At least three government-run colleges, all in Guwahati, asked students to mention their castes. The mandatory options to be filled up by the candidates in the caste section were Brahmin, Ganak (a division of Assamese Brahmins, who practise astrology), Kalita, Kayastha, Shudra and Baishya.
Though the state government is trying to wash its hands of the attempt to classify students according to castes, colleges have come under flak from student bodies. “We cannot interfere in the functioning of colleges. The directorate has not asked them to collect caste data,” said the Assam director of higher education, Dharma Kanta Mili, on Thursday.
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At Handique Girls’ College (HGC), one of the leading higher educational institutions in the state, filing of online admission forms started last week and a significant number of students have already applied, giving details of their caste and community. There was no government approval to compel the students to reveal their caste and community. The HGC principal did not respond to repeated phone calls from TOI but sources in the college administration blamed the private IT service provider for the ‘goof-up’.
“There has to be a system to identify students from reserved categories like SC, ST or OBC. But we are not aware that students were asked in the admission portal to reveal their caste. The college authority may drop this section soon,” the official said.
Karmashree Hiteswar Saikia College (KHSC), another city college, which also asked its students to reveal their caste, is in a dilemma. “We don’t even keep a record of the religions of the students leave alone caste. We got to know this morning that students were asked to tick their caste. The IT firm concerned has been asked to drop these options immediately,” said principal Sikhamoni Konwar. She said her college has been sensitive towards the privacy of the students. “There are no instructions from the government to record the caste and religion of the students,” she added.
Adroit DigiSoft Solutions Pvt. Ltd., the IT firm which was roped in by three colleges where caste registration was detected, said they wanted to help the colleges by specifying the caste and community related information of the students. Software developer KK Gogoi, a spokesperson of the firm, however, told TOI that they have decided to drop the caste option after the colleges raised objections.
“We wanted to be more specific. If a student is from the general category, his caste-related information would have made their identity more clear,” said Gogoi. Arya Vidyapeeth College, a premier institute of higher learning in Assam, also reported the mandatory caste information section for students in the form.
The Students’ Federation of India was the first to draw everyone’s attention to the issue late on Wednesday. Secretary of the state unit of SFI, Nirangkush Nath, said the initiative may be a part of a design of the BJP-led government to promote casteism in academic institutions. “Some students were unaware of their caste when our volunteers were helping them fill up the forms online. Never before did we have to reveal our castes while filling up forms,” he said.
He added that had the government been clear on the issue, no college would have dared to ask students to reveal their caste. “We detected it in three colleges. Other colleges must have also done it. There are some unconfirmed reports of caste-based identification in upper Assam districts like Golaghat as well,” said Nath.