Caste in IIT Kanpur: Caste-based social realities that shape our academic existence

“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.” – Rohith Vemula

In October 2021, an Assistant Professor at IIT Madras resigned, stating caste based discrimination at the hands of his colleagues as the reason behind his resignation. Just a few weeks later, a PhD scholar at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala sat on a hunger strike, similarly alleging caste based harassment and discrimination by the director of International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (IIUCNN) at MGU. The news cycle of the past year itself paints a certain picture of the complex and insidious ways in which caste comes to function in academic spaces. Closer home at IIT Kanpur (IITK hereafter) there was an incident recently, where a group of students received casteist abuses over an online portal. The incident came to our knowledge only because one person chose to speak about it in a close circle. Talking about our own experiences to each other revealed to us a serious lack of institutional and/or informal support systems for students in such situations within the campus.

Academia is often looked at as an island that is cut off from the existing social realities of common life. This facade functions as an excuse to not allow any conversation about the inequalities we experience in our daily life. Discourses about caste are appropriated by anti-reservationists in Indian academic spaces. It is no different in IIT Kanpur. The city outside is divided along caste and class lines, while the campus itself puts up an appearance of being an egalitarian community (that is, modern caste-lessness). There is an assumption here that your caste identity becomes irrelevant as soon as you step inside the campus. But the scarce numbers of reservation faculty hires and the sheer number of upper caste surnames in the various departmental faculty lists tell a different story altogether. The numbers of Dalit1 undergraduate students who were terminated as a result of their purported subpar academic performance are also considerable and worrying.

Caste shapes our social, cultural, and economic experiences. An individual’s caste location determines their accessibility to various resources. Caste in this way is not just a socio-cultural phenomenon but is a hierarchical system that determines our access to resources. Its existence in the realm of dominant ideas determines its perpetuation in the day to day material existence and vice versa. Yet, within academic campuses (especially IITs, IIMs, IISERs) there is hardly any discussion on caste realities and there are hardly any caste based support groups. For example, IIT Kanpur has the presence of a gender sensitization Women’s Cell but with regards to caste, there is absolute silence. Through this article, we would like to investigate the caste-ridden realities which exist for students of IIT Kanpur. The purpose is to provide a holistic account, which leads to future conversations amongst the student community in IITK and beyond.2

In order to disturb the silence around caste that showcases itself in an apparent caste-lessness in the academic culture of IIT Kanpur, we felt the need to build a conversation and learn about the students’ experiences of caste. We talked to both so-called upper caste3  as well as Dalit students. From these conversations, it was made clear to us that we interact with the notion of caste at various stages and facets of life. Through the interviews we have tried to understand various lived experiences of the students of IIT Kanpur before and during their campus life. These students come from diverse economic, social and cultural backgrounds. Some of the salient pointers that came out are notions of purity and pollution and deep seated insecurities around caste identities. Common living facilities meant people are expected to socialise, this process has only meant propagation of caste practices in dining facilities, rooms, and common areas.

We started our conversations by talking about our colleagues’ first memories of caste. One of our fellow Dalit students recollected an incident from his childhood which made him aware of his caste position for the very first time. He had gone to fetch water from a common facility in his ancestral village. “Not only was I denied access to the facility, but my pot was also kicked by one person belonging to an upper caste,” he said. Another upper caste student mentions touching a Dalit teacher’s feet on the occasion of Teachers’ Day. “This gesture was frowned upon by the other upper caste staff of the school. My father was asked by the principal to forbid him from repeating such gestures in the future,” the respondent recalled. One upper caste respondent recalled how she was rebuked by her mother for taking a kid in her lap at her native village. The kid in question apparently belonged to a so-called lower caste.4 All of these incidents take place in the early teen years of these respondents, a stage of socialisation in life when they are building individual and social consciousness.

Another Dalit scholar shared that ever since his childhood, he had started to face a sudden decrease in his scores as soon as his caste was revealed. He did a social experiment in which he decided to exchange his drawing with a friend and discovered that the teacher graded his drawing on the basis of his surname, rather than on the basis of his skill. From their experiences of either being discriminated for their caste position, or for being made aware of their caste position vis-a-vis being a Dalit or being upper caste (also known as graded inequality), we learned that the students who come to IIT Kanpur come here with the baggage of their caste location. They are already conditioned into casteism, the same casteism which they either perpetuate and/or continue to suffer through in its various iterations. 

We collected examples of a system that discourages Dalit students from creating spaces to organise. The attempt is to kill off the radical potential of these individuals who are capable of thought, feeling and questioning. The distinction among students coming from various backgrounds is evident, in their academic as well as hostel life. One Dalit respondent mentioned that their father advised them to be careful about not revealing their caste identity once they come to a campus like IIT. The person did not pay much attention as they thought that these are things of the past and their father is being unnecessarily protective. However, to their surprise, when they came to the campus, they realised that casteism is very prevalent even today, in practices such as asking the new students about their credentials so as to learn whether they belong to a reserved category or not. Another respondent shared an anecdote about his experience in an IIT Kanpur mess. One so-called upper caste student used to avoid sitting with our respondent at the same table, as our respondent used to eat meat. Some may pass this as ‘aversion to meat’, but this aversion itself stems from a hierarchization of entire communities on the basis of the idea of purity and pollution associated with meat eating. This can also be witnessed in the students’ interaction with workers of the campus, especially the sanitation workers. Another time, a girl asked a sanitation worker to pick her keys from a toilet bowl where she had dropped them, while she did not want to pick them up herself. “I felt humiliated on behalf of the worker,” the respondent said. One respondent shared that once, in the hostel, they picked up a sanitation worker’s slippers to keep it out of her way while she cleaned but the sanitation worker got very upset with them as the worker felt that the resident/student had done something unthinkable. Internalised caste based notions of purity-pollution are veiled and expressed through an urban cultural vocabulary of discrimination such as notions of ‘hygiene’ in spaces of privilege such as IIT Kanpur. The above narratives point out that caste practices are being regularly trivialised and justified through rhetorical arguments of hygiene and biology. These are not just one time incidents but can be understood as crucial markers of caste differences within the student community of IITK.

Academic spaces are conceived as open meadows which allow everyone to socialise and engage with on an equal footing. Sadly, academic spaces in India have exclusion at its core, and below we cite some such examples from IITK. We came to know about an unfortunate incident in the campus from one of our upper caste respondents where, a Dalit student had to take lift from a senior on cycle while going to the academic area from his hostel. Later the senior was advised not to repeat such an incident by others because the student they had given a lift to was Dalit. In another interview a Dalit student recalled an incident which took place in his second year of undergraduate programme. One upper caste student was allotted hostel room along with a Dalit student on a sharing basis. After the parents of that upper caste student came to know about the identity of their son’s room-mate, they immediately asked for a different room to be allotted. One Dalit respondent recalls a chat with two of his friends regarding a potential romantic interest. It is worth noting here that among our respondent’s two friends one was aware of his caste, and another wasn’t. Upon understanding the possibility of romantic alliance, the one unaware (of his caste) responded that since the girl belongs to a Scheduled Caste community,5 he should not pursue her. This shows that the notions of maintaining caste purity are so deep rooted that even the possibility of an inter-caste romance is shunned before it begins. One respondent went on to mention that the campus in general is insensitive to caste based issues. According to him the practice of putting Dalit students under the scanner of merit has been normalised, while for an upper caste student poor performance would be looked at as lack of attention in studies and not lack of merit. In this system, merit is a catchphrase that captures the imagination of many. However, merit is nothing but a mere abstraction which justifies hierarchies of the old world and creates new ones at the expense of the marginalised.

Both the upper caste and Dalit students carry the baggage of caste into IIT Kanpur and come across similar hierarchical structures at play inside. We see modern untouchability at work within the messes, where the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are kept separate and upper caste students refuse to sit beside their Dalit colleagues. Similarly, the sanitation workers who predominantly belong to Dalit castes are routinely talked down by the students and the administrative staff of the hostels and are made to feel unclean despite being the ones who make sure that our spaces remain “clean”.

It has been noted by all the Dalit respondents that the institute does not even acknowledge these issues. There is not even a single functional SC/ST cell or support group to recognise the issues faced by Dalit students. There is almost no initiative to bridge the gaps between students coming from different backgrounds. One Dalit respondent mentioned an incident wherein a male Dalit friend of theirs had to attend an informal discussion hosted by their student guide on their first night on campus, where anti-reservation sentiments were openly expressed. They also mentioned a time when her Dalit friend suffered from an attempt at social boycott by her roommates because of her dark skin and Dalit background. “When my friend reported the incident to the Counselling Service, she was advised to just sort it out with the roommates”, the respondent recalled. Another respondent mentioned how a student holding a position of responsibility within the Students’ Gymkhana, decided never to reveal their caste identity as they feared that they would lose social support from the student community.  

The most consistent way caste in academia functions is via the discourse of reservation. Several Dalit students shared their experiences of being mocked, questioned, discriminated against and of suffering from attempts at publicly humiliating them at the hands of their peers. One Dalit respondent, during his college days, had observed changes in people’s behaviour on revelation of his caste identity and preferred to avoid conversations about his caste. Discomfort regarding coming out as a Dalit is quite common among students. A student getting admission in a reserved quota is discriminated against and has to constantly justify why they deserved to get admission at all. This entire ordeal is exhausting and time consuming, according to a Dalit respondent.

One Dalit student shared that reservation is inbuilt in the caste system for upper castes. Their social status economic background, as well as cultural markers that mark them out as upper caste, all contribute towards their being allowed access into socio-cultural and intellectual spaces such as various cultural clubs and societies within the campus itself where the Dalit students have to struggle to enter. One upper caste respondent for example said that even though he shared the same economic background-middle to lower middle class-with many of his non-upper caste school peers, the social network he could leverage to further his academic endeavours was absent in his peers’ lives. This is an example of how upper castes are privileged with varied forms of resources at their disposal. In this case, the social network of extended family and friends provides advice and guidance that are an invaluable resource for education which may then be used for upward mobility.

According to an upper caste respondent, “our education system is designed for the privileged castes”. Students are not trained to critically think about their surroundings, rather a certain kind of competitive spirit (which determines merit) is inculcated in the students. Another upper caste student said that the realisation of caste came through interactions during the period when they were preparing for competitive examinations, where the dominant narrative was that certain people got an ‘unfair’ advantage over the others for availing reservation. Similarly, discussions about caste were not mainstream in his college but whenever they came up, it would be about reservations. Another respondent saw her friend being mocked for using reservation to get into a college. The friend was declared undeserving in their friend peer circle. In retrospect she feels she was as much part of it because she didn’t protest even though she was not among the vocal ones. According to her casteism makes people from the depressed castes suffer from inferiority complex.

From our conversations with the students, we could get a peek into how caste is woven into all aspects of our social life. We traced their journey from their childhood experiences of caste to how their ideas about caste developed in their interaction with caste in academic spaces. We could see an uneasiness emerging through their ideas and experiences of reservations especially as within academic spaces, we see caste discourse being diluted limited to a discourse about reservation. While the discourse of reservation is necessary to address questions of social justice, it is continuously used to dilute the conversation around caste as a system of graded inequality which is much more pervasive and subtle in its functioning in privileged urban academic spaces. The Dalit students who are routinely discriminated against for availing reservation also end up spending a lot of their energy in dealing with the consequences of this discrimination or in shielding themselves from it. Caste in this discourse becomes exclusively about justifying the necessity of social justice measures such as caste-based reservation. The need of the hour is to have a comprehensive discussion on caste and caste based practices within the student community. Only by collective deliberation and critical engagement can the phenomenon of caste be challenged.

Forum for Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK)

29th April 2022

  1. One of the initial questions that we had put to our respondents: What was your first experience with caste or caste discrimination? We found varied responses. Predominantly respondents who directly stated that it was them or, their families who were discriminated against or ‘they were made to realise their position in the caste hierarchy’, we categorise this group as Dalit students. The other category who responded to our initial provocation by stating that they came to know about the caste based reality only by anecdotal accounts or they were made to realise via direct mentoring or experientially that they belong on the upper echelon of the caste hierarchy. We categorise these students as upper caste. We acknowledge that caste as a reality exists across South Asia. But we have limited our study within the boundary of IIT Kanpur campus.
  2. With few expectations such as Harvard University :
  3. We use “so called” to foreground our disbelief in such hierarchies but at the same time, we have no other terminology which would enable accessibility to our readers, thus the term upper caste has been used as a non-Dalit identifier.
  4. The respondent used the term “lower caste”.
  5. The respondent used the bureaucratic term “Scheduled caste”.

How Mess Functions at IIT Kanpur: Part 3 Per Student Per Day (PSPD) Model

In part 1 and part 2 of the series ‘How Mess Functions at IIT Kanpur’, an attempt has been made to familiarize the new incoming students with the functioning of mess. In part 1 the financial and managerial aspects were discussed with emphasis on MEC, monthly bill, and the role of HECs and residents. In part 2, the working condition of mess workers and labor law violations at messes were the focus of our analysis.

In this part, we will be discussing the Per Student Per Day (PSPD) Model. After the restart of the campus following the prolonged closure due to COVID, students noticed a sharp increase in monthly mess bills. Students in many halls have started raising this issue at different levels. FCT is of the opinion that the sudden increase in the monthly mess bill is primarily due to the absence of working HECs in halls. After the restart of the messes, Halls were working either with a few old HEC members (as many had already finished their tenure) or there was no HEC at all. While the price rise of the raw material partly explains the steep rise in BDMR, it is also a reality that the active involvement of students and HEC in mess affairs can keep the monthly bill under control. During the initial months of restart of the messes the monthly mess bills were as high Rs 110-115. At that time, the messes were following a menu prepared by the DoSA office without any consultation with students. Absence of a functioning HEC meant the students had little control over the procurement process of raw materials. In more recent times with the active involvement of HECs, BDMR has stabilized between Rs 70-80. But the fact remains that BDMR in post-pandemic time is considerably higher compared to pre-pandemic days. With the rising number of students asking about
increased mess bills, the IIT-K administration is planning to introduce an alternative mess model. This alternative mess model was first introduced in 2017 and then again in 2019. On both occasions, the institute had to take back the proposals due to many limitations of that model and all-out students’ opposition.

The postponement of the mess contracts renewal for three months, which was due in February has further raised concern among the students. In May, when this renewal is planned, the majority of students will not be on campus due to semester break. In the absence of students, the institute gets a free hand to implement this new model without any consultations with or resistance from the students. As students are the primary stakeholders in the mess, they need to understand this new model to prevent its imposition in their absence.

What is PSPD Model?
To understand the PSPD model, we must first examine the tender document of 2017 which invited bids for both the Fixed Cost Service Charge ((FCSC) present mess model) and Per Student Per day (PSPD) model. Point-wise analysis of this tender document is presented below.

  1. The difference in the commodity of bidding (refer to points 3(a) & 3(b) of part-1 of the tender document)
    • For the FCSC model, this document states that “the Institute shall provide fixed service charge per month for providing the messing services as described in the scope of work for a tentatively fixed number of students as per the minimum wages rates applicable. However, the same shall be subject to revision, if there is any hike in the rate of minimum wages. This excludes the cost of the raw materials or inputs which are to be borne/ provided by the residents of the halls.” In simple words, for the FCSC model, contractors or the service provider bid only for the service charge to get the tender.
    • For the PSPD model, this document states that “the service provider shall prepare the food in the mess by procuring raw materials and labor at its low cost as per the menu provided to them by the halls and serve it to the residents of the halls on “Per Student Per Day” basis as per the agreed rate. The service provider shall also be required to provide all related services for the preparation, serving and cleaning in addition to any other works which are defined in the scope of works.” Here for this model, the bidder bids for the complete cost of food per day while taking into consideration the raw material, manpower, and other services required in the mess.
  1. Differences in the employment of workers (refer to points 26 & 27 of part-1 of the tender document)
    • As per the tender document, “The cost of service under fixed cost service charge model shall remain static during the contract period taking into account the strength of 40 workers for 450 students.” For the FCSC model, the contractor must follow the students to workers ratio of (1:11.25) at all times in the mess.
    • On the other hand, “the “Per Student Per Day” rate shall be inclusive of all the charges i.e., the cost of all raw materials, cost of manpower being not less than 25 workers de-facto on work every day.” Here, the institute arbitrarily comes up with a figure of 25 workers per day without mentioning the number of students who will be paying for the service.
  1. Mode of payment to the vendors (refer to point 39 of part-2 of the tender document)
    • For the FCSC model, all the payments to the vendors are made through the hall office against all the bills submitted within a payment cycle.
    • For the PSPD model, the contractor orders all the raw materials required and makes respective payments without any involvement of the Hall office or HEC in the process.
  1. Utilization of money collected from cash coupon sale (refer to point 53 of part-2 of the tender document)
    • In the case of the services based on an FCSC basis, the entire realization from the sale of coupons is deposited with the hall office every month, which helps in reducing the monthly mess bill. (Refer to part 1)
    • In the case of the services on a PSPD basis, the sale proceeds of coupons shall be the preserve of the contractor.

What does PSPD mean to its stakeholders?
Based on the provisions, terms, and conditions mentioned in the tender document, we must examine how PSPD is going to affect its different stakeholders and how their roles change if this new mess model is implemented.

  1. Students
    • Students are the primary service users in the messes of IIT Kanpur. In the present FCSC model, students pay for everything required in running a mess facility. Through the Monthly-Mess-Bill, students pay for the cost of raw materials and through Mess Establishment Charge they pay for the wages, EPF & ESI of mess workers along with the service charge (profit) to the vendor. Apart from this, students actively participate in deciding the mess menu, quality of raw materials, allocation of mess tenders, selection of vendors etc. FCSC empowers the students through HECs to micromanage the mess affairs to ensure good quality food at an affordable cost. Contractors only get a fixed service charge for managing the manpower required in the mess. If the PSPD model becomes a reality, students will lose the decision-making authority in the mess because as per the terms of the contract, the contractor will decide on the mess menu, quality, and quantity of food based on the price which is quoted while obtaining the contract. Since the lowest bidder gets the contract, profit maximization will happen at the cost of the quality of the raw material and other services required in the mess. In such conditions, HECs will become redundant because the contract empowers the contractor to take every key decision. Thus, the students will mostly have no say in mess functioning.
    • The PSPD model has been advertised as a model under which the cost of food for the students will decrease. This characteristic of the PSPD model requires a serious examination. The cost of pulses, vegetables, edible oil, cooking gas, etc. is subject to constant fluctuations throughout the year. At times if the prices of raw materials go up, will the contractor serve us the food at the same price while compromising on its profit or will it be forced to increase the cost of food? Or will it be compelled to compromise on the quality of raw materials to maintain its profit? Latter two seem more likely to take place in such a situation. Here we must remind ourselves of the marketing strategy of a private telecommunication company launched in the middle of the last decade. It dropped the tariffs for cellular and internet services almost to negligible amounts to gain a foothold in the market. After capturing the market, it increased the tariffs multi-folds. A similar scenario can arise in IITK messes once the PSPD is implemented in all the messes of the campus. Although this model is being sold in the name of lower food prices to the students, with time it can become even costlier than what we are paying today.
  1. Workers of the mess
    In part 2 of the series on ‘How Mess Functions at IIT Kanpur’, we have discussed the working condition of the mess workers under the present mess model i.e., the FCSC model. It has been laid out that there is a gross violation of labor laws in the present system where for 450 students 40 workers are employed to run a mess facility. These workers are made to work for as high as 11 hours in a workday of 16 hours without any payment of overtime wages.
    In the PSPD model, the administration has asked the contractors to get the same job done by 25 workers. The work that 40 workers do in the present model is supposed to be performed by 25 in the PSPD model. What is the rationale here for such a drastic reduction in the number of workers? Is it possible for 25 workers to perform the work of 40 workers without further violation of labor laws? The PSPD model paves the way for the more aggressive and naked transgression of labor laws.

In 2019 students had analyzed the PSPD model and submitted the petition titled ‘Analysis of Per Student Per Day (PSPD) mess model and petition to withdraw it from the tender document’ along with the signatures of around 3000 undergrad and postgrad students to the IITK-administration urging that the PSPD model must be scrapped. At the same time, the opposition to this new model not only came from students but also from other campus community members like faculty members and workers. Hamara Manch, a forum for the workers of the campus also published a note titled “New Model in Hostel Messes: High Cost of Cheap Food” on the introduction of PSPD in hall mess facilities highlighting its shortcomings.
Recently, some of the students have been informed by the CoSHA convenor that the institute administration had initiated the process for PSPD implementation in November 2021 by calling quotations from the contractors. Since November, no formal communication has been made from the administration to the students. It is very unfortunate that such a major change in mess policy is being planned without taking the views of the students who are the primary users of the mess facilities.

Given the above, the students must come together as one voice and demand answers to the following from the administration:

  1. Why was the mess tendering, that was supposed to happen in February, postponed for three months without any explanation?
  2. If the institute administration had been requesting a quotation on PSPD since November 2021, why has no communication with students happened till now?
  3. Since students pay for everything in the mess, why is the administration pushing so aggressively for the PSPD model which has been rejected by students twice? If the administration is concerned about providing cheap food to the students, why don’t they start with cheap education in the first place? Per semester fee at IITK for undergraduate students is as high as Rs 1.25 lakh.

Students must discuss this issue with HECs and through them, resolutions rejecting the PSPD model must be passed at hall levels as well as CoSHA, and Students’ Senate level. We will end this part with the following questions to the students:

  1. Are we ready to have cheap food in the mess at the expense of food quality, autonomy of HECs and our power to decide what to eat in the mess or at the expense of the exploitation of mess workers?
  2. Can we not imagine an alternative mess model which does not perpetuate the workers’ exploitation and at the same time students can have food at affordable prices?

Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK)
(Educate, Agitate, Organize)

Place: IIT Kanpur
Date: 19.04.2022
Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK) is an informal group of IIT Kanpur students and community members aiming to develop a critical understanding of issues facing the institute and the country. FCT-IITK formed out of a series of discussions amongst students who were concerned about the erosion of democratic values both within the campus and in the country. This forum aims to understand the systemic reasons that underlie the problems faced by the campus community and attempts to understand the socio-political context we occupy within the larger body politic of the nation.
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How Mess Functions at IIT Kanpur: Part 2

Invisibilization of Labor at Mess

In the first part of this series of articles, we gave a detailed account of the functioning of messes at IIT Kanpur (IITK). We explained in detail how the mess establishment charge (MEC) and the monthly mess bill are calculated. Furthermore, our account included how the money collected from the students as MEC and the monthly bill is spent to pay the workers, contractors, and vendors. Additionally, we discussed the role HECs, students, contractors, wardens, and IITK administration play in the functioning of the mess facility. The important takeaway point from the previous part is as follows:

BDMR=(Total expenditure on raw material-total collection from cash coupons)/(no. of hall residents x no. of days in the month)

Monthly mess bill =(BDMR x no.of days food taken)+ Extra items purchased+HDF

Sr. NoDescriptionAmount(Rs)
1.Salary (1200-man days)7,74,000
2.Service Charge (8% of workers’ salary)61,920
3.GST (18% of Sr. No. 1 & 2)1,50,465
4.PF (12% of workers’ salary)92,880
5.ESI (3.75% of workers’ salary)29,025
6.Total (for the month of 30 days)11,08,298
Table 1: Tentative Details of MEC Expenditure
Sr. No.DescriptionAmount(Rs)
1.MEC (per semester of 5-months)13,000
2.MEC per month2,600
3.No of the residents in Hall (assume)450
4.One-month MEC of 450 residents11,70,000
5.The total salary paid to the worker (1 month)11,08,298
Table 2: Tentative Comparison of MEC collected & its Expenditure
*The difference in sr. no 6 (of table 1) & 5 (of table 2) are because we have taken approximate values for simplification of calculations.

Another key point of the previous part was that it is the HECs and residents who play a key role in the management of all the mess affairs such as the selection of contractors, selection of vendors, quality of raw materials, mess menu, etc. The students need to remember that they pay for everything in the mess and they must ensure that the control of management remains with them to ensure good quality food at affordable prices.

In this part, we talk about the workers, whose labor makes sure that we are served fresh and hygienic food thrice a day. The workers of the mess found little mention in the previous report as their participation in the daily functioning of the mess calls for greater attention and focus.

The HECs, wardens, and concerned IITK officials such as DoSA, and ADHA engage in the mess affairs for a limited period.  An elected HEC’s involvement continues for one year and that of the wardens & concerned IITK officials, for three years only.  The mess workers are the only experienced members whose practical knowledge about the workings of a mess surpasses others. Many workers have been working in the messes of IITK for as long as 15 years. It is these experienced workers who make possible the smooth functioning of mess daily.  This second part will cover the mess-work and working conditions of the mess workers in detail.

Employment & Deployment of workers in Mess

  • As per the contract

As per the current Fixed Cost Service Model (FCSC), every year the institute invites tenders for providing services for all the messes. The contractor who qualifies the technical and financial bid during the tendering process is selected for providing services by an individual hall based on experience and the lowest financial bid. The financial bid includes the minimum wages of the worker to be employed in the mess and the service charge (profit of contractor).

The only role played by the contractor in the running of the mess is employing the required number of workers in the mess to ensure smooth functioning while following the labor laws. The contractor hires the mess staff which includes a mess manager, mess accountant, mess storekeeper, supervisor, cook, and workers involved in cooking and serving food. The hired workers are deployed in the kitchen or service area based on their experience and expertise. The contractors are the final authority to hire and dismiss the workers from employment.

  • As per the actual practice at IITK

As mentioned above, the mess workers are the only experienced stakeholders involved in the functioning of the mess. This experience and coordination among workers are very vital for the proper functioning of the mess. It takes a lot of time to train a new worker according to the working system of IITK messes. If every year a new contractor deploys a new workforce, it can hamper the smooth functioning of the mess. The services can become chaotic till the recruits gain enough experience of the working condition and nature of the services required at the mess. To ensure that no such condition arises in the mess, the workers of all the messes are retained even though contractors are changed. It is through the continuous engagement of the HECs, hall residents, mess workers, and campus community that the wardens and admin have come to an informal agreement that workers are to be retained for a seamless service in the mess. At times when the requirement for new workers arises, the contractor recruits workers. In case the number of workers is higher than the required number in a hall they are transferred to another hall wherever there is a similar requirement.

HECs and administration must ensure that no malpractices such as favoritism and corruption take place during employment and deployment of workers by regularly issuing necessary directives to halls and contractors.

Role of workers in the mess

Mess workers are the backbone of the functioning of the mess facilities at IITK. Their work includes:

  • the preparation of ‘basic daily meal’ (BDM), which includes food items consumed by residents in breakfast (such as daily changing items like poha, dosa-sambar, sandwiches, etc. along with regulars like daliya, sprouts, egg, milk, tea, etc.), lunch, and dinner (one dal, one sabzi, rice, chapati, sambar, fruits, etc.).
  • the preparation of extra food items such as veg & non-veg items prepared almost every day on prior bookings.
  • to prepare the items cooked on the order of individual residents (Omelettes, paneer bhujia, egg rice, fried rice, dal tadka, DCBM, to name a few).
  • apart from the preparation of food, workers are tasked with the servicing of the food to the residents.
  • other works of mess workers include the pre-cooking preparations i.e., cleaning and cutting of vegetables, cereals, etc, cleaning of kitchen and service areas, cleaning of utensils, kitchen, dining and storage area after services.

Salary and other benefits for the workers

IIT Kanpur is mandated by The Minimum Wages Act 1948 and The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 to pay all contractual workers the central minimum wage. For each workday, a mess worker is paid the central minimum wage, which is Rs 654 for unskilled workers, Rs 724 for semi-skilled workers (assistant cook, cashier, assistant storekeeper, non-veg cook), skilled workers Rs 795 (Head cook, accountant, supervisor, and head storekeeper) Rs 864 for the highly skilled worker (Manager).

Apart from the salary, the workers are entitled to social benefits in the form of Provident Fund (PF) and health insurance through Employee State Insurance (ESI) that contractors deposit in the workers’ accounts at Employees’ Provident Fund Organization and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation respectively.

Here, we would like to mention that the minimum wages and other benefits for the workers are the product of a long struggle of workers and the concerned campus community, and their continuation depends on continued vigilance and engagement by all the stakeholders.

Working Conditions of Mess Workers

Though much attention is given to the taste and quality of the food, very little is talked about the workers who toil through the day and run the mess. We feel the students, the primary users of the mess facility should be aware of the ground realities of the working conditions in messes.

Messes at IITK work on an arbitrarily fixed ratio of one mess worker per 11.25 students. The contractor is bound to maintain this ratio, as per the contract. To understand how the present ratio works, let us assume that a hall of residence Y houses 450 residents. As per the ratio of (1:11.25), 40 workers must be present at work every day. Taking into consideration that each worker is supposed to get 4 days off in a month, a hall must employ 47 workers for 450 students. 

Workers are supposed to reach the hall mess before 6 am and start their work and they leave around 10 pm, taking only a couple of hours of breaks in between. The timing for mess services for residents is 7:30 am to 10:00 am for breakfast (8 to 10:30 am on weekends), 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm for lunch, and 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm for dinners. Workers are supposed to be present in the mess around 1.5 hours before the service of food to the residents. A worker for the breakfast comes to the mess at around 6 am and leaves around 10:30 am, after preparing and serving the breakfast and performing the necessary required work for the preparation of lunch. These workers again report to the mess at noon for lunch preparations and services and leave around 3:00 pm, after preparing and serving the lunch and performing the requirements for the preparation of dinner. At 6:30 pm workers again return to work for dinner preparation and services and leave at 10:00 pm after ensuring the necessary preparations for the next morning’s breakfast. In this way, a worker spends around 10.5 hours at work each day. However, the workers are engaged in the mess for more than 16.0 hours a day, since in their rest time they cannot work or engage themselves in any other activity. This 10.5 hours of day’s work is counted as one working day for the workers. This is a clear violation of labor law mandated for a central organization to be followed.

Section 24 of The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 says that: the number of hours of work that shall constitute a normal working day.

  1. The number of hours which shall constitute a normal working day shall be:
    a) in the case of an adult – 9 hours;
    b) in the case of a child – 4 &1/2 hours.
  2. The working day of an adult worker shall be so arranged that inclusive of the intervals of rest if any, shall not spread over more than twelve hours on any day.

As per point a, of section 24, the workers who are supposed to work for a maximum of 9 hours are made to work 10.5 hours daily. Whereas, as point b mandates that the working day of a worker shall not exceed 12 hours after including the time of rest, here in IITK the working days of the workers go up to 16.5 hours.

Further, Section 25(1) of The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 says that: When a worker works in employment for more than nine hours on any day or for more than forty-eight hours in any week, he/she shall in respect of overtime work, be entitled to wages:

  • in the case of employment in agriculture, at one and a half times the ordinary rate of wages;
  • in the case of any other scheduled employment, at double the ordinary rate of wages;

Here also, even though the working hours and the working days of the mess workers exceed the time frame for normal working hours/day, the workers are not paid for overtime work that they perform every day. These above-mentioned violations of labor laws are not paid the attention that they require.

The overburdening of work for the mess workers is not just limited to extended working hours. The ever-increasing mess menus further add to the workload of these workers. By adding multiple special items to the menu, the HECs and the mess committee (the residents) force the workers to prepare more food items in that given time. For a mess worker more special items simply mean more unpaid work since they are given no overtime for the extra work.

The workers prepare and serve food not just for hall residents but also for the visitors from other halls, SBRA, RA tower, etc. Effectively, workers are further forced to work extra without being paid. Here, it is important to mention that the money collected by serving food to the non-hall residents is used to decrease the BDMR of the hall residents, whereas the workers who work extra to serve these guests get nothing from this money. This situation is further aggravated during the institute festivals like Antaragani & Techkriti where the number of non-IITK guests increases manifolds.

Here in the case of extra coupons sold to non-residential guests, it is important to remind ourselves that the workers are employed strictly according to the number of residents residing in the hall on a particular day (as per the 1:11.25 ratio). The food prepared for and served to the non-residents is not part of the calculations for the employment of workers. So, in this way, the services provided by the workers to these guests are simple unpaid work.

Beyond this everyday exploitation, on occasions like the Hall Day celebrations, apart from preparing the regular breakfast and lunch, the mess workers are forced to prepare the ‘gala dinner’ for as high as 1000 guests. For these so-called gala dinners, they are engaged in food preparations from at least one day before hall day. Not only is their labor unpaid, in most cases, but they also are not even offered a respectful plate of dinner and are asked to eat whatever is left in the end

Visible Work, Invisible Workers

As discussed in the above section, the working conditions of the mess workers are over-exploitative and underpaid according to the labor laws of the country. A serious discussion among the students and the other campus community on this issue is completely missing. Most of the discussions of the HECs, the mess committee, and the residents are limited to taste, quality, and the elaborate menu only. On the other hand, IITK admin through its activities such as the attempt to implement Per Student Per day (PSPD) mess model and through recommendations in the section [Sec 9 (b)] of the HMC report, 2021 seems determined to create more exploitative conditions for the workers. The working conditions of mess workers, and their physical and mental well-being is never part of any serious discussion at any platform of this institute of national importance.

This is the situation of the mess workers under the present working model (Fixed Cost Service Model (FCSC)) of the hall mess facilities on the campus. Intending to make new students on the campus familiar with the mess functioning, we have presented the whole functioning of messes through a detailed discussion of MEC, the monthly mess bill, how BDMR is calculated, the roles of residents and HEC in mess affairs along with the role and working conditions of workers in the messes. We have stressed in the last part that the students must take a proactive role in every aspect of the functioning of the mess to ensure healthy food at affordable prices for all residents. Here also, we urge the residents to widen the scope of their discussion about the mess. A more holistic discussion should take into consideration the mess workers’ perspectives on the working conditions and other issues related to their workspace. Since students primarily avail the services provided by the workers, it is the responsibility of the student community to ensure that IIT Kanpur as a principal employer makes sure that no violation of labor law takes place, and all the workers are provided with the minimum wages, health and social benefits that they are legally entitled to.

Forum for critical thinking (FCT-IITK) urges the student community to take an active role to ensure that the interests of all the stakeholders are safeguarded.

In the next part of this series of articles, we will be presenting our view on how the present mess model can be improved along with the analysis of an alternative mess model Per Student Per day (PSPD) or the thali system. It is important to understand the PSPD system since it has been proposed twice by the administration and has not been implemented primarily due to the opposition from the students.


Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK)

(Educate, Agitate, Organize)

Place: IIT Kanpur

Date: 29.03.2022

Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK) is an informal group of IIT Kanpur students and community members aiming to develop a critical understanding of issues facing the institute and the country. FCT-IITK formed out of a series of discussions amongst students who were concerned about the erosion of democratic values both within the campus and in the country. This forum aims to understand the systemic reasons that underlie the problems faced by the campus community, and attempts to understand the socio-political context we occupy within the larger body politic of the nation.

Follow us at You can reach us at

How Mess Functions at IIT-K (Part-1)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very tough time for the majority of us. IIT Kanpur (IITK) was also not shielded from the adverse conditions that arose during the pandemic. Two academic batches at IIT Kanpur had to start their program while not being on the campus, in fully online mode. They started their academic journey in a new institute without really knowing the campus ecosystem, both academic and nonacademic. The pandemic and subsequent closure of the campus left no scope for formal and informal interactions between the newer and older batches of students. In pre-pandemic times it was through these organic exchanges and interactions amongst different batches of students that the newer ones used to get initiated in different facets of campus life. One such aspect during their stay on the campus is the functioning of the mess in halls of residence. After the third wave of the pandemic, the campus is trying to go back to the offline mode of education. Other aspects of campus life are coming back to normal. In this regard, it is important for the new students to understand how the Mess functions in Halls of Residence at IIT Kanpur. A proper functioning Mess is an essential requirement for its residents to concentrate on their academic affairs. We, at Forum for Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK), take this opportunity to pen down the details regarding the functioning of Mess. In this first part of a series of articles we intend to publish, we shall be discussing the Fixed Cost Service Model that is being followed throughout the messes of IITK. We shall try to briefly explain the roles of various entities in the running of the mess and discuss the financial part of its functioning to understand how our money is being used. In the upcoming parts, we shall be discussing the different approaches that can be adopted to further strengthen this model. One part will be dedicated to analyze a mess model called ‘Per Student Per Day’ (PSPD) proposed in 2017 and 2019 but withdrawn after students’ opposition to it.

Part 1: Fixed Cost Service Model
The present mess model of IIT-K is named Fixed Cost Service Model (FCSC).  After joining IITK, registered students are allotted different halls for their stay at the campus. IITK being an all-residential campus, all the registered students must join the hall and mess except for special cases with permission from the Dean of Students Affairs’ (DoSA) office. On joining Hall, its residents are automatically registered for the mess.

Students staying in a Hall are supposed to pay the following charges for availing mess services:

  • Mess establishment Charges (MEC) (paid per semester)
  • Monthly Mess Bill

Mess Establishment Charges
Students are supposed to pay MEC each semester along with the semester fee. MEC for the regular semester is around Rs 13,000 and for those staying on campus in the summer semester, the MEC is around Rs 6,400. One part of MEC consists of salaries and benefits (Employee State Insurance (ESI), Provident Fund (PF)) for the workers employed in hall messes and the remaining is the service charge  (8-11%) paid to the mess contractor for providing services in managing the mess operations. Here it is important to note that the normal semester runs for five months for postgraduate students and for four months for undergraduates. 

IIT Kanpur is mandated by The Minimum Wages Act 1948 and The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 to pay all contractual workers the central minimum wage. This central minimum wage is revised twice a year in April and October based on the inflation rates and other parameters by the Union government. 

Every month the mess contractor raises the bill/invoice based on the total number of workers (based on man-days) employed in the mess. This bill also contains the service charges which are payable to the contractor. In simple words, the service charge is the profit of the mess contractor. Let us take an example to understand this structure of Invoice. Let’s assume a Hall of Residence Y has 450 students residing and availing the mess facility. For these 450 students, 40 mess workers will be deployed to ensure the proper functioning of mess for three meals a day. Since mess runs for all the days in a month, the total man-days become (40×30=1200) for a month of 30 days. At present, the central minimum wage is Rs 645 for unskilled workers. Let us assume here for the simplification of calculation that only unskilled workers are employed in the mess. For 1200 man-days the total wage component becomes Rs 7,74,000. If the service charge is 8% (assume), it becomes Rs 61,920. The total invoice cost will be Rs 9,86,385 for a month inclusive of 18% GST(Rs 1,50,465). Based on this bill, the DoSA office will release the monthly payment to the contractor from the MEC collected from the students in the semester fee. Apart from this, the institute also reimburses the mess contractor the amount of Rs 92,880 (12% of workers’ salary) for Provident Fund (PF) and Rs 29,025 (3.75% of workers’ salary) for Employee State Insurance (ESI) that the contractor deposit in the workers’ accounts at Employees’ Provident Fund Organization and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation respectively. This amount is also paid by the DoSA office from the MEC charges collected from the students. Mess Establishment Charge (MEC) simply is the labor cost (including social benefits) and service charge paid by the students for services they avail themselves of at the mess. 

S.No.DescriptionAmount (Rs)
1.Salary (1200 man-days)7,74,000
2.Service Charge (8% of workers’ salary)61,920
3.GST (18% of S.No. 1 & 2)1,50,465
4.PF (12% of workers’ salary)92,880
5.ESI (3.75% of workers’ salary)29,025
Table 1: Approximate Monthly Break-up of Mess Establishment Charge for a Hall of 450 residents.

Monthly Mess Bill
Apart from the MEC, students are supposed to pay the mess bill every month to the hall account. Following are the four main components of the monthly mess bill:

  • Basic Daily Meal Rate (BDMR)
  • Hall Development Fund (HDF)
  • Extra food items purchased
  • External coupons

Monthly mess bill = (BDMR x no. of days in month) + Extra food items purchased + HDF

Basic Daily Meal Rate (BDMR)
‘Basic daily meal’ (BDM) includes food items consumed by residents in breakfast (such as daily changing items like poha, dosa-sambar, sandwiches, etc. along with regulars like daliya, sprouts, egg, milk, tea, etc.), lunch, and dinner (one dal, one sabzi, rice, chapati, sambar, fruits, etc.). This basic daily meal does not include the items cooked on the order of individual residents (Omelette, paneer bhujia, egg rice, fried rice, dal tadka, DCBM, to name a few).

To run the mess, every hall purchases all the necessary raw items required for the food preparation. Different vendors supply the hall with all the necessary raw materials against the order raised by the Mess or the hall office. The total expenditure on the monthly BDM is divided by the total number of residents to obtain the BDMR. BDMR is the average cost of food per day in a given month.

BDMR = Total expenditure on raw material in the month by mess
no. of hall residents x no.  of days in the month

This BDMR excludes the money generated by the mess on selling external coupons. This BDMR gets modified after these coupons are taken into consideration during calculations. This will be discussed in the coming section.

Hall Development Fund (HDF)
HDF, also called ‘Establishment Charge’ in some halls, is collected by the hall every month from its residents. HDF varies from hall to hall and is usually between Rs. 40-75. This fund is used for carrying out different maintenance works and purchases in the hall.

Extra food items purchased
Apart from basic daily meals, residents of the hall can purchase extra food items such as egg, vegetarian, and non-vegetarian items. These items are prepared on order placed in the mess. The cost of these items is decided by the Hall Executive Committee (HEC) in consultation with mess managers.

External coupons
Campus community members like other hall residents, SBRA residents, research assistants (RAs), staff, and faculty can also use the hall mess facilities. These non-hall-residents are required to purchase cash coupons for every meal they take at the mess. The cost of these items is decided by the Hall Executive Committee (HEC) in consultation with mess managers. The cost of these coupons is higher than the BDMR paid by the regular residents of the hall. Further, the total amount of these coupons sold is deducted from the total expenditure on the raw material done by the hall. This makes the final BDMR calculation formula as:

BDMR = Total expenditure on raw material – total collection from cash coupons
no. of hall residents x no.  of days in the month

Mess Rebate:
Mess rebate is applicable when a student leaves the campus on a personal, medical, or academic leave for more than 3 days. The rules for mess rebate are drafted by hall HECs and vary from hall to hall. For example, if a student leaves campus for 7 days in a month of 30, then the mess bill is calculated only for the number of days that the student has taken the food at the mess, i.e., 23 days in this example. This makes the final monthly mess bill calculation formula as: 

Monthly mess bill = (BDMR x no. of days food taken) + Extra items purchased + HDF

Above is the overview of the different fees and bills students pay at IITK to avail mess facilities. In the next section, we will be discussing the role played by the contractor, students’ HEC, Hall residents. wardens and IITK administration in ensuring the smooth and transparent functioning of the hall. 

Role of Different Stakeholders in the Mess 

Hall Executive Committee (HEC) (students)
HECs are the executive student bodies of each hall of residence elected every year by hall residents. The main purpose of HEC is to represent the hall residents in every decision-making related to the hall. Mess facility is one such avenue that requires the active participation of the HEC. HEC consists of two to three mess secretaries among others. The mess secretaries further form a mess committee by calling nominations from the hall residents. These volunteers help mess secretaries in managing day to day activities of the mess in a smooth manner.

Following are the essential responsibilities of HEC and the mess committee:

  1. HEC must represent the hall in all the meetings of the Hall management committee (HMC), Council of Students Hostels Affairs (CoSHA), Student’s Senate (SS), and other forums to voice the concerns and issues of the hall residents.
  2. Every year HEC must take active participation in the selection procedure of a new mess contractor as described by the rules mentioned in the mess contract. 
  3. HEC must ensure that the mess contractor complies with the terms and conditions agreed upon in the contract. 
  4. HEC must ensure that all the meals are made available to the residents at a pre-decided time without any delay. HEC coordinates with the mess manager employed by the contractor to ensure this. 
  5. The mess committee must ensure that the contractor is following the 11.25:1 ratio (decided in the contract) while employing workers in mess. This must not be compromised at any cost as the decrease in workers employed in preparing and serving food directly affects the quality of food and service in mess.
  6. HEC selects the vendors for the supply of raw materials in the mess by calling multiple quotations. HEC must keep the experience of supplier, price, and quality of raw material in mind while deciding the vendor. HEC holds full autonomy while taking this decision. HEC must ensure that they have multiple vendors for every supply at all times.  This avoids the monopoly of any vendor and keeps the prices of raw materials down. Active participation of HEC can ensure that the monthly mess bill is under control and the food quality is maintained.
  7. The mess committee makes sure that the vendors are supplying the best (or pre-decided) quality and demanded quantity of the raw materials. HEC holds full autonomy in the cancellation of the order to any vendor if it is not complying with the pre-decided terms of price, quality, and quantity. At least one HEC or mess committee member must be present during the arrival of raw material to verify the quality of the material.
  8. Mess secretaries of HEC ensure that the mess monthly bills are sent to the residents regularly. Complete transparency must be exercised in BDMR calculations and must be regularly communicated to all residents.   
  9. HEC must ensure the cleanliness of the kitchen and dining areas through regular monitoring and issuing necessary directives.  
  10. By conducting regular meetings whereby residents are asked to vote and opine for their preferred food items, HEC makes sure that residents’ choices are incorporated in the menu. Mess committee members ensure that food quality and taste are not compromised and no adulteration is done by carrying out checks in the kitchen, cold storage and other storages for pulses etc. HEC must arrange the regular meetings with residents to know their grievances and opinion on food. 
  11. HEC should make a mess menu keeping in mind the practical constraints like fixed labor force and seasonal availability of raw materials. Including too many items in the basic or extra menu can affect the taste of food due to the workers being overburdened. By judiciously choosing seasonal vegetables and other locally sourced materials HEC also helps regulate the cost of the menu.  
  12. HEC must make sure that the contractor is releasing the salaries of the workers by the first week of every month along with their ESI and PF. 
  13. HEC must address the grievances of mess workers by coordinating with the mess manager or contractor as and when required, as the problems faced by workers in their working area can affect the quality of services. 

Role of Hall Residents
Residents are the primary users of the mess. To ensure the proper functioning of the mess, residents must actively participate in the mess affairs. Residents must provide HEC with essential feedback on mess related issues from time to time. Residents must hold their elected HEC members accountable for the transparency in the functioning of mess affairs.  Residents must ensure that HEC is performing its roles as mentioned above (see “role of HEC”). Residents must provide support to HEC to make sure that their voices are heard at platforms such as HMC, CoSHA & SS.

The mess is a form of community kitchen where residents from different regions, food habits, and economic backgrounds have their food. Every resident must keep in mind that mess provides only basic food and it cannot function like restaurants. Every individual choice of food cannot always be accommodated due to different constraints such as cost of food, seasonal availability of vegetables and fruits, training of cook in food preparation, etc. Residents must be reasonable while presenting their opinions to the HEC members and must never forget that HEC members are fellow students who are devoting their valuable time voluntarily from their academics, so that mess can function smoothly for everyone’s benefit. 

The service of every mess facility at IIT Kanpur has been outsourced to the contractors, who provide services and manage the daily functioning of the mess. Contractors have to ensure that the required number of workers needed to run the mess facility in the hall are employed every day. The contractor is responsible for the timely preparation of food, cleanliness of the kitchen and dining area. The contractor through its manager in coordination with hall HEC ensures the smooth functioning of the mess facility.

Every contractor is responsible to ensure that for every 11.25 residents 1 worker is employed in the mess. The contractor must pay the salaries according to the minimum wage act of 1948 and The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 to every worker by the first week of every month. The contractor must make sure that they are depositing the ESI & provident fund of workers to concerned government departments regularly. The contractor must facilitate the paperwork regarding salaries, ESI, and PF. The contractor must address the grievances of the workers as and when they are reported. 

For the services provided by the contractor in the mess, it is paid a fixed service charge decided during the allocation of the contract through a tendering process.

Role of Wardens
Each hall of residence has three faculty members as wardens appointed by institute administration on the recommendation of HECs. Each hall has a dedicated warden for mess affairs to advise HEC and mess committee regarding the functioning of the mess facility as and when asked for.  Wardens are the signing authority for the banking affairs for the payments to the vendors and other service providers. 

Role of IITK administration
Following are the essential responsibilities performed by IITK administration through offices of DoSA, ADHA, and wardens:

  1. Institute every year calls for a tender for the running of all the mess facilities on the campus. Transparency in the allocation of mess tender is the important and foremost responsibility of the administration.
  2. Through wardens in coordination with HEC, the administration makes sure that contract conditions are being complied with by the contractors.
  3. Administration ensures that no mal-practices such as favoritism, corruption, etc. are practiced by the contractor during employment and deployment of workers by regularly issuing necessary directives to halls and contractors.
  4. Institute administration ensures that the DoSA office clears the contractor bills well in time, so that the contractor can make salary payments to the workers by the first week of the month.
  5. IIT Kanpur administration is the principal employer of workers working on the campus. Being a central government institute, the IITK administration ensures that contractors are following The Minimum Wages Act 1948 and The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950.
  6. Institute makes sure that necessary funds are made available to the hall for upgrading and maintaining mess facilities as and when required. 

This is the overall functioning of the present working model of the hall mess facilities on the campus. From students’ point of view, the strength of the present mess model is that at every step, the participation of the students (primary service user) is ensured. Students actively participate in the selection of new contractors, selection of vendors, deciding food quality, mess menu, etc. The effective participation from HECs and residents can ensure that they are served quality food at low price in the mess, as they are the main decision-makers in the mess affairs. This mess model is also very convenient for the IITK administration as students share a majority of the day-to-day responsibilities necessary for the smooth functioning of the mess facilities on the campus. This system is very important from the point of view of the workers whose hard labor makes sure that we are served with food well on time every day. This system ensures that they are paid with central government-mandated minimum wages along with social benefits of provident fund and health security scheme of ESI.

Having said that, we do not imply that this present mess model of the ‘Fixed Cost Service Model’ (FCSC) has no shortcomings and there is no scope of improvement in it. In the coming parts of this series of articles, we will be presenting our view on the scope of improvement in this mess model. Along with that, we will be presenting the analysis of the ‘Per Student Per Day’ (PSPD) model that has been rejected by the students in 2017 & 2019.

Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK)

Educate, Agitate, Organize

Place: IIT Kanpur

Date: 03.03.2022

Forum of Critical Thinking (FCT-IITK) is an informal group of IIT Kanpur students and community members aiming to develop a critical understanding of issues facing the institute and the country. FCT-IITK formed out of a series of discussions amongst students who were concerned about the erosion of democratic values both within the campus and in the country. This forum aims to understand the systemic reasons that underlie the problems faced by the campus community, and attempts to understand it in relation to the socio-political context we occupy within the larger body politic of the nation. Follow us @ You can reach us

The death and life of Gardener Rakesh. How many times this story will get repeated?

Like any other morning, Rakesh reported for work at 8.00 am on Tue, 18th Jan, first for attendance and then his place of work as a gardener, which was in the open space around the Mechanical Engineering department. Around 10.30 when some fellow gardeners went for a cup of tea to the CC canteen, they saw him hunched, sitting at his workplace and they exchanged greetings. By 2.30 pm the same day Rakesh was dead.

What we gathered from fellow workers is that apparently around 11.00 am he felt that he could not continue working as he was feeling unwell and he decided to cycle back home, outhouse of a type four house, not far from the academic area. Around 11.30 his wife Krishna Devi called up her brother Manoj (who stays in another outhouse, but was out of town at that moment) saying that Rakesh had severe chest pain and needed to be taken to a doctor immediately. Manoj arranged for a four-wheeler and they took him to Dr. Vinod Tiwari on Shivli Road. The doctor saw him and said that he was in a ‘serious’ condition and should be taken to ‘Cardiology’ at Rawatpur. The doctors there told the relatives that he had a ‘heart attack’, apparently the second since morning, and his condition was very serious. Whatever doctors tried there, within minutes he passed away.

Mon 17th was one of the coldest day and night in Kanpur breaking many records (apparently temperatures varied from 3-12 degrees) and the Kanpur temperatures made the headlines next morning. When Rakesh went for work on the 18th there was no let up in the cold. He was only about 43 years old and from all accounts had no medical condition. Both at the clinic of Dr. Tiwari and then Cardiology he walked to the doctors’ chambers.

We may say that Rakesh should have taken better care, have been more careful, not turned for work that day, or that he was destined to die anyway. The usual response from most of us is to blame the victim, and hold him responsible for the loss, especially now that he is not even there to defend himself. We have seen a similar response when a worker is fired or penalised arbitrarily. The authorities label them as  ‘bad workers’, irrespective of  how long they had served IITK and how well had they served. And we too conveniently believe that the workers were to blame for their misfortune.

Of course, whatever we do Rakesh cannot be brought back to life. But Rakesh’s death and life does open up serious systemic issues that we would once again like to put forth. Rakesh was not the first gardener to die like this in severe cold – there have been multiple cases of gardeners and guards that we are aware of over the years and that fellow gardeners once again recounted to us.

Immediate issues:

  • Gardeners are working in the open in this biting cold like many other kind of workers in the campus. Should there not be any protocol about when, how and who can work – regular health check ups, protection needed, protocols in case of health contingency at work?
  • Is there any accountability of the employer and the principal employer or do we continue with the idea that a worker ought to be left to his/ her own devices?

Larger Issues:

  • By all accounts Rakesh was very enterprising and would try to make every minute count. Besides his regular work as a gardener, he also used to tend lawns, etc. in multiple houses in the campus. On the fateful morning also, it was said that he was trying to push himself to get at least his half-day work registered before he thought he could not continue.
  • Again we can blame him or bring into consideration the systemic issues at work that lead to these kinds of impossible calculus, a work where there is no provision for paid leave even for a single day, so you can have the luxury to fall sick only at your own expense. In the 1990s at the beginning of the contract work in the campus, national holidays (26th Jan, 15th Aug and 2nd Oct) used to be paid holidays, but those things, like the privilege of regular work, belong to a bygone era with consequences like the death of young Rakesh. Obviously then, a worker is likely to push himself to the brink to earn a day’s wage, especially in pandemic times when employment itself is so difficult to find.

And finally, what happens to his family? Rakesh has four children, the elder two daughters and the younger two sons, the eldest is in pre-college and the youngest in Class II. His wife Krishna Devi belongs to a village and used to run the household, look after the four children and help Rakesh in tending to the gardens of the outhouse where the family of six used to live, so she by herself was not earning any money directly.

Rakesh apparently was born and brought up in the campus as his father used to stay in IITK too; he himself worked in IIT for two decades, stayed in IIT and died while working for IIT. But till writing of these lines five days later there has been no official recognition of his death. 

When do we say that we ought not leave individuals to their respective devises and should stand collectively together in each-other’s moments of crisis and hold those responsible accountable?

Hamara Manch,

January 23, 2021