On February 18, two students from IIT Bombay discussed how Darshan Solanki’s roommate “reduced his interaction” with him after asking Solanki his rank in JEE.
Darshan, 18, was a first-generation Dalit student of chemical engineering. He allegedly died by suicide on February 12. Eighteen days later, a 12-member committee, set up by IIT Bombay’ to internally investigate his death, ruled in its report – which Newslaundry accessed – that there was “no specific evidence of direct caste-based discrimination”.
But the 17-minute telephone conversation, a copy of which is with Newslaundry, reveals more details about Solanki’s time in IIT Bombay.
The conversation was between Uday Singh Meena, an IIT student who was acquainted with Solanki, and Naveen Gurrapu, a student representative of the institute’s SC/ST cell. Uday had submitted a statement to the investigating committee on how Darshan had faced discrimination from general category students on campus.
Darshan’s family in Ahmedabad had said the same thing to Newslaundry – that Darshan often told them about the alleged discrimination he faced.
But the report suggested that Darshan himself had been “sensitive about his caste identity” and that the “despair of deteriorating academic performance appears to be a very strong reason which might have affected DS very seriously”.
Newslaundry could not reach Uday for comment.
Naveen confirmed to Newslaundry that this conversation took place. But he told this reporter, “I will not answer your questions, until you tell me the source of the recording.”
For purposes of this report, the quotes from the conversation have been translated from Hindi to English.
The phone call
During the call, Uday said he knew Darshan from a WhatsApp group where Darshan had sought help to fill a scholarship application. Uday, a Scheduled Tribe student, had volunteered to help and invited Darshan to his hostel room.
Uday allegedly met Darshan twice in his room in November last year. Darshan said nothing about discrimination during their first meeting, Uday said, but during their two-hour second meeting, Darshan allegedly said he wanted to change his roommate, who was a “general category” student.
“I told him it is not possible to change the roommate,” Uday told Naveen in Hindi. “He was saying the problem is they ask about the rank and all. His rank was asked. His rank was quite low...He used to say that his rank was very low as compared to his rank. So, his roommate had reduced his interaction with him.”
The implication here is the roommate would know Darshan got into IIT Bombay through reservation. In December 2021, the SC/ST cell at IIT Bombay conducted a survey among students on campus. It found that 37 percent of reserved category respondents were asked about their ranks in JEE, GATE, JAM or U(CEED), either to learn about their caste identities or because the person asking the question knew their caste identities. Newslaundry accessed the findings of this survey.
A PhD student at IIT Bombay explained this further.
“Earlier, people at the campus used to ask for surnames directly. But now, casteism works differently at the campus from other parts of India,” they said, speaking on anonymity due to the “sensitive atmosphere” on campus. “Upper caste students have found new ways to find out about a person’s caste. So, they ask the exam rank. There are other markers also – like they ask students if they know how to use Gmail or their familiarity with the computer. Many people from marginalised backgrounds dont have this knowledge. When they ask these questions, they learn that these people are from the reserved category. And sentiment against reservation is strong at the IIT.”
In the phone call, Uday told Naveen: “I don’t even know his roommate. He kept the conversation limited. He would not have a friendly conversation. I told him that it is not necessary that your roommate is interactive. There are a lot of people in the university who don’t talk to their roommates...He did not tell me enough. I told him to make other friends.”
Naveen said, “So, he told you all this in the second meeting?”
“Yes,” Uday said.
Around seven and a half minutes into the conversation, Uday told Naveen he didn’t think Darshan would die by suicide due to exam stress.
“I did not think that this could happen,” he said in Hindi. “But I don’t believe that he is someone who will die by suicide due to exam pressure. He was not like this as per my meeting with him.”
Naveen replied, “Tell me, when he told you about caste discrimination, why didn’t you inform Chirag, Vishal or Rajesh?” Chirag, Vishal and Rajesh are volunteers with the SC/ST cell in IIT Bombay.
“I did not think this would happen,” Uday said. “...If there was harassment, then we would have taken action or filed an FIR.”
Naveen said, “Yes yes, right. So mostly the caste discrimination started from his roommate. It was just related to rank or was he thrown some caste slurs also?”
Uday said, “I was told only about this much. I don’t know what happened after this.”
Later in the call, Naveen asked Uday to “do me a favour” and email him his WhatsApp conversations with Darshan.
Uday said yes.
Naveen then said, “Because I have told the same thing to Chirag and Vishal. That due to this incident, our career should not be ruined. Let bygones be bygones. We cannot do anything now. At the most they will get compensation or justice which is a good thing.”
Towards the end of the chat, Naveen said, “You are a little safe until the time you are placed. The situation is a little tricky. Are you getting it?”
“Okay,” Uday said.
This is how their conversation ended.
Uday’s statement to the panel
Uday’s official statement to the 12-member committee also told the story of Darshan allegedly asking whether he could get his roommate changed. He said Darshan had told him his roommate “reduced talking” to him “after knowing each other’s rank”. Darshan had specified that his roommate was from a “general category” and “did not discuss study”.
He said the same to on February 15, three days after Darshan’s death. In an interview, Uday explained how Darshan had told him about the roommate not speaking to him.
But the roommate finds no mention in the committee’s report.
Newslaundry sent a questionnaire to the public relations office at IIT Bombay. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, we urge you to seek help. Please call one of the helpline numbers listed or contact a mental health professional.
Update at 12.20 pm, April 10: The Mumbai Police SIT probing Darshan Solanki’s death has arrested his batchmate Arman Khatri, who lived on the same floor of the IIT hostel. This comes a month after the SIT recovered a note in Solanki’s room which allegedly blamed a student for his death.
Khatri allegedly threatened Solanki with a cutter after the latter made communal remarks, according to an Indian Express report quoting a police officer. The officer claimed that a caste discrimination angle, as alleged by Solanki’s family, has not been found in the probe so far.