservation policy/rules regarding this large section, namely senior residents and faculty as is required by the law.
 
  • Thus the reservation policy for student and resident doctors and faculty is dealt by the administration. Similarly in the absence of Grievance Cell, the cases of discrimination and similar cases are dealt in an ad-hoc manner by the administration.
 
Recommendations
 
Based on some insights from the study of the student’s, situation, the Committee makes the following recommendations to address some problems confronting the SC/ST students in AIIMS.

Recommendations of Special Programmes
The educational institutions are required to undertake remedial coaching for SC and ST students to improve their language skill and also remedial courses in the basic courses so that they are able to cope up with the regular course.
 
Since the majority of SC/ST students have expressed the need of special programmes, the Committee recommends that the AIIMS should start remedial course in English language and catching up courses in the core subjects. These types of programmes are run by the IITs since a long time.
The Committee also recommends that the Governing Body should set up a Committee to work out the nature of these programmes in close consultation with the SC/ST students.
 
 
Recommendation to improve the Teachers Consultation, and fair Evaluation and Examination
 
Recommendations to improve consultation with teachers:
The Committee observed that about 2/3rd of the SC/ST students reported that they do not receive as much support from the teachers, as the other students receive. The SC/ST students perceived that avoidance and indifference shown by the faculty is associated with their caste background.
It may be mentioned that it is often difficult to capture the nature of caste bias, as they are imbedded in social relations and behavior. In view of this Committee recommends that the AIIMS should undertake measures to make the faculty more sensitive towards the problems faced by the SC/ST students and develop cordial relations with them, so that the students regain their confidence in their teachers. It appears to the Committee that at present, there is lack of positive and supportive relationship and a relationship of confidence between the SC/ST students and the faculty. The Committee, therefore, recommends the following measures by the AIIMS :-
 
(a) The Governing body of AIIMS should initiate a dialogue between the faculty and the SC/ST students to understand their problems and to take measures to build up confidence in them for a positive inter-personal relations and guidance.
 
(b) The AIIMS should introduce the formal system of consultation between SC/ST students and faculty with display of schedule for the information of the students. It should not be left to informal and open ended methods of consultation. The Faculty also should be asked to keep the record of proceedings of the meetings with the students.
 
Recommendations for fair evaluation and examination
 
A very large majority of SC/ST students reported biases and unfairness in the evaluation of theory paper, practical. A large portion of them attributes this to their caste background.
 
It may be mentioned that internal evaluation constitutes half of the marks. The internal evaluation gives enough power to the faculty members to intimidate the students. Majority of the SC/ST students reported that discrimination takes the form of avoidance, non-cooperation and discouragement. Majority also reported that they do not receive fair treatment in evaluation theory and viva.
 
How to address the problem of perceived discrimination in evaluation and examination is an issue. Perhaps the objective test may be one way to overcome some of the attitudinal problems of the faculty. The objective method brings transparency and gives limited scope for personal judgment.
 
So, objective method of examination seems to be one way to overcome the problem of personal bias. However, objective method may not solve the problem of non-cooperation of faculty towards SC/ST student altogether. This indicates that there is a need of reform of examination system in AIIMS. Over a period of time internal assessment has enhanced and in the process increase the power of teacher’s differential treatment.
The Committee therefore suggests that the Governing Body of AIIMS should address this issue. It is necessary that this issue is discussed by faculty and students to take steps to build up confidence among the SC/ST students.
 
The Committee recommends that AIIMS may take following steps:
First, the examination system may be reform in which the component of objective questions may be increased significantly and subjective elements in evaluation be reduced to the minimum. This should be for all examinations.
 
Secondly, internal evaluation through practical and viva should be done in more transparent and open manner so that there is limited scope for bias. The AIIMS should develop a more transparent method for practical examination and viva, probably with independent only to regain confidence in the system.
 
Recommendation on class representative
The Committee observed the institution of class representative which is used for limited purpose by AIMS also works in discriminatory and unfair manner in the case of SC/ST. From the students it emerged that the system of class representative works in unfair manner due to two reasons. First is that in practice the election of the class representative seems to be influenced by caste divide rather than relevant issues. In that situation since the SC/ST students are in minority, they are completely under representation in class representative system. Second problem related to the working of institution of class representative. As long as the class representative work in a fair manner it will not matter as to who is the class representative. However the majority of the SC/ST students reported that it works in a discriminating unfair manner for the SC/ST students.
 
In view of this the Committee recommends the reforms of class representative system. First relates to the method of election of class representative. The Committee recommends that the concept of two representatives for a class, one of which would be from the SC/ST should be used. This will ensure the representation of the SC/ST students. Second suggestion is that authority should frame the working rule of class representative in such a manner that it is fair, transparent, and democratic so as. to ensure equal access to all the students.
 
Recommendations to improve the inter-personal relations and bring social harmony
The Committee observed that the social life in the Hostel suffer from the caste divide. It appeared that this has been going on for quite some time and this has aggravated during the anti- reservation agitation. The caste division has laid to social exclusion of SC/ST students. As has been observed in the earlier discussion the social exclusion is reflected in segregation of SC/ST students in some hostels, restrictions on dining in the private mess dominated by the high caste students, inter-personal relations and sharing of materials, participation in cultural events like PULSE and in some selected games. Based on the survey of the students and personal interviews, the Committee observed that the over a period of time the caste division has occurred in the social life of AIIMS student community. This caste divide has reflected in formation of students groups on caste line and thereby restricted the relationship to the caste groups. Recently this caste division has also consolidated around the identity of pro- and anti-reservation group which generally coincide with the caste division of the students and also faculty. It appeared to the committee that this division of the students on caste line in the associated living on the campus has lead to serious social problems. The SC/ST students in fact suffer from abuse, humiliation and violence. The caste related ragging is a classical example of the culture in AIIMS. The caste division has resulted into a culture, which at time has taken an ugly shape. Two examples of this division can be given, one relates to the video documentary showing the burning of Dr. Ambedkar’s writings by the students and second relates to grouping on the internet.

In view of this it is necessary that the AIIMS should address this issue immediately. The consequences of the social exclusion for the SC/ST are far more serious as this has developed in to psychological problems and a sense of insecurity among the SC/ST students.
In the interest of the harmonious development of any institute, there is a need that students and teaching community live in socially harmonious and helpful manner.
 
It appears to us that that AIIMS authority has not recognized the gravity of the social divide that has emerged over a period of time. Neither did it develop any mechanism to check this tendency of caste divides. The committee received representation in which it was mentioned that number of complain were given to the authority and the administration has not taken a serious note of the reported incidences.
 
In view of this the Committee makes the following recommendations:-
1. The Committee suggests that the Governing Body of AIIMS should set up a Joint Committee, comprising of students, residents and faculty to examine and study the social atmosphere in campus and understand the reasons and also develop an insight for the social division that has emerged over a period of time.

It will not be in the interest of the institute, the administration, faculty and students to deny the existence of the problem of social divide. In the experience and perception of the SC/ST student there has emerged social divide leading to their exclusion in community life of the campus. It is necessary that heart to heart discussions are held to build the confidence and address the issue collectively and together.
 
2. The Committee also recommends that the Governing Body should take some necessary steps to remedy the situation and also develop a policy and mechanism to regain the social harmony in the campus.
 
3. The Committee recommends that the AIIMS should set up a special office called “Equal Opportunity Office” to deal with all the issues relating to SC, ST and OBC students. This office should implement the remedial coaching programme and other schemes for the SC/ST students. It should also serve as an office which will address the grievances of SC/ST students and also other problems. It should be headed by a senior faculty and supported by one more faculty with proper supporting staff and funding.
 
4. The Committee has observed that the lack of participation of SC/ST students in cultural activities like PULSE and some games is because of the lack of representation of SC/ST on various Committees and the unfair working of this Committee towards the ST/ST students.
 
Therefore, the Committee recommends that the ST/ST students should be nominated as representative on all Committees dealing with matter related to students. Secondly the authority should develop the norms and regulations for the working of this Committee, which will be fair, transparent and democratic.
 
For Faculty

5. The committee recommends that Post based roster system of reservation be applied in the selection of Senior Residents and Faculty.

6. The Ministry of Health should closely monitor the implementation of reservation at the AIIMS.
 
It is a moot point today, nine years later, whether or not AIMMS or all the other Central Universities under the government of India have at all institutionalized the findings of the Thorat Committee report. The entire report can be read at https://sabrangindia.in/reports/report-committee-enquire-allegation-diff...