Dr Santhosh J & Benish Ali
Dalits, tribals, and people from other backward classes form the majority of the Indian population. However, their presence in government educational institutions and top government posts is extremely scarce. This has become rather a longtime trend in India. However, the successive governments claim otherwise, their own data proves the point and shows utter disregard for the upliftment of these sections.
Acquiring data on these sections is not an easy task. Parliament sessions and parliamentary committee reports provide an opportunity to get access to this data through questions asked by members of Parliament which reveal alarming statistics. Despite the show of ‘debate competition’ among ruling and opposition parties in the recently concluded 12th session of 17th Lok Sabha, such data was provided.
Dr. Subhash Sarkar, the Union Minister of State for Education, recently provided the data on teaching and non-teaching staff in 45 central universities, in response to a question by Lok Sabha member Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Singari. As per this data, out of the 13,098 teaching positions, only 1421 (11%) are occupied by members of Scheduled Castes, 625 (5%) by Scheduled Tribes members, and 1901 (14.5%) by people belonging to Other Backward Classes. From the total teaching staff, there are 1341 professors out of which merely 96 (7%) belong to Scheduled Castes, 22 (2%) to Scheduled Tribes and 60 (4.5%) to Other Backward Classes. Further, there are merely 231 (8%) SCs, 69 (2.5%) STs, and 187 (6.5%) OBCs out of the 2817 Associate Professors. At the Assistant Professor level, out of the total of 8940 Assistant Professors,1094 (12%) are SCs, 534 (6%) are STs and 1654 (18.5%) are OBCs. The percentage of representation drops further when it comes to the Vice-chancellor and Registrar posts. Out of the total 90 vice chancellor and registrar posts, SCs, STs, and OBCs put together occupy a dismal total of 14 (15.5%) posts. These figures are in stark contrast to the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teacher’s Cadre) Act, 2019 which provides for 15% reservation for Scheduled Castes, 7.5% reservation for Scheduled Tribes, and 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes.
Despite the low acceptance rate of scholars from marginalized communities in central and technical universities and the other multiple challenges they face, members of these communities produce Doctor of Philosophy (PhDs) from various state and central universities. While the marginalized people remain systematically deprived of education, even the educated amongst them remain largely unemployed. According to 2019 data, the unemployment rates of graduates from SC, ST, and OBC surpass that of graduates from upper castes. Compared to the 10.5% upper caste, unemployed graduates, there are 18.7% SC, 14% ST and 15.7% OBC unemployed graduates. In spite of the presence of a sufficient number of qualified individuals, seats for teaching positions in central universities lie vacant. According to the data shared in Rajya Sabha by the Union Minister for Education, Dharmendra Pradhan, out of the total 7033 posts reserved for candidates belonging to SC, ST, and OBC categories in 45 central universities, a staggering 3007 (42.75%) posts, lie vacant. This situation prevails despite hundreds of Ph.D. holders from these categories competing for reserved posts. Moreover, in many of these institutions, permanent recruitment has been stalled for decades whereas ad-hoc or guest teaching posts have been filled.
On the other hand, the strikingly low presence of SCs, STs, and OBCs is matched by their extensively large presence in the informal economy. A majority of people belonging to these disadvantaged groups work as manual scavengers casual wage labourers and agricultural labourers. Employed at these extremely low-paying jobs, working in abysmally unhygienic conditions, they suffer a poor fate, that of being born in what is considered a ‘lower’ caste. According to the data provided by the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry in Rajya Sabha in 2021, out of the 43,797 people involved in manual scavenging, 42,594 (97.25%) belong to Scheduled Castes, 421 to the Scheduled Tribes, and 431 to Other Backward Classes.
Further, caste becomes a cause for prejudice. Even the lower caste people who manage to reach high posts or secure admissions in central universities or technical institutions are crippled by caste-based discrimination. This has resulted in an increasing number of college and university dropouts. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Education in Rajya Sabha, 910 students dropped out of IITs from 2019 to 2022 along with 48 students in the first six months of 2023. There has also been an increase in the number of lower caste students dying by suicide due to the discrimination faced by them in technical universities like IIITs, NITs, IISERs, and IIMs as well as central universities.
The root of this transgenerational struggle is the ‘caste system’ which links a person’s occupation to their caste. Therefore, people from ‘lower castes’ are forced into inhumane and demeaning jobs like manual scavenging. The abhorrent system of caste renders these people immobile. They do not have the freedom to move on to a different occupation, thereby denying them any opportunity to uplift themselves and live a dignified life. The scarcity of discussion and lack of will to resolve this issue leaves one to question whether this is the systematic denial of social justice to these marginalized communities by the state. Are they missing from positions of authority or are systematically excluded? If yes, then do they not deserve the basic human dignity and social justice guaranteed by the Constitution of India? Against this backdrop, there remains a stark need to implement reservations effectively. The level of impropriety in the implementation of reservation policies leads one to suggest punitive measures for the same.
- Sukumar, N., (2023), Caste Discrimination and Exclusion in Indian Universities A Critical Reflection, Routledge, New Delhi.
- Thorat, S.K., and Katherine, S. Newman (2010), Blocked By Caste Economic Discrimination in Modern India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
- Lok Sabha Debates (2023), Unstarred Question NO.539, 24.7.2023.
- Madhukalya, A.(2023),“Around 8,000 students belonging to SC/ST community dropped out from IITs, IIMs and NIITs in 5 years’’, The Deccan Herald, 26 July, accessed 11 August 2023, <https://www.deccanherald.com/india/st-community-dropped-out-from-iits-iims-and-niits-in-5-years-1241032.html>
- ‘‘97.25% of people involved in manual scavenging whose caste data is known are SCs’’, The News Minute, 3 December 2021, accessed 11 August 2023, <https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/9725-people-involved-manual-scavenging-whose-caste-data-known-are-scs-158325>
- “Poverty, caste-discrimination at the root of manual scavenging, reveals study”, The Hindu, 7 January 2023, accessed 10 August 2023, <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/manual-scavenging-study-reveals-poverty-caste-discrimination-at-its-roots/article66350006.ece?art=package>
Dr Santhosh J. is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi.
Benish Ali is a B.A.(Hons) student of political science at Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University and vice-president of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Centre there. .