Pranav Jeevan P
The survey results conducted by various institute bodies of IIT Bombay over the last one and a half years have been made public by the media. These results point to the atmosphere of blatant casteism and humiliation that Dalit Bahujan Adivasi (DBA) students must face on a day-to-day basis. Though the survey only shows data from IIT Bombay, if similar surveys had been conducted in other higher educational institutions, especially the so called ‘institutions of eminence’, the results would point to a similar or worse situation.
Among the various results published, one survey conducted by the student media body of IIT Bombay, Insight, stands out. This survey was sent to all students, not just DBA students, to understand their opinion on caste issues. The survey asks at the beginning if the student is from the general or reserved categories to understand how students from both categories perceive casteism on campus. Almost 181 students belonging to the general category have participated in this survey, and their responses point to the attitude of Savarnas on campuses.
83 percent of Savarna students do not feel that there is any caste discrimination in IIT Bombay, out of which 36 percent are unsure. But only 6 percent of them have actually agreed that casteism is present and very prevalent on campus. 26% of Savarna students preferred other Savarna students as roommates, which shows that they do not consider the demand for not wanting a DBA student as roommate a casteist demand.
61 percent of Savarna students believe that asking someone’s surname is not casteist. 37 percent are very sure that it is not casteist at all to ask for surnames. 45 students admitted to asking surnames, and 65 students said they witnessed it happening on campus. Surnames are indicators of caste for the majority of the students. Asking for surnames is a way to figure out the caste location of a person. Yet, the majority of Savarnas do not accept this as a casteist act.
When asked whether asking JEE ranks in order to determine if the person came through reservation is casteist, 36 percent said that it is not. 19% believe there is nothing wrong with asking JEE rank to determine if a person is from a reserved category. 25 percent of Savarna students, however, accept that it is a highly casteist act. 29 Savarna students admitted to asking someone’s rank to know if they got admission through reservation, while 59 said they witnessed it happening. The practice of asking one’s rank to identify category is so prevalent that 41 Savarna students admitted that other people had asked their own rank to see which category they came through.
47 percent of Savarna students do not feel that making memes or jokes against reservation is casteist, while the rest of them accept that it is. 22 percent feel there is nothing wrong with that act, while 23% feel that it is extremely casteist. While 21 students admitted to making jokes and sharing memes against reservation, 79 said that they witnessed it happening. The high number of students who agree to have witnessed it shows the prevalence of anti-reservation sentiment on campus. 74 percent of Savarna students feel that saying reservation should not exist is not casteist, while the rest feel it is. 42 percent completely denied a casteist angle to taking an anti-reservation stand. Debates about reservation are very common on campus, and Savarnas openly make anti-reservation statements and feel justified in doing so.
The only question on which the Savarna students agreed almost unanimously was that using caste names as slurs and abuse was casteist. Even though most agreed to its casteist nature, 48 students admitted to witnessing it happen, and 8 students accepted having used caste slurs themselves.
26 Savarna students have said that they witnessed caste discrimination happen firsthand. 21 said that the perpetrator was a student, while 5 said that the perpetrator was a faculty member.
The element of casteism and purity becomes visible when we examine the responses to the preference for segregating eating spaces. The need to demarcate separate eating spaces with an idea of purity is to reinforce the superiority of Savarnas on campus and deem their habits better than those of DBA students. Even though more than half of Savarna students responded that they do not want separate eating spaces or utensils, almost half (41 percent) demanded that they be provided separate spaces away from people who consume meat.
It is imperative that we understand the Savarna mind when we think of formulating ways to end the culture of discrimination on campuses. Along with spreading awareness to DBA students and building support systems for their welfare, there has to be active, compulsory caste sensitization programs that need to be conducted to sensitize the Savarna students about the trauma and humiliation they force upon DBA students. Focus needs to be put on how to create proper narratives that can change the mindset of these students and make them aware of their own privileges and socio-cultural capital that comes with their caste. The idea that some rank in an exam is the sole symbol of merit needs to be dismantled, and it needs to be expanded to include the social realities of caste, gender, sexuality, religion, class, abilities, etc. The prevalent anti-reservation sentiment needs to be countered through sessions explaining the history of reservation in India and affirmative action programs practiced in other countries. All of this has to go hand in hand with the proper implementation of reservation in faculty positions. The Savarna students should also get to see faculty from the DBA community to change their minds about reservation.
Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He has earlier studied quantum computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.