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How Vivas Are Used To Maintain Brahminical Hegemony In Education

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India’s education system is no different to society when it comes to caste discrimination. The savarnas in the system often perpetuate brahminical hegemony and deny “lower-caste” students their rights.

The story of Ekalavya repeats every day in Indian society, in our academia and professions, where Dronacharyas of today use various tools to deny those coming from marginalised sections their rightful opportunities.

Two recent events show us the ways in which the casteist professors in our academic institutions exclude Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi (DBA) students and scholars from attaining higher positions:

  1. The declaration of results of JNU PhD entrance exams shed light on the ways in which DBA students were given single-digit marks in Viva, thereby denying them admission to the institute.
  2. The publishing of results of faculty recruitment in J B Pant Social Science Institute declared every applicant from the OBC category as unsuitable.
dalit issues protest
Marginalised students are often discriminated against.

Discrimination During Viva Tests

The use of viva or interview as a tool to deny selection is an age-old tactic effectively used by savarnas in positions of power. 

Since the awarding of marks in viva is completely arbitrary and given according to the whims and fancies of the evaluators, they have complete discretion in giving more marks to candidates from similar savarna backgrounds and mannerisms and can give fewer marks to candidates from DBA backgrounds, which ultimately cause them to be rejected from the selection process.

These people who conduct the interview have the full information of the social background of the candidates and their agenda is clearly to make sure that their caste supremacy in these institutions remains unquestioned and unopposed.

A clear case of this is visible in the UPSC interview marks, where candidates from reserved categories are consistently awarded fewer marks even though they might have higher marks in the written examination. They also give higher marks to savarna candidates to ensure they get higher ranks in the final rank list.

It has been consistently observed that most students from reserved categories are rejected in the final interview round for academic admissions. The only reason we have a better implementation of reservation in undergraduate courses is due to the fact that these admissions are free from this interview process and these savarna professors do not get an opportunity to deny them their rightful seats.

The whole idea of judging a candidate’s ability from a 3–5 minute interview is ludicrous. It is even more scandalous to award a single digit mark (out of 30 or 100) for that candidate, essentially denying their chance, when you know that the candidate had scored well in the written part.

Also, the use of viva is not to merely reject a candidate. If they find the candidate cannot be rejected just using the viva marks, they will still give them fewer marks to ensure that the candidate does not get admitted in the general category, ensuring that the general category is only filled by savarna candidates.

We have been hearing reports of how candidates from marginalised backgrounds are harassed, ridiculed and shamed by the interview panels by intimidation and humiliation. They are deliberately asked questions unrelated to their field of study, sometimes rebuked for their dress or accent and their answers are completely discarded or ignored.

Similarly, we hear reports of how the same panels make a jolly and comfortable experience for the savarna candidates who they take as their own, asking them about their family and personal details rather than trying to judge their academic vigour.

students protesting
There is widespread bias against Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi students.

No Transparency Or Accountability

This shows their casteist idea of merit where savarnas are born “meritorious”, but the DBA candidates have to prove that they are deserving. If a DBA student shows assertiveness in the interview, they see it as a threat and give them fewer marks. This demonstrates the widespread unethical bias in conducting viva.

It is this viva that ensures that their numbers in these institutions are always higher than the Bahujans and their supremacy and rule continue unopposed.

The absolute lack of transparency and accountability from the academic institutions regarding their evaluation processes has perpetuated this casteist gate-keeping. The Brahminical patriarchal attitude is also visible in STEM institutes where women are deliberately kept away from positions of research.

The entire process of admissions is kept opaque so that no one can question the process and these Dronacharyas can hide behind the curtain of “meritocracy”. When they are sometimes forced to follow reservation under political pressure, they often try to select weaker candidates from the categories ignoring the best, to reinforce the idea that people from DBA backgrounds are unmeritorious.

When they cannot find weaker candidates, they keep parroting the “not enough candidates applied” argument saying these seats will remain vacant if they keep waiting for DBA candidates.

How IITs Discriminate

IIT Delhi.
IIT Delhi.

The IITs, for instance, never publish the vacancies in PhD admissions, the marks obtained in the written and interviews are never disclosed, nor the weightage of the viva, even the final list of selected candidates are never made public.

It was only through repeated RTIs that the category wise data of PhD admission and faculty recruitment was obtained, which showed a clear bias against candidates from reserved categories.

The RTIs filed by APPSC IIT Bombay, APSC IIT Madras and Chinta Bar IIT Madras has found that the number of applicants from DBA categories far outnumbered the number of seats in PhD admissions and faculty recruitment in IITs for years.

Even after this data is available in the public domain, the directors of various IITs had the audacity to claim that positions will remain vacant if reservation is implemented properly due to lack of applicants.

It is not due to the lack of suitable applicants that the positions are vacant, but the casteist Brahminical attitude of these professors who will neither let students from DBA backgrounds in their classes nor let them become their equals as fellow instructors. 

IITs also convert these reserved vacant posts to the unreserved category so that they can fill it up with their savarna peers, which further incentivises them not to select DBA candidates and let them remain vacant.


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What Needs To Be Done?

The struggle of DBA students and faculties after securing entry into these Brahminical bubbles is far from over. We can see how they are tortured and pushed to drop out or end their lives due to the discrimination they have to undergo on a day-to-day basis from the cases of Payal Tadvi, Rohit Vemula and recently, the decade long struggle of Deepa Mohanan.

We also saw how DBA faculty are discriminated against and forced out of campuses in cases of Vipin Veetil in IIT Madras and Ritu Singh in DU, among others.

Thousands of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi students are forced to end their education and careers due to the rampant Brahmanism in these institutes.

The only way to overcome this issue is to agitate for the elimination of viva as an evaluation mechanism or ensure adequate representation of reserved category faculty in the panels. Viva marks cannot be arbitrary and need to be broken down into marks allotted separately for each attribute that is checked.

The option to record the viva for any future contestations or unfairness needs to be explored. The whole issue can only be solved if the hegemony of savarnas in these academic spaces is destroyed.

The only way to democratise the admission and recruitment process is through increasing the representation of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasis in positions of power in these academic institutions.

Also, the power and impunity hoarded by these Brahminical Dronacharyas needs to be dismantled and students should have more participation in the functioning and decision making in these institutes.

We can find hope in the recent victories of anti-caste voices in bringing justice to Deepa Mohanan, forcing the government to direct IITs for mission mode recruitment of reserved posts, and even the G B Pant Social Science Institute to ensure recruitment of OBCs.

Brahminism and patriarchy are antithetical to the idea of democracy. Unless we uproot these hierarchies from our academic institutions, we can never have safe spaces of learning for our Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi brethren.

This article was first published in Round Table India.

Featured image via maxpixel
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