IIT Dropout Series: ‘Gender disparity’ forced her out of IIT, today she works to promote equality

This year, 75 per cent of the candidates who registered for JEE Advanced were male, in a reflection of the skewed gender ratio in the country’s premier engineering institutions. The gender disparity is also evident in the humanities courses offered by the IITs and it is purportedly one of the key reasons that prompt female students to drop out of these institutes only to pursue the same course at other central universities. Mumbai resident Aishwarya Bhuta is one such student who left her course at IIT-Guwahati after the first year.

Aishwarya graduated from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences with a degree in BA Social Science. She then decided to go for research in developmental studies in order to work on various social issues.

“The goal was clear, but the dilemma of choosing the right college persisted for a while. I appeared in a couple of entrance exams and zeroed down my choices to Azim Premji University, Bangalore and the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-Guwahati. Ultimately, I went for the latter,” Aishwarya told indianexpress.com.

In 2018, she joined IIT-Guwahati to pursue an MA in Development Studies. Within a few weeks, she noticed the gender disparity not just in her course but also in the engineering departments, which made her think twice about her decision.

“There were only two girls’ hostels on the campus compared to 10 boys’ hostels due to fewer enrolment of girls. This disparity may not seem relevant at first, but eventually it reflected in actions, including lack of sensitisation of staff as well as male students towards the other gender, security factors, incessant vigilance, etc,” she pointed out.

“In my class of over 30 students, there were only 9 girls out of which 4-5 had dropped out by the time the course concluded. All the dropouts were girls. It’s the general insensitivity in the society which considers women as weak and incapable, and we experienced such behaviour at the institute,” she said.

The implementation of course structure was another crucial factor that prompted Aishwarya to leave the institute. “Although there is a social science department on the campus, very few people were aware of its existence. This reflected in how the course structure was planned and executed. I was not happy with whatever I was reading since it had no practical output. It was largely taught in a chalk-and-board manner rather than allowing us to explore its relevance in the real world,” she explained.

One year into the course, I was not only dissatisfied but was also insecure about the future. In the meantime, I had witnessed at least 4 to 5 suicides on the campus. This created an unnecessary mental strain. Hence, I decided to drop the course at IIT-Guwahati,” Aishwarya said.

After much research, she appeared for the PG entrance exam at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and qualified, cementing her decision to leave the IIT.

“Thankfully, my parents supported my decision to leave, despite the constant nagging by relatives who labelled me ‘immature’ for choosing to quit from an IIT. My parents had witnessed my deteriorating mental health and, therefore, supported me in every way possible,” she said.

Soon, she joined JNU and in 2021, Aishwarya earned an MA in development and labour studies. She now works as a researcher at the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA India), an independent think tank that works on developmental issues in the country.

“I want to work on gender development and parity so that no other girl has to give up on her dream due to factors involving gender insensitivity,” she asserted.

“The future is interdisciplinary. We need to jump out of our tiny boxes and build a rhythmic bridge connecting disciplines. Our education must make us aware of the real world, not ignorant of it. Meanwhile, running after an institute is not a wise choice. One must focus on learning right and be content with whatever they pursue,” Aishwarya added.

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