Equality, a core egalitarian idea compounded in the birth of the nation of free India and the founding principles on which our justice system is based upon; is devoid of its practical existence in present times. And this malpractice is vibrant within our educational institutions and its supporting systems (which on paper are required to abide by it). But in practicality, the discrimination can be said to be more vibrant and venomous than it was prevalent in times of pre-independence India.
The higher education system is extremely important, because it is here that the human mind evolves a structural thought process of weighing their moral principles and implementing it. School is a controlled environment and whatever is taught in books is applied in college life, where most individuals make decisions based on the environment they are influenced by.
And it is the experiences they gain here decides their views on society; if they see it as an association for their best interest or they feel oppressed – upon which anger is projected. At many times, such anger is projected as what we call anti-social behavior. Sometimes, it also manifests as a need to just keep our mouth shut and carry on, a path chosen by many, due to helplessness.
The startling fact is that both the oppressor and oppressed exist within the same system, where only the former is highlighted when an issue grabs headline. But in midst of all of this; the real issues which led to such are often sidelined making the oppressed feel voiceless.
Article 14, the ruling principle on the idea of equality; is worn as a robe in the university space. From the top, it is always presumed that the system abides by it. The application of reservation system in the admission process exists on paper, but opinions remain divided.
But in reality, the bureaucracy and administration has found further means to beat the system and make the whole reservation process redundant. Students from the OBC community in the name of rationalisation are moved from the reserved to unreserved category on arbitrary grounds, resulting in a loss of seats in the unreserved category.
And many times, reserved category seats go vacant which in a system of rolling over in subsequent years, gets jumbled up in the process. This denies fairness and equality to students towards their right to attain education on their own choices. Within the debate on reservation, the real issue gets lost in the mist.
But in present day India, the concept of equality has transgressed the realm of reservation and is seen as a burgeoning issue amongst gender rights, LGBTQ+ rights, equal pay rights. Hostels are known to impose arbitrary curfew rules differentiating between both men and women; in the name of imposing culture by restricting women’s movement.
How are boys not susceptible to be eroded into anti-social activities (applying the same logic that women might do so) if they remain outside their hostels till late? Psychology says men have more risk-taking inhibitions and are more vulnerable to commit an act of regression while women weigh in their options meticulously before making decisions. But for the torchbearers of morality, science is beyond their logical comprehension.
Access to education is a right which was made fundamental under the RTE. And in principle, all government-aided institutions should be providing the same quality of education at a subsidised rate; yet is violated by the same agents of State, which are responsible for implementing it.
Within the same universities, registered and affiliated colleges are known to charge arbitrary fees however they may feel like. There is no fixed guideline on how fees are decided due to the principles of the free market policy in education. But, market principles should not determine what quality of education our children receive.
The salary of central university professors are equal all across India. But the teaching standards are not. Within Delhi University, for the same course, one can be paying fees ranging from ₹4,000 to ₹40,000 per year, depending on the college.
One can stroll alongside the swimming pool at SRCC whereas several colleges within the same campus are devoid of a dedicated building for premises. Drinking water still is a major electoral war cry for students in their local union elections. In such a wide disparity of facilities within the same 5 km radius, our kids are taught to move on with the attitude that it is what it is.
Southern India along with certain pockets in Western and Northern India have good quality education institutions, while Eastern India right along the Hindi belt sees quality education as a luxury which only the rich can afford in Tier-1 cities. Students in rural belts are forced to complete a 3 year degree course over 5 years while in certain IITs one can go for an accelerated course of pursuing double degrees including their masters in 5 years!
Merit is an important criterion. But one has to also observe where competitors stand in terms of resources and preparedness to face that which decides their future. At times, students can expect a UPSC Prelims result with over 10 lakh applicants within a month, but be expected to wait years for results from government recruitments. The concept of equality is violated here as well where differentiation and discrimination is made on the basis of reputation of services.
But, the viewpoint of class conflict is an issue seldom talked about. University spaces see class differentiation in its strangest form. Schools in India standardise dresses and the education system. But, once the child enters a university space, in the name of embracing freedom, one can see differentiation of class dynamics in social space as well.
The elitist vs. generalist divide is visible in one’s fluency in the English language and often, by the clothes they wear. This divide translates into friend circles and group dynamics; where one’s friend circle is often decided upon their ability to spend and the ability to communicate in a common language.
This further develops into regional biases and social strata biases where one group starts hating the other. Such group dynamics can be seen to be exploited in electoral politics where organisations use class, caste, social, regional and linguistic differentiations for their own vested interests.
Hence, inequality is widely prevalent in Indian universities. Where even issues of student protests projects the widening gap of concerns. When students of Magadha University can be found on the streets asking for timely delivery of their degrees, students in Delhi or Mumbai can be found on the streets demanding equality in treatment within hostels.
The issues of cosmopolitan India are seen as a joke or distant dream in the heartland of India. Pride marches for equal rights are unheard of by students of Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand. But you can see them on the streets for the implementation of basic infrastructure – permanent roofs and sitting arrangements within their buildings – while in some cities, the students are seen protesting asking for air conditioners and libraries.
The issue of inequality in itself is demanding equality in movements within educational institutions, where each institute has its own list of concerns.
But the bottom line is: who is listening and acting upon it? At such times, Article 14 seems a distant reality in azad (free) India, after 75 years of independence.