This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Snayini Das. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Are Upper-Castes Oddly Obsessed With English And The Idea Of Merit?

More from Snayini Das

“Kaunsi bhasha hai yeh?”

Mocking someone’s language and putting up your ‘bad humour’ as the excuse for such an abusive video about native languages doesn’t really make your vlog ‘interesting’ in case anyone wondered.

This is not just about one vlog incident, but thousands of such horrifying experiences that Adivasi people are forced to face at workplaces, educational spaces and more. Indian journalist Anjali Mody, who writes about India’s educational issues says, “India’s obsession with English is depriving many children of a real education.”

But is the whole of India obsessed with English? It is high time that we talk about the intersectionality of casteism with the English language obsession.

The educational institutes have also gotten into the practice of cultivating ridiculing, mocking and condescending Adivasi culture by taunting for getting into the institutes through the reservation, thereby making the students of the community conscious of the reservation system.

This elite English-speaking feature has had long term consequences on families belonging to the Adivasi community; a 23- year old slum dweller said that he wanted to speak fluent English to get a job in a call centre to help pay for his sister’s weddings. Moreover, he has the notion that speaking English introduces the aspect of being rich and vice-versa. He says that if he had some money, the first thing he would do is go to college to become fluent in English.

Several writers mention that the socioeconomic status in Indian society is determined by people’s fluency in the English language – which introduces a ‘new caste system’. But, if deeply looked into, this is just an addition to the already existing caste system of India. The elites, who use the privilege of knowing English, comprise mainly of the ‘upper caste’ folks. It’s this specific ruling elite that has the hand behind mandating university admissions and government jobs.

I, myself, am writing this article in English from a privileged vantage point. I had the chance of learning English, which many other Dalit-Adivasi students don’t get the chance to.

The Language Of The Elite

A lot of factors play a major role in making English the ‘language of the elite’.

Firstly, multinational companies hire people from the middle class of the economical hierarchy ladder. That leads to a major section of the society believing that they can escape their indigence while they weren’t able to afford private education in English medium schools.

Secondly, the ‘upper caste’ people enforce a preconceived belief upon the society that ‘Indians can prosper by not just learning English, but learning it as their first language.

Thirdly, with the intersection of casteism in the recruitment system of jobs, there has been a shortage of teachers who can speak English whereas the states continuously demand to provide them access to learning English to students coming from all communities.

Lastly, while few private sector companies and organizations are working towards providing ways to advance local languages, the local governments (most of them) stand static in terms of removing the socioeconomic barriers of language.

If looked at properly, we have a lot of underlying issues behind this- be it in the political system or educational, the question rises – how long is the way still we have the issues resolved?

Meritocracy has long-running intersectionality with English being the ‘language of the elite’.

Several higher educational institutes in India, including the well-known IITs, are representatives of the meritocracy system in India and have had instances in the past as well as recent times proving the intersection of caste exclusivity.

Indian obsession with equating an upper class and caste with merit. Representational image.

India’s Top Institutions Are Casteist

At India’s top educational institutions, reservation policies exist mostly just on paper whereas in reality, the faculty and students at institutions have been found guilty of violating them but no necessary action has been taken to prohibit the same.

For instance, videos of an associate professor at IIT Kharagpur named Seema Singh surfaced online, where she was found to be hurling abuses at students of marginalized castes and/or with physical disabilities during an online class. What were the reasons behind her abuse?

The students hadn’t stood up for the National Anthem and said ‘Bharatmata Ki Jai’. Adding to that, the excuse for her behaviour was “social isolation due to COVID-19”. But, guess what, Seema Singh still hasn’t been terminated or booked under the SC/ST Act.

This wasn’t the first of such incidents to have occurred.

Several students have fallen victims to caste-based harassment including Aniket Ambhore (Dalit student at IIT Bombay) which even led to his death by suicide. After Aniket’s death, a three-member committee was set up at IIT Bombay to investigate the incident. The committee’s findings were never brought to light except one point that doesn’t really come off as a new fact:

“There is a possibility that students entering through the SC/ST quota could face difficulties in the hostels and in the departments because of hardened attitudes against the reservation policy of the government.”

Several casteist videos and reels have been surfacing on social media platforms – Instagram and YouTube mainly.

The very recent vlog video of Sambhavna Seth along with her husband showed them mocking their domestic worker for conversing in her native language. We are aware that this idea of mocking Adivasi languages is terrible and disrespectful towards the whole community, but what’s even worse is their excuse behind it that their “sense of humour is poor”.

Who asked you to even be “humourous” about a certain language in the first place? The Internet doesn’t really need your vlog, I can assure you that.

The whole algorithm of the Instagram reels is a reflection of the casteism existing in India. If you end up scrolling the reels section, you will have to face ‘elite aesthetics’ which seem to be out of your reach. Even the algorithm doesn’t allow reels of Dalit people; you won’t find a single account of any Dalit person on the list of ‘top influencers.

To add to that, ‘video creators’, like Yashvi Bagga, create reels that directly mock the reservation system cribbing about the lack of facilities that general students can enjoy, whereas non-general students had welfare schemes, relaxation in age, fewer application fees, etc. to “enjoy!”.

Dear Yashvi, let me correct you there, the non-general students do not certainly “enjoy” this; those are their rights. The iPhones that you use, those are your privileges to ‘enjoy’; the Dalit-Adivasi students don’t have that opportunity due to their fathers and forefathers facing several obstacles in their lives while your ancestors ‘enjoyed’ advantages and created huge gaps in economic, social and several other areas of livelihood, the consequences of which are to be born by generations in the coming future.

Though Yashvi Bagga has deleted the video after an uncertain period of time, why did our dear IT sector that takes an immediate step against any slightly problematic criticism not take any action to remove this particular reel?

To conclude, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered to date. How many more Seema Singhs will the Dalit-Adivasi students have to face till the day comes when they can only focus on individual progress in a class? How many more Yashvi Bagga reels until the Dalit-Adivasi students are NOT made taken jibes at for the reservation system?

You must be to comment.

More from Snayini Das

Similar Posts

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Ritwik Trivedi

By Suranya

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below