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THE CONTEXT: A recent study says that casteism is not only prevalent but also institutionalized in the Indian higher educational institutions particularly in the technical fields of medicine and engineering. However, these institutions rarely acknowledge the discrimination and willfully ignore both subtle and overt forms of casteism. In this article, let’s analyze how the country is still struggling with casteism in higher education institutions and steps that need to be taken to address the issue.
CASTE DISCRIMINATION: THEN AND NOW
- Historical injustice: Caste system divides Hindus into four categories Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Historically, with lack of access to means of production and eventually becoming a large pool of attached labourers have constrained the lower caste population in this country to remain invisible and excluded in the sphere of so-called knowledge production.
- Duality in nature of caste discrimination in contemporary India: There is a duality that is inherent within the nature of caste discrimination in contemporary India, and specifically with the question of access to ‘quality education’ in the realm of Higher educational institutions. This aforementioned duality reveals itself in two folds:
- Enabling mobility: Contemporary society on one hand by providing access to resources and education enables mobility in caste system in terms of social and cultural and economic capital.
- Denial of mobility: On the other hand, contemporary society acts as deterrent in mobility by discrimination and reinstate the age-old Manu-vaadi or Varna based hierarchies, where access to higher education, preserving and restructuring the pedagogic practices, and reproducing the ‘knowledge system’ itself can become the act of an ‘exclusive society’, of the Savarna or the ‘upper’ castes society to be specific.
ANALYSIS: HOW CURRENT EDUCATION SYSTEM REINFORCING DISCRIMINATION
The Structure of the caste system meant that one is confined to the social status associated with one’s caste and current educational policies further promotes this discriminatory environment as higher educational institutes become centers for self-financed courses which mandates that education remains a private market commodity and promotes the manufactured merits at the cost of discriminating against lower caste students.
DISCRIMINATION IN ADMISSION PROCESS
- Not acknowledging the savarna privileges: First, the process of admission denies the age-old repression by not acknowledging the financial and social privileges that ‘savarna merit’ enjoys.
- Economic issues: For the admission processes, the system creates a private capital oriented mechanism, which denies access to the marginalized sections of the country.
- Major disparities in acceptance rate: There are major disparities in admission rate of lower caste students for example data reveals that despite receiving hundreds of PhD applications, some IITs and many departments hardly accepted any candidates from SC/ST/OBC PhD backgrounds. Data released by the Lok Sabha found that in nine IITs, across India, the acceptance rate for SC/ST/OBC PhD candidates was at or below 8% despite all of these universities receiving hundreds of applications.
SYNDROME OF MERITOCRACY
- Devising of syndrome of meritocracy: Anthropologist Ajantha Subramanian asserts that institutes of eminence like IITs have helped convert caste privilege into what is now popularly considered as ‘merit’. Merit has acquired brahmanical overtones and continues to perpetuate caste hierarchies and savarna power.
- Reinforcing in higher universities: In the contemporary Indian context, these facets of discrimination being constantly reiterated in the field of Higher education, more importantly, in spaces, which are regarded as institutes or universities of ‘eminence’.
- Using it to consolidate power: The syndrome of meritocracy has become systemic as seen by Anecdotal evidence of professors using casteist slurs or Dalit students being expelled from the classroom space in such institutes is not rare. By converting caste capital into social capital, dominant castes have ensured the consolidation of their power in institutes and professional spaces.
- Unfair approach: Meritocratic approach is unfair and flawed as it does not consider centuries of discrimination and underrepresentation that lower castes have had to suffer through. Inherent in any meritocratic system is the premise that all participants start from the same starting line and play on an even playing field.
MYTH OF NON-DISCRIMINATION IN ACADEMIC SPACES
- It is a common myth perpetrated by upper caste faculty, students, politicians, and media that caste superiority and casteism is exercised amongst uneducated people in the villages, and not amongst the educated in urban and academic spaces.
- Remains unidentifiable: The myth of city colleges and classrooms being caste-free leads to non-identifiability of the conventional practice of untouchability, which is the only practice of caste-based discrimination that has been legally codified and thus issue remains unsolved.
- Victim blaming and further marginalization: As per the study, persons who share experiences of caste-based discriminations in higher educational institutions get accused of being ‘obsessed with caste identities’ or being ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘paranoid’ about it. This culture of not recognising and dismissing discrimination without the willingness to appreciate the experiences of persons from their own ‘locations’, contributes to the further marginalization of such persons and their experiences.
- Discrimination in Both Direct and indirect forms: Study focuses on the various ways in which casteism is practiced and even normalized in the current higher education system of the country. It may exist in the direct form of abusive casteist slurs, gestures, comments and physical exclusion or in its indirect ill-informed opposition to the constitutionally mandated policy of reservation and routine biases inflicting psychological harm upon the victims for example Suicides as ‘institutional murders’, while highlighting the culture of victim-blaming and apathy towards the victims of such institutional murders for calling them ‘mentally weak’ even after their death.
CASE STUDIES RELATED TO DISCRIMINATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS
- Suicide case of Payal Tadvi: Payal Tadvi was a 2nd-year Post-Graduate resident doctor at the BYL Nair Hospital (BYL-NH), Mumbai. She was the first woman from her family to become a doctor, and the first woman from the Adivasi Muslim Bhil Community, a scheduled tribe, to pursue a post-graduation in medicine. Harassment on Dr Payal by the three accused included persistent derisive remarks about her caste, and on her being from a backward community, being an Adivasi, and having been admitted to medicine through the reserved categories. These accused would often wipe their feet on Dr Payal’s bed after using the washrooms/toilets and would also made casteist remarks which led her to suicide.
- Suicide case of Rohith Vemula: Rohith Chakravarti Vemula was an Indian PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad. From July 2015, the university stopped paying Rohith his monthly stipend of ₹25,000, with friends alleging that he was targeted for raising issues on campus under the banner of Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), an Ambedkarite student organization.In his own words Rohith gave up when he realised that “the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.
STUDIES RELATED TO HOW DALIT ARE FACING DISCRIMINATION
In modern India, caste specific bias, prejudice and discrimination is still persisting in more implicit, subtle and complex forms. In this regard, few empirical research studies is mentioned below:
- Nambissan and Rao noted that lower caste students and particularly Dalit students face various subtle and explicit forms of discrimination in the institution like IIT. The authors explored the concept of stigma in a context of polluted caste identities and its impact on social relations in the institution.
- Deshpande and Zacharias in 2013 recorded seventeen suicide cases of Dalit students in various elite institution across India which is based on interviews and a compilation of testimonies of families, peers and friends of the deceased students.
- The Thorat committee in 2007 further reported, that around 72 percent of SC and ST students mentioned some forms of discrimination were experienced in classroom. Similarly, approximately 76 percent of the respondents reported that the examiner asked them their caste background and about 88 percent students reported experiences of social isolation in various ways by higher caste peers.
- According to the National Crime Record Bureau, despite the stringent laws to stop caste discrimination and atrocities, the lower caste groups are still experiencing a range of atrocities and discrimination. Statistics of crimes committed against the Dalit showed increased from 39,408 in 2013 to 47,064 in 2014. This is just reported crimes and unreported crimes are probably many times higher.
STEPS TAKEN TO ENSURE EDUCATION TO MARGINALIZED SECTION
- Concept of reservation was introduced: A certain number of seats are reserved for the marginalized castes in public education institutes. Article 16(4) in the Indian constitution, emphasizes that reservation was intended to prevent the formation of caste monopolies in the public sector.
- Addressing untouchability: Article 17 of the Indian constitution outlaws untouchability to address the inherent social evils practiced in the different level of society.
- UGC guidelines: In 2013, the UGC (University Grants Commission) released regulations for the ‘Promotion of Equity in Higher Education Institutions’ where it directed higher education institutions to take measures to safeguard the interests of students without prejudice to their caste. As per the regulations, the institute was supposed to penalize differential and discriminatory treatment based on caste and instate a mechanism through which caste-based discrimination such as revealing someone’s caste, calling a student “reserved category”, separate seating amongst students, or discriminatory grading could be reported.
- Right to Education Act: While the Right to Education Act guarantees education for students aged 6 to 14. However, the quality of that education is usually determined by caste. Students that belong to lower castes receive poor quality and inadequate education in schools that lack basic facilities. This makes it difficult for them to cope at higher levels of education.
CHALLENGES THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED
- Least enrollment: Across most key fields of study, Dalit enrollment fell short of the mandated quota of 15%, as did scheduled tribe (ST) enrollment (mandated quota of 7.5%). In many large states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, fewer than 20% of students enrolled in higher education who were scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. Dalit students formed 11% of the undergraduate and post-graduate enrollment .They made up under 10% of PhD students, but 16% of M.Phil students. When it came to non-degree certification, Dalit students made up 14% of diploma-holders and 13% of certificate-holders.
- High dropout rates: The drop-out rate from IITs is slightly higher among SC students than among forward caste students as the public data journalism portal Factly has found.
- Quota not applicable in private institution: Quotas are applicable only in state-run institutions, and to a limited extent to privately run institutions. In 2006 the then UPA government paved the way for the extension of reservations to private colleges, but there isn’t a binding central law yet. Most technical education private colleges provide reservation under state laws, but by no means is this comprehensive. The lack of the policy of reservation to ensure social justice and representation of the oppressed combined with exorbitant fees makes such private education institutions inaccessible and exclusive.
- Poor performance: Dalit students at IITs have reported facing caste-based discrimination which often led to record poorer academic performances than their forward caste peers even after controlling for socio-economic backgrounds.
- Economic reasons: Weaker economic status is one of the main reason that discourage Dalit students from completing college or university education.
- Upper caste mentality: Anger and resentment of savarna individuals against ‘quota students’ often manifests into a distinctive form of casteism that is rooted in the belief that their opportunities are being wrongfully occupied by undeserving quota students.
- Unconventional ways: Caste-based discrimination in the college campus or classroom is not performed in the manner of conventional untouchability only and India’s tragedy lies in the fact that young people who are privileged enough to acquire so-called modern education are instrumental in or perpetrators of caste oppression.
- Lack of proper policy: The inadequacies of the current legal frameworks and colossal gaps in Several cases have been reported in recent years led to such discrimination and even cases like suicides have been registered after alleged caste-based discrimination and not addressed at the proper time.
- Lack of infrastructure: Neither do most institutes have a functional Equal Opportunity Cell that monitors the implementation of reservations for students and informs them about scholarships nor do they implement reservations for faculty.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Need to be identified and addressed: Experiences of caste-based discrimination are traumatic and harmful and often remain unidentified which needs to be identified, codified, and addressed. Therefore, it is crucial to create a robust mechanism through which all students and faculty can learn to identify and report passive and aggressive caste-based discrimination.
- Need for legislation: There is need for anti-caste-based discrimination legislation to take into account intersectional discrimination which shall provide a direction to address caste-based discrimination both conceptually and operationally, similar to the recent reforms on sexual harassment at workplaces.
- Ensure access to quality education: Access to quality education remains an important factor to attain mobility in terms of finding entry into aspired occupations, in terms of social dignity, and most importantly in terms of breaking down the barriers imposed by the discriminatory practices of caste hierarchies in the Indian context. Access to education matters most for historically marginalized castes because such access can change their job prospects dramatically, and give them a real shot at climbing up the socio-economic ladder, which remains stacked against the less-educated in modern India.
- Proper penalisation: Institutes need to create a mechanism through which caste-based discrimination can be challenged and casteist perpetrators are penalized, thereby securing the interests and welfare of lower caste students and faculty. There is need to treat caste-based discrimination and institutionalized caste-based discrimination as a violation of the constitutional rights of individual students, especially from marginalized castes, tribes and minority communities and not simply as ragging.
- Proper policy and its implementation: According to activists, proper policy-making and proper implementation with appropriate supervision for students in educational institutions as well as ministry level can help bring an end to the discrimination. There is a need of separate legal framework to prevent and respond to caste-based discriminatory practices in educational institutions.
- Need to help marginalised section excel: All educational institutions must be barrier-free in terms of language, caste, class and religion so that the marginalized sections can come up to construct their own merits.
- Need of awareness: There is a need to raise voices and highlight how the caste discrimination continues to happen in the 21st century and in a democratic society. Awareness needs to be created and there is a need for affirmative action so that in society we can bring a change,” According to UGC, all the universities must have student counselors, psychiatric, anti-discrimination and many other facilities.
- Need to change mentality: India is not lacking in laws and policies against discrimination but faith in equality and humanity and our own will and appropriate educational base are urgently needed to fight casteism.
THE CONCLUSION: Modern notion of education is seen as the “great equalizer” and it gives everyone and anyone the “ability to rise” because of their hard work and not their social status. This notion need to be reinforced by strengthening and expanding reservations for socially disadvantaged communities, implementing the various reports and regulations of the past while infusing the study of humanities into technical courses of medicine and engineering to sensitize society and institutions which shall translate the constitutional notions of transformative justice and substantive equality into practice.
- Quota policy of the constitution has been an effective instrument for the lower caste students to access higher education in India and ending discrimination faced by them. Critically examine.
- Discuss about position of lower caste people in higher education institutions and what are the steps taken by Government to ensure their presence and the issues involved.