Articles on IITs

The distinctive feature

The unique achievement has been that it has become free India’s industrial leadership institute. The mandate of this institution has been to achieve the rapid industrialisation of the nation through the development of outstanding industrial leaders in three areas: research into engineering sciences, development of industrial technology and development of industrial leadership.

IIT has emerged as a world in itself, inhabited by a tribe of people with their own religion and culture. In general, tribes have invisible and visible manifestations of their unique identity. The invisible one is their core values: their very essence, unquestioned beliefs. The visible manifestations are three: their rules/rituals, their heroes and their symbols. Rules/rituals are the guidelines that tribe members are required to follow and the prescription of socially essential activities, even if they are functionally superfluous.

Heroes are the role models, real or imaginary, they personify the mental picture of what they stand for. Symbols are pictures, objects, gestures, words: for instance, the bindi, the sari or the namaste for Indians: widely used in the hospitality industry. All these visible and invisible manifestations of the tribe lead to practices and behaviour.

Social anthropologists refer to the Geert Hofstede model which shows how the values are the innermost circle, surrounded by rules/rituals and heroes in two concentric circles and with symbols appearing in the outermost circle. All this leads to the behaviour and practices of the tribe. Brand IIT is represented in the Hofstede model (see Figure 2). The core values are middle-classness and meritocracy. All IIT-ans recall how it was a great leveller of economic, social and linguistic disparities of the students entering the institute.

The rules/rituals have been captured as the Ten Commandments (see Figure 3). The heroes include two sportsmen, Ramanathan Krishnan and Sourav Ganguly, both very middle-class; two brilliant scientists, Albert Einstein and Vikram Sarabhai; two politicians, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi, both urbane and loved; two actors, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, who rose due to sheer talent and merit, with no connection or wealth.

Symbols are not too many: the JEE, the cycle, the campus. Clearly there is scope for a tie, badge, logo, music and other symbols. The behavioural effect of all this is that the IIT-an is constantly seeking excellence, he is pushing himself beyond the bar.

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