Keep caste bias out of the classroom

Authorities must stop caste from vitiating interactions in the classroom, and sullying the education of young people. India made the constitutional promise of a dignified life to its most underprivileged castes, and is bound to fulfil it
India has some of the world’s most-robust anti-discrimination laws but far too often, incidents of caste-based discrimination are brushed under the carpet, emboldening caste elites to continue with covert and overt forms of bias. (REUTERS) PREMIUM
India has some of the world’s most-robust anti-discrimination laws but far too often, incidents of caste-based discrimination are brushed under the carpet, emboldening caste elites to continue with covert and overt forms of bias. (REUTERS)
Updated on Dec 29, 2021 10:45 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

Caste is ubiquitous in India. A rude reminder of this came from Uttarakhand’s Champawat district last week when roughly 40 upper-caste students refused to eat food cooked by 32-year-old Sunita Devi, a Dalit woman. To make matters worse, the local administration dismissed Ms Devi, who was appointed as “Bhojanmata” earlier in the month, citing procedural violations, and asked an upper-caste woman to cook the midday meals instead. This enraged the Dalit students, who hit back and refused to eat meals prepared by the upper-caste cook. Instead of fostering learning and inclusive values, the classroom had become indelibly cleaved along caste lines in the space of a week due to social ostracisation and a rare rebellion.

This is regrettable, but not irreversible. The authorities should immediately reinstate Ms Devi if she fulfills conditions of employment and take strict action against the students and their parents who initiated the caste-based boycott. Instead of trying to bury the issue, the administration should thoroughly probe her complaint of caste-based harassment and ensure that neither she, nor any other Dalit person, faces a similar situation in the future.

India has some of the world’s most-robust anti-discrimination laws but far too often, incidents of caste-based discrimination are brushed under the carpet, emboldening caste elites to continue with covert and overt forms of bias. Authorities must stop caste from vitiating interactions in the classroom, and sullying the education of young people. India made the constitutional promise of a dignified life to its most underprivileged castes, and is bound to fulfil it. Let’s start with Sunita Devi.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022