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Opinion: Caste Is India’s Most Preferred Form Of Nepotism

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.

The sudden demise of the Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput sparked a debate on nepotism, which remained a prime time favourite until the Bihar Assembly elections. I really wonder what exactly the motive was behind the continuous hammering of ‘nepotism’ on the Indian masses.

Kangana Ranaut, who became the focal point of this ‘nepotism debate’ argued that the Bollywood industry is in the clutches of few ‘big shots’ and that the careers of “outsiders” like herself and Sushant Singh Rajput are being ‘systematically sabotaged’. Also, according to her, it was this ‘sabotage’ that led to Sushant Singh’s death. She proclaimed herself as the harshest critic of nepotism while also casually tweeting every once in a while about her caste pride.

These debates covertly shifted the focus of the people from the issues like migrant crisis, handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government, poverty, unemployment to nepotism. If one point at the election campaign then one cannot deny the fact that the results which were expected by this broadcast were achieved and the campaign mobilized the people towards believing that the current society has rejected nepotism.

But have they really rejected nepotism or have they fallen for another ‘ruse’? If we look at nepotism from a broader perspective, it is not only restricted to Bollywood and politics, which the prime time debates tried to make us believe. But, nepotism has existed for a LONG time, from way back in the origins of what is known as ‘India’ today. It even has its very own ‘indigenous’ name, Varna.

caste discrimation education
Representational image.

If one were to look closely, we will find that caste is the basis of the existence of our society, affecting the very smallest of the things in our lives, right from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, the partners we marry and the jobs we do for a living. I’ve seen that there has been a rise of the section of people who link caste with occupational ‘choices’, and the inspection of the social media handles of such people reflected two things:

First, they are mostly Savarnas who take pride in their caste and in the need to justify this cruel and orthodox caste system. They try to put posts like “I am a Brahmin when I teach my kids, Kshatriya when I shield and protect my family, Vaishya when I am managing my house and a Shudra when I clean my house,” which supports and validates (their belief in) the theory that caste was decided by occupation and not by birth. This, in turn, normalises people’s belief in the caste system.

Source: Social media.

Secondly, it seems like they do not acknowledge the social capital they inherit from their parents and family, and the ‘perks’ they enjoy just because they are born into a ‘so-called’ upper caste family. They credit Karma and use their inherited social capital as justification for the denial of the fact that they themselves are the product of nepotism. This was reflected in the 2006 anti-reservation movement where the Save Merit narrative was pitched by the ‘privileged’ castes to forward their agenda of oppression under the guise of merit.

The whole campaign revolved around the idea of merit, successfully neglecting the role that availability of resources plays in creating a ‘meritorious’ student. Also, if the so-called ‘upper-caste’ students are as meritorious as they claim they are, then there must be no threat to them from the marginalised first-generation learners who lack basic resources, right? The only reason to fear these marginalised students is that they are much more ‘meritorious’ for a first-generation learner than they expected, and can be a serious competition to them in future, right?

According to a data provided by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2019, “Out of 2461 students who dropped out from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the last two years, 371 were from the Scheduled Caste (SC), 199 from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and 601 from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).”

Contrary to the reasons stated by IIT administrations about the supposed incompatibility with the rigorous academics of these elite institutions, Professor Anoop Kumar shares insights about the reasons why students from most marginalised sections of society drop out within a year of getting into IITs. One main reason is the language barrier. Even though students from all over the country, belonging to different backgrounds, are admitted to IITs each year, the language of communication is mostly English, be it in academics or casual communication. This makes education inaccessible, and also makes students from non-English backgrounds feel insecure, affecting their mental health and performance. Professor Kumar asks how an institution can judge a student in six months, someone who has scored marks at par with everyone else in the entrance examination.

Not just this, but caste plays a very important role when it comes to the placement process, in securing internships and fellowships and more. Since the students are made to feel ‘inferior’, their performance suffers. Also, lack of communication with the faculty as a result of existing caste-networks and hierarchies leads to students missing out on internship opportunities, which systematically reduces the ‘value’ of their academics and hence creating ‘unemployable’ graduates. So, we must question this ‘culture’ in academia which kills the dreams of the marginalised and promotes nepotism which is casteist in nature.

Why do people always fall for the trap of ‘merit’ despite knowing well who the products of nepotism are and who isn’t? The answer to this must be that, though most of the people despise ‘nepotism’, it is entrenched into their souls under the name of caste. Also, this behaviour of the masses hints that Indian society has become more caste-conscious now than it had ever been before.

Shedding privilege is not a priority right now as people are still wearing their invisible ‘oppressor-capes’ but acknowledgement is the least you can do. What is important is that we introspect and pledge to correct the wrongs done in the past for the sake of the future, and work together for the betterment of the society.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, 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 and apply.

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