“Untouchability continues at IIT Madras!” The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, a progressive Dalit organisation, declared on their Facebook page on Thursday. Members of the group at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, were angered by the segregation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian students in a mess on the campus.

The group posted photographs of the mess hall, with separate entrances and food counters for vegetarian and non-vegetarian students, and plastered with signs reading “hand wash, vegetarian students”, “entry/exit non-vegetarian students”.

“Upper caste households in India would usually have two entrances, one for the upper castes, the other one in the back for the ‘impure’ lower castes,” the group’s Facebook post said. “A mess in IIT Madras is now having the same system. This mess has separate entrances for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Not just that, separate wash basins and separate utensils as well. What started as a demand for ‘pure’ vegetarian mess has become full-fledged untouchability. IIT Madras is trying to become a world-class institute, but the culture inside is still regressive in many aspects!”

RR North Indian Students Mess at IIT Madras. Photo via Facebook
RR North Indian Students Mess at IIT Madras. Photo via Facebook

The mess segregation is the culmination of a process that started six years ago as a demand by a few students for “pure vegetarian food”, which is without even garlic and onion, the group said. Soon, a “pure vegetarian” food counter was set up in addition to the existing vegetarian counter in the RR North Indian Students Mess, located on the second floor of the Himalaya Mess in the centre of the hostel zone. IIT Madras has 21 student hostels.

“We understand if there are separate counters for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food,” said a research scholar who asked not to be identified. “It is shocking to see separate entrances to the same dining hall and even separate wash basins for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. We are not aware as to when the entrances and wash basins were separated. This came to our notice only on Thursday afternoon.”

'It is shocking to see even separate wash basins for vegetarians and non-vegetarians'. Photo via Facebook
'It is shocking to see even separate wash basins for vegetarians and non-vegetarians'. Photo via Facebook

The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle alleged the mess segregation has been effected with the “complete knowledge of the administration”.

“All decisions about dining halls are made by the Mess Monitoring Committee and the Council of Wardens and Hostel Management,” the scholar said. “So the segregation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian students could not have happened without their approval.”

Scroll.in emailed questions about the segregation to the institute’s director, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, but he had not responded by the time this article was published. It will be updated if he does.

The separate entrance to the dining hall for non-vegetarian students. Photo via Facebook
The separate entrance to the dining hall for non-vegetarian students. Photo via Facebook