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We Dalit Students Ate Biscuits And Uncooked Maggi For Lunch On Holidays

This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

Sudarshan Kasbe (TISS Alumni), Bhavna Lakhan (APU Alumni)

The eyes of humans are witness to many developments in the area of education such as increases in the educational institution, enrollment, scholarships, textbooks, uniforms, mid-day meals and so on but one can not escape the reality which makes us think about our own uniqueness. The thing which makes us humans different from other creatures is that we have the ability to think about good or bad, right or wrong, and are able to form and deliver our opinions on any subject.

Unfortunately, in a country like India, the uniqueness of an individual is acknowledged by the caste. Here, it can be seen that caste has become the only source of knowledge, respect and humane treatment. In such a case, one is able to enjoy human behaviour when they are born in the so-called upper caste. As a result of the same, necessary facilities like better food, shelter, clothing, and education are not enjoyed by those who belong from the so-called lower castes.

Even after many years of independence, SC/ST communities are not independent of caste. Representational image.

Turning The Pages Of History

To understand the status of the lower castes, we need to look at our history. Ancient Indian scriptures divide Hindus into four varnas and four main categories which are further broken down into almost 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes. The Dalits and Maha Dalits are at the bottom-most of this caste pyramid and they bear the brunt of all the castes above them. While caste-based discrimination has been made a punishable offence under our Constitution, it has taken new forms in rural and urban social relations where it is used to control and restrict mobility and choice.

Even today, despite the massive development of the education sector, there is a huge population that finds itself unable to access the proper education. Some people who manage to reach elite institutions after a lot of struggles still continue to suffer from injustice at different levels.

Massive Under-representation In Higher Education

In India, higher education is still a distant dream for a large section of society. Out of total students enrolled for higher education, Scheduled Caste (SC) students are accounted at 14.89%, whereas Schedule Tribe (ST) students accounted for only 5.53%. Dalit students constituted 11% of the undergraduate and post-graduate enrollment in the academic year 2018-19. They made up fewer than 10% of PhD students and 16% of M.Phil students. When it came to non-degree certification, Dalit students comprised about 14% of diploma-holders and 13% of certificate-holders.

With persistent underrepresentation in college or higher education institutions, students’ struggle gets intensified with each passing day of college due to the immense cultural power of an academic aristocracy rooted in India’s oldest caste structure.

They have been subjected to oppression and emotional turmoil from their colleagues and professors. So, in order to bridge this gap that has existed since a very long period, and persists in various institutions, positive steps taken by the government play a crucial role. Some of these steps can include providing equitable space in all the institutions for SC, ST students so that they can grow holistically.

But with the recent moves of privatisation and bringing in new players in the education structure, changing eligibility criterion, deliberately keeping admission seats vacant and finding new means and mechanisms to keep Dalits from the education arena has been rudimentarily affecting SC/ST Students.

India’s premier institutes which have been preaching equality and equity for so many years are themselves doing injustice to the marginalised youth. We can look at nationwide protests that happened in the last couple of years where we can see how students are forced to drop out from educational institutions owing to increased fees and mental harassment done by professors, and college administration.

The Harrowing Discrimination Faced During College Life

There are multiple examples where students have to struggle a lot just to remain in these institutes. To put this in perspective, let me share an experience from my college days. Usually, on public holidays, everyone would be happy and celebrate. But there was a huge chunk of SC/ST students who would be worried.  Their reasoning for worrying was very painful and an absolute eye-opener for many advocates of “equality’.

During public holidays, mess or dining halls would be closed leaving these students to eat outside. When their classmates used to go to fancy restaurants, many Dalit students used to have biscuits or uncooked Maggi because cooking was not allowed on campus.

I myself have been through these times and there have been many instances of the same. Talking about these stories has its own price because these narratives get you that pitiful gaze and waves of sympathy from your own classmates. This differential treatment hits you very hard and whatever confidence level you have drops to an extreme bottom and you start having an inferiority complex. This cycle which starts from the very first month goes on till the end of your college life.

caste based discrimination
India’s premier institutes which have been preaching equality and equity for so many years are themselves doing injustice to the marginalised youth. Representational image.

An investigation was conducted by the National Campaign on Dalits Human Rights (NCDHR) at IIT Roorkee where 73 (seventy-three) first-year students from B.Tech, IMT and M.Sc courses were expelled. Among them, three quarters were SC and ST students. The NCDHR observed a few instances where teachers enquired about the student’s category or entrance examination ranks. 84% of SC and ST students surveyed said that examiners have asked them about their caste directly or indirectly during their evaluations.

The report noted that they found lack of support from the institution to support these students coming from diverse backgrounds, lack of infrastructure addressing their needs, remedial programs, English support classes, summer coaching classes and so on. They have noted the dysfunctional status of SC and ST cells which students are not aware of.

This injustice has different phases and there are many ways to keep the marginalized students from these premier institutions. The recent moves of several premier institutes showcase this fact. The strategy is implemented through new tactics by making education institutions more exclusive and privileged. The recent move by TISS where they announced that there won’t be a reservation applicable at the first stage i.e TISS NET. These are the exact replica of exclusionary methods adopted by technical institutions. Even though it’s nowhere justified, when an institution which preaches social values does this, it is all the more saddening.

Post-Matric Scholarships Are Not Assuring The Equality And Access To Education They Had Promised To

The struggle does not end with students cracking all the barriers and getting enrolled in premier institutes. The support system which will ensure access to education is highly inadequate. The state government has very different policies in regards to post-matric scholarships and their implementation is problematic on various levels. Post-2017, with a change in policy by the central government, many states have almost failed to successfully implement post-matric scholarships.

For example, some states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Bihar haven’t released the post-matric scholarship funds for the last two years whereas some northeast states, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand give very small amounts. Some states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala give almost exact amounts of scholarship.  So the students’ struggle varies as per caste and state they belong too.

There have been many protests, dialogues and negotiation but the problem still persists. Few states are not even bothered to be a part of dialogue whereas some states that are actively involved are often late in response. For marginalised students, for whom access to education is already an issue, these scholarship delays are not only demoralising but can also impact their future.

Taking a personal example again, I received my scholarship for Bachelors towards the end of Master’s and received a Master’s scholarship almost one year after finishing my Master’s degree. It was a question of survival and it took a lot of struggle to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, even after many years of independence, SC/ST communities are not independent of caste. Lack of quality education is the obstacle that prevents people from coming out from their caste identity, blocking their holistic development. And hence, steps like providing scholarships to those students who belong to the marginalised community helps them access quality education.

According to the census of 2011, this ruling class or caste may be small in numbers but they hold all the power and privilege. Due to this privilege, they have the power to support a sustainable solution by putting their energy to root out the caste through their writing, films, social media and so on. This step not only benefits the lower caste people but also makes the privileged group real humans devoid of caste identity. The openness and inclusivity created by both constructed castes will be able to destroy the enemy called ‘caste’ which has made us inhuman for centuries.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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