‘Merit’ Kills: An Open Letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes from Kerala

[This was sent to me by a group of concerned people. They prefer to stay nameless only because our educational institutions, especially technical institutions, which were never really liberal at any point, are now turning notoriously illiberal. The letter points to grave injustice which needs to be investigated and ended. The death of the young female Dalit student is a repeat almost of a similar suicide in Kerala by another female dalit student of Engineering a few years ago, who met her end strangled by ‘merit’, greed, and callous indifference. Here, the greed of the private sector in technical education cannot be blamed.]

The Chairman,

National Commission For Scheduled Castes,

5th Floor, Lok Nayak Bhawan, Khan Market,

New Delhi-110003

Sub: Scholarship for SC/ST students at IIST, Thiruvananthapuram.

 Dear Sir/Madam:

This is to bring to your notice a grave matter concerning the SC/ST students at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. IIST is a deemed-to-be-university and an autonomous institute under the Department of Space, Government of India.

The B. Tech. degree is the flagship programme of the institute. The admission to the programme is via the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). All selected students are offered full scholarship and on successful completion of the course those students attaining a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 7.5/10 are eligible for direct absorption at the level of Scientist/Engineer-`SC’ in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The continuation of the scholarship is also subject to the students maintaining a CGPA of 7.5 throughout.

As any other government funded institute, IIST also follows standard reservation norms during the admissions (even though there is no reservation for the ISRO jobs). However, quite inexplicably, the minimum CGPA required for the continuation of the scholarship is the same—7.5—for  both SC/ST and General Category (GC) students.

Typically, the JEE cutoff rank for SC/ST students is much lower than that for the GC students and they usually struggle to meet the high CGPA requirement for the scholarship continuance. Consequently, almost all of them are forced to pay their tuition fees and other expenses from the second year onwards.

We have the extremely strange situation in which almost all the general category students do not have to pay for anything (tuition, boarding and lodging) while most of the SC/ST students are forced to pay for everything! These students could have gone to any other government funded college/institute–including IITs–where no such unreasonable requirements exist, and continued to receive their scholarships. It is as if they have been lured in to a trap, with the ISRO job as bait.

To make matters worse, the SC/ST students whose scholarship has been discontinued are not allowed to apply for any other scholarship they are eligible for from external agencies. In the past many students have approached the institute authorities for the necessary permission to apply for such scholarships, but all of them have been rudely denied.

Due to this callous policy of the institute, the SC/ST students face enormous difficulties–financial as well as emotional. Recently, a first-year girl student committed suicide after learning that she had failed in a course and therefore would have to start paying for everything from the next semester. The situation is all the more difficult because the students start with full scholarship and are then suddenly denied it because they are not able to meet an unreasonably high bar. Most of them are totally unprepared for such an eventuality and they often struggle to find the required funds.

The SC/ST students at IIST are reluctant to raise this issue with agencies such as the SC/ST commission for fear of retribution from the institute authorities. Since so much is at stake (scholarship, job, etc.), they are forced to suffer silently in an environment of oppression.

We hope that the commission will urgently look into this very serious issue and do the necessary. Justice can be said to be served when not only is this abominable practice discontinued, but the students who have suffered in the past are also compensated retrospectively.

IIST website:  http://www.iist.ac.in/

On scholarship:  http://www.iist.ac.in/admissions/scholarships-financial-assistance

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

[A concerned citizen]

9 thoughts on “‘Merit’ Kills: An Open Letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes from Kerala”

  1. The problem here is not that “backward class” students do not have a lower CGPA cut-off, the problem is that they came via reservations in the first place.

    This clearly points to the uselessness of the reservation system.

    If you “help” students by placing them in an environment where it’s going to be difficult for them to cope up, then are you really helping them?

    Do you really think relaxing cut-offs is the long term solution for this?
    Will they be living their entire life with privileges due to relaxed cut-offs? What do you think happens to their self-esteem because of this “help”?

    Just accept that reservations and relaxed barriers are a FAILED SOLUTION. We need to look for OTHER SOLUTIONS.


    1. I hope that the commission will take immediate action and rectify the injustice as it is duty bound to do so


  2. Kafila will soon lose its audience.These leftist views where everything is taken care by government are wrong.Let there be merit , let people know they would not be helped everytime.Otherwise at the end for producing their kids they might need government help


  3. Ishan,

    Otherwise at the end for producing their kids they might need government help

    I believe some govts already have subsidies for IVF……..



  4. Yes, such relaxation in eligibility conditions is important. Not because these students are not intellectually capable, but because structural inequality and oppression at micro level affects particular communities in so many different ways, making it hard to “cope”. Secondly, more importantly, the entire education system – its content, worldviews, languages, pedagogic strategies – is already stacked against anyone who doesn’t already have a certain cultural capital, abilities and resources. So students are not incapable; school and university systems do not provide the requisite support for them to build on their abilities. Then we say that they have to measure up to the rigid, existing system which does not value what they have, and will not provide support for what they can learn and be. Why should they be blamed? They need help because we have propped up a system that refuses to listen to them or evaluate itself against the needs and concerns of a vast majority of Indian students.


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