By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2023-03-01 10:54:19
Chief Justice of India Justice D Y Chandrachud rightly flagged the increasing cases of suicide by students from marginalized communities in institutions of eminence across India. Justice Chandrachud was addressing the convocation ceremony at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University of Law in Hyderabad. He said that "incidents of suicides among students from marginalized sections are increasing. These are not just mere statistics but these are stories of centuries of struggle". He added that "if you wish to address this issue you have to recognize and address the problem".
The immediate trigger for Justice Chandrachud's remarks was the recent death of an 18-year-old Dalit student at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, which he said reminded him of the suicide of an adivasi student at the National Law University, Odisha last year. He said that he wondered where the institutions were going wrong and what was forcing such students from taking the extreme step. The CJI strongly said that "in 75 years we have focused on creating institutions of eminence but more than that we need to create institutions of empathy." He also felt that the deaths showed "a pattern which we must question". He added that he was speaking on this issue as he felt that the issue of discrimination was directly linked to lack of empathy in educational institutions.
The moot question is: do our institutions of eminence and other campuses of higher learning recognize the problem? For, without recognizing the problem it is impossible for them to address it. The institutions have to first recognize that students from marginalized communities come with several handicaps which make it difficult for them to be accepted readily by other students and even professors. Hence, instead of having rules that single them out (like displaying scores with social categories and allotting hostels as per marks obtained, two things which the CJI asked institutions to avoid), the institutions must review the situation and have rules that are not discriminatory and do not make them stand out like sore thumbs.
CJI Chandrachud also said that judges cannot shy away from social realities. He said that "judges in India have a crucial role in making a dialogue with the society, inside and outside the courtroom, to push for social change". Both educational institutions and the judiciary must pay attention to the CJI's advice and ensure that changes happen so that no young man or woman from a marginalized community has to take his or her life just because he or she could not 'fit-in'.