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I Asked 3 Students Their Experiences Of Casteism And It Was Revealing!

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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 constitution-makers of India addressed the historical oppression of the oppressed communities due to the caste system by adopting various welfare policies. The motto of these policies was to make India a social democracy where everyone will be treated equally irrespective of the caste they belonged to. But unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to happen.

“Is this the India that the Constitution makers envisioned?”

Representational image.

For the majority of Dalits and Bahujans, education is the only exit strategy to jump up the oppression forced upon them by the caste system which always kept them at the lowest possible rungs of the social hierarchy.

But the education system too is not free from the caste discrimination which leads to ragging and bullying of ‘quota’ students by the other fellow so-called upper castes students and even the professors/teachers. Eventually, they are slowly excluded from the group. To address this issue, the government has made it mandatory to set up an SC/ST atrocity committee and anti-ragging cell in every educational institution.

But if these committees were really effective in addressing the caste discrimination in campuses, Rohith and Payal would have been alive today.

The caste ragging is much related to power and social honour. Society’s behaviour can be manipulated and encouraged by power equations. When conservatives rise in power, social and psychological attacks on those who are not in line with conservatives rises too. Groupism plays a major role in exclusion in educational institutes which resists a positive change in society.

When asked about experiences of casteism in educational institutes, many students have felt it directly and indirectly. I am sharing a few of them. The names of these students have been changed for privacy.

Gayatri More who is doing graduation in science said, “During my first year, everyone was shocked to see my name in the merit list and they felt that I got that seat just because of reservation. I heard them taunting me that how the lower caste people are taking their rights by getting more seats despite being less talented than us. But these same people didn’t utter a word when EWS reservation was implemented.”

Akash Ghodeswar who is now studying International relations experienced bias from the college administration. He said, “when I was selected for a merit-based scholarship for SC students and had to collect the scholarship amount from the admin office, the executive used to taunt him as ‘sarkarcha jawaai’ (those who are cared too much by the government). “

Surbhi who is now preparing for UPSC said, “I was always placed in the second row and preference was given to the girls belonging to other castes in our dance classes. They were always the main lead in any play or act. No matter how much you scored in school or how better you were in the curriculum, teachers chose only the higher caste girls. In college, maximum professors were Brahmins and always favoured those who belonged to their caste while giving marks even when my performance was good.

While one professor who was from the SC community, he never discriminated against those who are not SC or never favoured me just because I was from his community. When I got a hostel room from a ‘general’ slot as I scored better, I was taunted by a Brahmin girl that they don’t get a place to stay because of reservation despite good marks.”

caste discrimation education
Representational image.

These conversations are an everyday part of people from the SC/ST community. The psychological harassment goes unnoticed by the administration of the institution. Many students don’t report to SC/ST committees because a written complaint is needed which exposes the identity of the victim. Some suffer in silence while some take harsh steps. In 2007, a committee was set up by the government under the chairmanship of Professor Sukhdeo Thorat to enquire into the allegation of differential treatment of SC/ST students in AIMS, Delhi. Few important points from the report were as following:

  • Of the total responses, about 72% of them mentioned some kind of discrimination being faced in a teaching session.
  • About 85% of them mentioned that the SC students don’t receive enough time with the examiners, as compared with the higher caste students.
  • Students of SC/ST category have stated that ragging has serious caste overtones and several forms of humiliation are meted out to them.
  • It appeared that humiliation of SC/ST students based on caste background is fairly open.
  • The SC/ST students are forced to shift to these hostels by a sustained pressure in the form of humiliation, abuse and even violence by the higher caste students.
  • Teachers are fine till they do not know your caste. The movement they come to know, their attitude towards you changes completely, etc.

The basic thing which the oppressors can’t understand is that intellect and ability have no relation with the caste.

The Supreme Court, in a judgment, said that a “meritorious” candidate is not merely one who is “talented” or “successful” but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs and ensuring a diverse and representative administration”. The prevalence of casteist beliefs and prejudice that SC/STs are less productive and efficient has shaped the psychology of Indian people. How many finance ministers of India belonged to SC/ST people?

Why is it that people from SC/ST communities only find a place in the Social Justice Ministry?

The discrimination and violation of human rights will continue to happen due to caste unless we stop believing in it.

Representational image.

How Can We End This Thousand Of Years Old System Of Suppression?

Dr Ambedkar has an answer to this question. He said, “make every man and woman free from the thralldom of the shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.”

But even after 70 years of independence, caste is operating with more impunity and any responsible person who believes in the constitution can easily point this out. Educating the minds and sensitising students about caste discrimination and its impacts is one of the ways to stop the daily harassment of SC/ST students. The other way that is longer and one that will need more effort from the government as well as society. It is to induce harmony and love for all keeping aside the caste and religious politics.

I would like to end by giving tribute to all those like Dr Payal Tadvi who ended their life due to caste humiliation with a short excerpt of a poem by Aruna Gogulamanda.

Her eyes two dry hollows bear silent witness

To hundreds of deaths of her mothers, daughters, sisters

Their dreams, respect and their bodies.

Her calloused hands, her unkempt hair

Her cracked heels, her wrinkled hair

Tell the tales of living through fears and years

Of centuries and millennia of violations and deaths.

She was told

That she was dirt,

She was filth and

In this sacred land of thousands of goddesses

She is called a Dalit.

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!
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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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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