CASTEISM IN THE INDIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM AND ITS MANY CHALLENGES
Section B -(ii) Caste System:
(a) Perspectives on the study of caste systems: GS Ghurye, M N Srinivas, Louis Dumont, Andre Beteille.
(b) Features of caste system.
(c) Untouchability – forms and perspectives
Section C – (i) Visions of Social Change in India:
(a) Idea of development planning and mixed economy.
(b) Constitution, law and social change.
(c) Education and social change.
When Rohith Vemula, a Dalit post-doctorate student from southern India’s University of Hyderabad, killed himself after alleged caste-based discrimination, it triggered protests across India and brought to the fore the issue of casteism prevalent in the Indian education system. Years later, activists and students from the Dalit community, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system, say that caste discrimination has become very prevalent on campuses and classrooms.
CASTE AND CASTEISM
Caste systems are a form of social and economic governance that is based on principles and customary rules. It involves the division of people into social groups (castes) where assignments of rights are fixed by birth, often includes an occupation and are hereditary. In simpler terms, caste is where society is divided up into different groups, with those who have more power at the top and those who have little or no power at the bottom. Casteism is an inequality that is prevalent in many areas of India, as a result of the caste system.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Right to Education Act (RTE) provided free and compulsory education to children in 2009 and enforced it as a fundamental right under Article 21-A. Originally Part IV of Indian Constitution, Article 45 and Article 39 (f) of DPSP, had a provision for state funded as well as equitable and accessible education. The first official document on the Right to Education was Ramamurti Committee Report in 1990. The 86th amendment to the constitution of India in 2002, provided Right to Education as a fundamental right in part-III of the Constitution. The same amendment inserted Article 21A which made Right to Education a fundamental right for children between 6-14 years.
VICIOUS CASTE CYCLE IN EDUCATION
While the Right to Education Act guarantees education for students aged 6 to 14, 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. Ostensibly fair systems such as entrance tests don’t take into account existing disparities that prevent poor lower-caste students from attending coaching classes, studying without frequent interruptions, and preparing adequately for these tests.
Students belonging to lower castes, especially Dalits, are often ostracized from the education system as they are deemed to be unworthy of education. Their education is hampered as they are more likely to be forced into child labour than other students. They have lower attendance rates and higher dropout rates too. When in school, they face discrimination, not only from other students but also from teachers. They are forced to sit separately, eat separately, and clean classrooms and toilets. They are physically and verbally abused.
This constant discrimination leads to psychological problems, such as low-self esteem and depression, leading to further exclusion from the education system. This countervails any attempt to make our education system equitable and inclusive. Lower caste families are disproportionately affected by poverty as their members are less likely to get a good job even after receiving an education. This fuels a vicious cycle of poverty and caste-based discrimination.
POVERTY AND PREJUDICE
India Exclusion Report (2014) by Centre for Equity Studies observes how exclusionary and discriminatory practices prevail in Indian schools. There are instances where teachers discourage hard work among Dalit and Adivasi (Tribal) students, either unfairly stereotyping them as beneficiaries of reservations or questioning the value of education for such children — who they presume will only undertake menial, traditional, caste-based occupations later in life.
Marginalised households including Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and female-headed households, and households with persons with disabilities are vulnerable to educational exclusion due to impacts of poverty. As a result of many of these factors, 75% of the more than six million children currently out of school in India are either Dalits (32.4%), Muslims (25.7%) or Adivasis (16.6%).
CASTEISM AND DISCRIMINATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
The study, entitled ‘The Steady Drumbeat of Institutional Casteism’, was conducted by the Forum Against Oppression of Women, Forum for Medical Ethics Society, Medico Friend Circle and the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties, Maharasthra. The study focuses on the various ways in which casteism is practiced and even normalised 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.
As per the study, the opposition to reservation is used by the so-called high castes to supposedly ‘save merit’ while discrediting, discriminating and humiliating people from oppressed social backgrounds for exercising their due right. However, this argument to ‘save merit’ is totally absent in the case of management quota or paid seats. The study deals with the issue of privatisation of higher education in India at the expense of public education which has adversely affected the overall prospects for oppressed social groups to break their vicious cycle of exploitation. 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.
According to data by the education ministry, presented in 2019 in Lok Sabha, out of 6,043 faculty members at the 23 IITs, only 149 were SCs and 21 were STs- accounting for less than 3% of the total faculty members. Similarly, out of the 642 faculty members across 13 Indian Institute of Management (IIM’s), only four belong to SC and one faculty member belongs to ST. The same pattern can be found even in Universities offering liberal arts courses such as the University of Delhi which has failed to implement the reservation policy. Out of the total sanctioned strength of 264 professors, it has only 3 SC professors and none from ST backgrounds.
CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES AND GOVERNMENT INTERVENTIONS
Article 30 of the Indian Constitution relates to certain cultural and educational rights to establish and administer educational institutions.
Article 15, 17, 46 safeguard the educational interests of the weaker sections of the Indian Community, that is, socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Article 15 states, “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes.”
Under Article 46 of the Constitution, the federal government is responsible for the economic and educational development of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Article 29(1) states “No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.”
Article 350 A directs, “It shall he endeavour of every state and every local authority to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.”
Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) scheme
EMRS is a scheme for making model residential schools for Indian tribals (ST- Scheduled Tribes) across India. It started in the year 1997-98. The Eklavya Model Residential School in Shinde (Nashik) has been planned by the Ministry Tribal Affairs to give impetus to quality education in nearby tribal areas. The EMR School follows the CBSE curriculum. Eklavya Model Residential Schools are being developed to impart quality education to tribal students, with an emphasis on not only academic education but all-round development of tribal students.
GOAL (Going Online as Leaders)
GOAL (Going Online as Leaders) is a joint initiative of Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Meta (formerly Facebook), which aims at digital empowerment of tribal youth and women through concept of mentor and mentee. The GOAL phase 2.0 is a Facebook program aimed at guiding and encouraging tribal girls from across India to become village-level digital young leaders for their communities The programme will help to connect underprivileged young tribal women with senior expert mentors in the areas of business, fashion and arts to learn digital and life skills.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India (GoI) anchors the SSA Programme and it has been operational since 2000-2001. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was initially introduced in 2001 with the aim of the Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE). SSA was also provided by the 86th constitutional amendment where the provision of free and compulsory education was made for children belonging to the age group of 6-14 years.
Operation Blackboard is a scheme undertaken by the Indian government in 1987 in response to a suggestion made by the NPE of 1986. The main objectives of Operation Blackboard were to improve the quality of primary education, reduce waste and stagnation, and draw more students, particularly girls, into the primary education sector to realise the dream of universal education.
Ensuring access to education for the Dalits of India has been the greatest challenge for the Indian government in diminishing the social effects of the caste system, which still remain entrenched in Indian society. There have been many different reasons proposed as to why the Dalits suffer from low rates of literacy and primary education enrolment, but the most realistic one describes history and unequal access as the causes. Despite efforts to decrease caste discrimination and increase national social programs, the Dalits of India continue to experience low enrolment rates and a lack of access to primary education in comparison to the rest of India. Because of unchanging social norms and behaviour, incentives to pursue education were minimal for the Dalits who were still physically and emotionally harassed. Increasing efforts to eliminate caste discrimination combined with additional attempts to increase the accessibility and appeal for education have contributed to the slow progression of Dalit education.