On Jha’s Suicide Quote

-- Prabin Dhangada Majhi

[ Prabin's article is a response to senior journalist and editor Prem Shankar Jha's comments in a 2007 CNBC discussion on reservations. The comments resurfaced again in online discussions over suicides of Dalit students in India's elite educational institutions, recently. You'll find some of Jha's comments reproduced here . And you'll find more information on the suicides of Dalit students here -- Round Table India]  

Someone, who has never been uncomfortable for decades in the absence of certain sections of society, in the profession that claims to speak for everyone, judges everyone including those who are absent, must be having strange feelings about the all-too-recent hullabaloo about representations and reservations. I 'd not call that xenophobia.

Because we were not strangers. Privileges might have served him well to evade more evenly populated places where stakes are high and returns are low, but he didn't spend his life observing the cosmos in a planetarium, peeping into test tubes in a quarantined lab, poking at the chimpanzees in thick woods , exploring the inclement Antarctica or deep sea, not in the star-dust of bollywood or hollywood, not in a rehabilitation or correctional facility, not in an ashram, harem or a mental ward, not in any hole in an underground mine; not in the circus- wait, he would have met some of us in the hole or the circus. Nor was he stuck in the middle-ages inside a temple.

On the contrary, he worked for many major national dailies. So he must have at least someway or other interacted or observed dalits and adivasis behind the thick glass of his windows- of his office, house and cars, and the glasses, I am assuming, that are perched on his giant economist nose which can sniff data even if there was no study. OK , lets not assume, may be he doesn't have a nose. Nonetheless, his wild presumptions are highly objectionable.

"The majority of those who commit suicide in the IITs are those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes."

Let me ask you, is that why all suicides are hushed up? Is that the reason there is absolutely no remedial mechanism, support group or helpline to reach out to students who might be forced into this drastic step? "Majority are dalits/adivasis anyway, let them die." Because, never have I read/heard of any educational institutions unearthing the cause and reprimanding anyone responsible. One thing you must be sure of is, after any such unfortunate incident, IITs (at least IIT Bombay) declares investigation into the issue, in the IIT Bombay community portal. But it appears, as you can see, in these documentaries, that, in all cases we know the father/guardian is forced to sign documents declaring the institutes "NOT responsible" or "No inquiry required" before being handed over the dead-body. Well, it's difficult to relate to a Dalit's tragedy ( they are so melodramatic, ain't they?), so I 'll give you an example. When Einstein died, Thomas Harvey, a pathologist who performed the autopsy, removed the brain, preserved it and kept it with him till he was more than 80. Unfortunately, Einstein's relative/friend who was present there was too distraught not to consent in writing.

"There's so much pressure put on the SC/ST students that they can't cope. You're throwing them in the same water and expecting them to compete. In a place where the average IQ is said to be in the range of 140, it places enormous pressure on those who can't measure up."

I would call him a psycho, for this.

First, to give a few analogies, if Jha's theory was true, in every Olympics, Indian team would be jumping off the stadiums like rats. After every Oscar night, Bollywood would mourn. And seeing this, the Indian scientific establishment would diminish to half.

Second, the assumptions that the reasons for suicides are academic competitiveness. It is like saying "How silly to assume that this guy or that guy committed suicide because he was taunted for his caste! No, it can't be because of the torture of casteism, they are used to it. What they are not used to is competitiveness. So when they face competition, they die in hordes"

Third, had this assumption an iota of truth, another category of students committing suicide would have been students of DASA (direct admission of students from abroad to IITs)-- basically for NRIs who could pay a lot but won't write JEE; until the whole scheme was scrapped recently, we had never heard such things about them. Although I wouldn't assume all DASA students consistently performed bad.

Fourth, I guess the way he disparages the SC/ST students, Jha would be happy to concur that no suicides were as a result of losing the 1st 2nd or 3rd ranks. Competitiveness is definitely high in IITs, but is it true that all SC/ST students settle at the bottom like a fistfull of pebbles in a glass of water? Are there not any non-SC/ST students there? Do they account for the rest of the non-SC/ST students committing suicide? Why then have lower grades, IITs should just go ahead and kill the students who are performing bad.

Last and most important, the IQ thing is totally made-up. There is nothing credible to prove that.

P.S. : There have been no investigations, no data, no studies on the suicides in IITs and other institutes of higher visibility. And that's because Jha's brethren don't want any. If he wants to know the facts, why doesn't he call for a proper investigation into each of them? We would welcome that. But he throws around wild assumptions, so I have tried to pay him back in his own currency. With some interest. Have fun.

P.P.S : SC/ST student helpline is started by a Non-govt., Dalit group "Insight Foundation". Please make use of it.

[ Prabin Dhangadi Majhi blogs here]

July 27, 2011.

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