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.
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.
In a recent news report, it was mentioned that “IITs should be exempted from reservations in faculty positions because they are Institutes of National Importance and are involved in research.” Some custodians of merit might have already started their happy dance on hearing the words ‘removal of reservations’. But if you read carefully, one of the recommendations also was —“Diversity issues should be addressed through outreach campaigns and targeted recruitment of faculty.” Diversity! Why should we be so bothered about it?
Why do we need SC/ST/OBC teachers and researchers, including the women/ transpersons/ differently-abled people from these communities?
People from marginalised communities have a different perspective of looking at things. It is an empirically proven fact that diversity enhances creativity. Multiple studies have demonstrated the enriching effects that race, gender, and other kinds of social diversity have on classrooms and workplaces.
There are not many studies on the impact of caste diversity in Indian classrooms. But we can safely assume that the lives of a first-generation-Dalit-female or a trans person or a differently-abled student are different from that of a male-forward caste student. So is the lived experience they bring to the classroom.
Academic knowledge gained is the same for all the groups. It is this lived experience that sets apart the real-life application of knowledge.
Dadaji Ramaji Khobragade, a Dalit cultivator and self-trained plant breeder developed the highly successful HMT-Sona and ten other popular rice varieties which are now widely grown across India. He wasn’t formally educated but had a passion for agriculture and agricultural processes.
The original ‘PadMan’ of India, Mr Arunachalam Muruganantham, belonged to a family of handloom weavers. It is a different story altogether that in the movie, he was changed to a Laxmikant ‘Chauhan’, a forward caste North Indian male. Necessity is the mother of innovation. And that is why we should have more researchers who are aware of ground-level difficulties. For someone who is not aware of manual scavenging, it will never be a problem.
It is strange that in this digital age when we even have self-flushing toilets, economical technology to replace manual scavenging is still a distant dream.
Not many children of manual scavengers get the opportunity to even complete primary education, leave alone take up engineering and invent solutions for their problems.
We don’t know how many Dalit and Adivasi innovators are sacrificed at the altar of merit. Just because they don’t have the required educational and social capital to back them up.
The traditional knowledge of indigenous communities in India is capitalised by scientific giants. Google ‘ethnomedicine of Indian tribes’ and you’d get a myriad of research. But the people actually belonging to these communities, who over many generations have developed their medicinal, botanical and sustainable systems are disregarded as unmeritorious.
In the unhealthy obsession with narrow criteria of merit like scores and marks, we often tend to forget that factors such as personality, socioeconomic background, critical thinking, curiosity to learn- such unquantifiable human qualities, play a much bigger role. There might be some truth, after all, in Apple co-founder Steve Woz’s statement, that Indians lack creativity. The ones believing marks to be merit, at least.
Ironically, IITs and top academicians are exploring ways to attract overseas students to India. But back home, they show an unwillingness to acknowledge diversity.
Caste is invisible in Indian academia but only a naive person would say it doesn’t matter. The systemic biases are evident by the overrepresentation of a few privileged communities in IIT faculty, ever since IITs were established. “By the 1920s, Tamil Brahmins filled over 70% of seats in regional engineering institutions, despite being barely 3% of the total regional population,” said Ajantha Subramanian, An anatomy of the caste culture at IIT-Madras.
The heartbreaking suicides of students from Dalit-Adivasi communities show that teachers with perfect CVs are not enough. We need teachers who understand and empathise with the struggles of the marginalised students; can identify discrimination and call out casual casteism of their colleagues; can be positive role models.; and can prevent academia from becoming savarna echo-chambers.
Without a diverse faculty and administration, marginalised students often end up feeling like outsiders trying to ‘fit-in’ exclusive spaces which is the opposite of what a university should be like —a melting pot of different cultures where differences are appreciated, imbibed, and learned from. Unfortunately, in spite of reservations, the current representation of SC/ST/OBC faculty in these meritorious institutes is dismal. Of the 8,856 sanctioned faculty strength in IITs, there are 4,876 from the general category, 329 OBCs, 149 SCs, and a mere 21 from the ST community. Across 23 IITs, only 9% of the current faculty are SC/ ST /OBCs.
According to All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, MHRD [AISHE Survey], social distribution of teachers in institutes of higher education also shows gross under-representation of SC/ST/OBCs as compared to their population.
These are snapshots from the diversity policies of some of the top universities of the world, among whom the IITs, IIMs and Institutes of National Importance, aspire to be.
Top universities of the world actively encourage and celebrate diversity, not try to deny its existence.
It’s not Reservations that are stopping these institutions from being at the top, rather the half-hearted implementation, which prevents a large part of the population from even taking part in the development process.