To make educational campuses more democratic, address systemic caste bias - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

To make educational campuses more democratic, address systemic caste bias

ByPrashant Ingole and Raju Chalwadi
Feb 18, 2023 06:24 PM IST

The suicide of a first-year student at IIT-Bombay brings to the fore how premier educational institutes are failing to acknowledge the appearance of caste on their premises.

If one starts writing on the working of caste in Indian academia, there is very little that’s new, especially for those who see caste as a hydra-headed everyday reality. In his famous 1936 lecture, Annihilation of Caste, Dr BR Ambedkar clearly mentioned, “[…] turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.” Caste also stops people from having a a sense of fellowship, and, therefore, it is necessary to talk about how caste operates in the everyday, even if it’s repetitive. It helps dominant sections of the society to maintain their status quo, and forces downtrodden communities to keep suffering.

In premier academic institutions where many students come from elite and upper-caste backgrounds, pupils from marginalised communities suffer multiple layers of discriminatory practices. (Satish Bate/HT Photo/Representative Image)
In premier academic institutions where many students come from elite and upper-caste backgrounds, pupils from marginalised communities suffer multiple layers of discriminatory practices. (Satish Bate/HT Photo/Representative Image)

In 2016, the suicide of PhD student Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad created a pan-Indian student protest against what they called an institutional murder, but pernicious casteism and the ecosystem that incubates it hasn’t been dented. No year passes without Dalit students perishing due to rampant discrimination. In such cases, suicide is never accidental but a fallout of the dominant caste culture that should be held accountable. Therefore, it’s not just academic failure but multiple layered discriminatory practices that should be held responsible.

Unlock exclusive access to the latest news on India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now! Download Now!

This has come again to the fore with the suicide of a first-year student at IIT-Bombay. Premier educational institutes are failing to acknowledge the appearance of caste on their premises. In spaces such as IITs, asking one’s rank is also a twisted way of inquiring one’s caste. Like society outside university boundaries, in educational spaces, too, caste plays a critical role in defining boundaries of friendship and compassion. For students of marginalised sections, caste limits access to peer support, critical resources shared by seniors, and even access to professors’ offices. Caste invades everyday spaces such as hostel rooms, dining halls, and labs to shape a sociality that creates a hostile environment for marginalised students. Conversations about “merit”, “family background”, and “IIT tag” are common on campus. This deep and systemic invasion, coupled with relatively weaker academic training in the past, leads to isolation and exclusion among oppressed students.

It is often argued that students from Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) backgrounds should be trained to defend themselves. But this puts the burden of dismantling or challenging the structure on SC and ST students. Instead, why can IITs not conduct orientations for caste-privileged students and train them on how to treat fellow students without prejudices in everyday campus life? A more independent SC/ST cell, if at all an institute has one, and an urgent diversification programme in faculty positions are critical steps too.

A common second argument is that caste-oppressed students have weaker academic training and cannot cope with academic rigour, leading to suicide. However, experiences show us that many privileged caste students also struggle with academic life but finally sail through. They are able to build peer support and sympathy, and get access to seniors. Structure matters, and caste-oppressed students often lack such support systems and access.

For counting mental health, stress and depression, discriminatory caste practices must be considered part of the problem, because they cannot be bypassed in the Indian context. Although IIT-Bombay has refuted the allegations made by Solanki’s family, it appears that he was a victim of caste.

In premier academic institutions where many students come from elite and upper-caste backgrounds, pupils from marginalised communities suffer multiple layers of discriminatory practices. They are often mocked for quotas or reservation – often by asking students their rank. Constitutional morality, academic truth and social justice are bypassed in many of these institutions, exemplified by the lack of representation of SC, ST and Other Backward Classes (OBC) faculty. Instead, many institutes will opt for upper-caste candidates who have studied and worked abroad. To make educational campuses more democratic and friendly, and foster humanitarian understanding, maitri (feeling of fellowship) towards each other is most important.

Prashant Ingole has completed his PhD and Postdoctoral Fellowship from IIT Gandhinagar and Raju Chalwadi is a PhD candidate at IIT, Bombay

The views expressed are personal

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On