Confronting caste in educational institutions - Hindustan Times
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Confronting caste in educational institutions

ByHT Editorial
Jun 19, 2024 09:28 PM IST

The politicisation of caste has in some cases strengthened caste identity and pride, which has not spared even young minds

In August last year, two Dalit children in Nanguneri, a town in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, were brutally assaulted by their schoolmates, prompting the state government to appoint a retired judge of the Madras high court to study caste atrocities in schools and colleges. The report, submitted by justice K Chandru, offers suggestions that need a close discussion, not just in Tamil Nadu but across the country since caste identity is frequently weaponised by dominant communities to intimidate and oppress historically underprivileged groups.

Though Tamil Nadu has been governed for more than half a century by political parties that claim their lineage from the Dravidian movement that was anti-caste in its ideology, caste prejudice has survived like cancer in the state’s body politic. (PTI Photo/R Senthilkumar)(PTI06_03_2024_000035B) (PTI)
Though Tamil Nadu has been governed for more than half a century by political parties that claim their lineage from the Dravidian movement that was anti-caste in its ideology, caste prejudice has survived like cancer in the state’s body politic. (PTI Photo/R Senthilkumar)(PTI06_03_2024_000035B) (PTI)

Though Tamil Nadu has been governed for more than half a century by political parties that claim their lineage from the Dravidian movement that was anti-caste in its ideology, caste prejudice has survived like cancer in the state’s body politic. The Nanguneri incident revealed that even children were not immune to the affliction. Justice Chandru’s report has proposed measures including banning students from using markers that identify them by their caste (wrist-bands, rings, forehead marks, for instance), changes in the government nomenclature such as Kallar Reclamation (Kallar refers to a community) and Adi-Dravidar Welfare, and prohibiting caste appellations in school names. Most of these can be implemented through executive orders, however, a communal consensus will be necessary to enforce some of them.

The politicisation of caste has in some cases strengthened caste identity and pride, which has not spared even young minds: Student groups centred around caste identity are common in Tamil Nadu campuses, which also suggests the failure of social justice politics to transcend caste and create egalitarian and fraternal bonds and communities. The Justice Chandru report will start a conversation on ways to remove caste from campuses -- an issue that briefly came to the fore in 2016 when students rallied to demand justice for Rohith Vemula, a victim of institutionalised caste prejudice in the University of Hyderabad. Political parties and social groups need to engage positively with the report’s suggestions to realise the larger goal.

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