Several days after a group of students at IIT-Bombay staged a protest against a policy reserving specific tables for “vegetarian food only” by consuming meat at one of the designated tables, hostel administrators have imposed a fine of ₹10,000 on one of the protesting students and initiated an investigation to identify two other students believed to be part of the protest.

The controversy began when administrators at Hostels 12, 13, and 14 reserved six tables in the common mess area for vegetarians and warned of consequences for violations. The following day, a group of four to five students protested against the segregation by having dinner at one of the “reserved” tables, referring to it as “individual civil disobedience.” The protest leaders informed their respective mess and hostel administrators about their actions.

While some students supported the protest, others argued for respecting the sentiments of the minority and opposed it. Despite facing shouting and unwelcome recording, the protesting students remained steadfast, finished their meal, and departed.

On October 1, the Mess Council of the three hostels conducted an online meeting with the Wardens and Assistant Wardens regarding complaints about rule violations in the mess on September 28. The meeting minutes, made public on Monday, revealed that a resident of Hostel-12 was held responsible for “instigating the incident.” However, it did not specify the evidence. The mess council deemed the act a premeditated attempt to disrupt peace and harmony within the mess and imposed a ₹10,000 penalty on the involved student, to be deducted from their Semester Mess Advance (SMA).

The SMA is an upfront payment, typically ranging from ₹25,000 to ₹30,000, made by each student for mess services. Deducting from this account means the student will need to pay an additional ₹10,000 for the remaining semester. The student received notification of the penalty via email on October 1.

Furthermore, the mess council decided to seek assistance from student representatives in identifying the other two students suspected of involvement, with plans to take disciplinary action against them as well.

The policy that designated separate tables for those consuming vegetarian food only was introduced following an incident in mid-July when some students illicitly displayed a poster designating certain tables as “for vegetarians only.” At the time, the mess councillor had denounced such segregation, stating that there was no space in the mess that could be reserved or where anyone could exclude others.

While unsanctioned segregation in IIT messes across the country has been criticized by students and alumni as a form of caste-based discrimination, this is the first time such segregation has received official approval from hostel and mess authorities.

The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle of IIT-Bombay, a student collective that supported the protesting students last week, compared the administration’s actions to a Khap Panchayat upholding untouchability in modern times.

As of now, the IIT-Bombay administration has not publicly addressed the controversy surrounding the “vegetarian food only” policy implemented in the mess area of Hostels 12, 13, and 14.

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