The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a plea filed by mothers of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi, who had allegedly committed suicide following alleged caste-based discrimination, seeking to end such bias in universities and other higher education institutions across the country. While Vemula, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University had committed suicide on January 17, 2016, following alleged caste bias, Tadvi, a tribal student at TN Topiwala National Medical College, committed suicide on May 22 this year due to alleged caste-based discrimination by three doctors in her college.
A bench of Justices NV Ramana and Ajay Rastogi issued notice on the plea and sought response from the Centre in four weeks. Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for both the mothers, said there are UGC regulations but they are not being implemented.
She said there are documented incidents of suicides taking place in university campuses. The petitioners have sought to enforce fundamental rights, particularly the Right to Equality, Right to Prohibition of Discrimination against caste, and the Right to Life.
The petition has raised issues of rampant prevalence of caste-based discrimination in higher educational institutions throughout the country and has said that it reflects flagrant non-compliance with existing norms and regulations in place. It has said these incidents are violative of fundamental rights to equality, equal opportunity, right against discrimination, abolition of untouchability, and right to life guaranteed under Article 14, 15, 16, 17 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petitioners have sought directions to the Centre and the University Grants Commission (UGC) to strictly ensure enforcement of and compliance with the UGC, (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012, popularly called "UGC equity regulations". They have also sought directions to the Centre and the UGC to ensure that all universities, including deemed universities and higher educational institutions, comply with UGC Equity Regulations in "letter and in spirit".
The plea has sought court direction to ensure that all universities and Higher Education Institution (HEI) establish equal opportunity Cells on the lines of such other existing anti-discrimination internal complaints mechanisms, and to include members from SC/ST communities and independent representatives from NGO's or social activists to ensure objectivity and impartiality in the process. It has also asked for all universities to take strong disciplinary action against victimisation of students or staff who file complaints alleging caste-based discrimination and to take necessary steps in the nature of interim reliefs that restrain the HEI from creating a hostile environment against students who file such complaints.
Besides these directions, the petition has sought various steps to ensure end of caste-based discrimination at the campuses. "Since 2004, there have been over 20 documented instances of students committing suicides across the universities in the country. Various committees setup to look into these deaths have concluded that SC, ST students have faced systematic discrimination in matters of allotting supervisors, caste-based abuses, problems in matters of scholarships, and more," the plea has said.