Dnyanda Lad and Ajay Rahulwad
Discrimination and exclusion on the basis of caste and gender have a natural effect on mental health of students. Many suicides have been committed in colleges in the last few years. Payal Tadvi, Rohith Vemula and many more individual Dalit students have been victims of these exclusionary institutional set-ups. This paper tries to stress upon the issue of exclusion to build a discourse that can be recognised and issues can be solved. The article is based on a research project that is submitted to the Department of Sociology, Fergusson College, Pune. The research is titled as “Social Exclusion of Dalit Girl Students Migrated from Rural Areas to Higher Education Institutions.”
Research, Approach and Methodology
The study takes a theoretical approach of Dalit Feminism as a political theory which formulates the problems of Dalit women as being different from those of any other woman. A Dalit woman goes through multiple layers of oppression, especially when she comes out in public spaces like higher education institutions in the urban areas.
As a person from the Dalit community, she gets stigmatized for her social location. As a woman, she goes through various mental and physical tortures enabled by patriarchy. As a person from rural and economically low-income family, she has to adjust with all her financial needs and many times she becomes a victim of bullying. Likewise, there are many more layers with subjective factors associated with their social habitus.
For this research, we conducted in-depth interviews of fifteen Dalit girl students at Fergusson College, Pune. For coding and analysis of interviews, we used the method of triangulation.
From the Interviews
When the admission process begins, the college administration asks students to form two separate queues with separate lists on notice walls for general and reserved category students (SC/ST/OBC). Quickly, all students get to know each other’s social categories, whether they are from the reserved or unreserved list. This separation leads to more humiliation for Dalit students.
One of the Dalit girls said that when she came out of the admission room, a group of students sitting on the college ground were gossiping about reservation. One of them looked at the girl as she came out and said, “These people come here to take our seats freely, even though they do not deserve to be here.”
Classroom environment has various omnipresent layers of caste, gender, class, language, colour and so on, which directly or indirectly impact the socialization of students. When a lecture gets over, all students gather outside in groups and subgroups based on commonalities in colour, financial background, caste/sub-caste and even clothing fashions.
One girl shared her experience about her first class. She said, “When I attended my first class, nobody made eye contact with me. I felt like nobody wanted to talk to me, except for one girl who I met after the class. She talked about having similar experience in the class. Later on, I got to know that she too is a Dalit.”
Moreover, all the respondents also said that they received a different treatment from their peers after they introduced themselves to everyone in class. After knowing their names and surnames, the teacher and many students would either stop looking at them or would change their behaviour. A girl said, “During class, I speak nothing. It’s because the teacher would tell me to stand up and ask my surname. I saw he scolded three dark-skinned boys and the whole class was laughing. I used to think that he would treat me the same if I speak up.”
After their admission, students have to enroll themselves in hostels. Fergusson College has separate hostels situated far from each other in the north and south ends of the campus. The whole process of getting a hostel is very complicated and time consuming. After crossing all the barriers in the enrollment process, if a Dalit girl manages to get a hostel, she faces difficulties right from getting a roommate to tackling stereotypes of the staff within the hostel space. A girl said, “When I went to pay my fees for the hostel, the accountant saw my application and told me to keep the money on the table.” Another girl said, “When I wrote my application to the hostel rector about meeting with my friend, she asked me many more details not necessarily related to my application. She even asked me about my friend, and whether he is married or unmarried.”
The survey consisted of yes/no type and short descriptive type questions. The survey was administered to all the students in the research sample. The girls involved in the survey were between the ages of 18 to 30 and were studying undergraduate courses at Fergusson College.
• About 95% of the girls said that they faced problems in the class when people got to know their surnames. Some Dalit girls also said that they were asked about their caste specifically, if their surnames did not provide enough clues.
• About 80% of girls told that they were avoided by other students and teachers after knowing their surnames and their language background.
• Students started facing problems as they were being neglected on account of their castes. When they approached the authorities with their complaints, about 80% of the complainants said that they were not taken seriously.
• About 95% of Dalit girl students said that they got taunted by their peers for getting scholarships. Those who are applying for scholarships get automatically identified as Dalit and get taunted as being pampered by the government.
• 10% of Dalit girls said that they would love to lead various events on the college campus, and 45% of them said they would like to participate in these events. Reasons given for their lack of motivation included their prior experiences of exclusion in such events. One of the girls said that she wanted to lead her department fest, but the students said that she is incapable and gave the post to a Hindu dominant caste boy. One girl student was made fun of by some ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) members, when she asserted to become a leader in her department’s fest.
Education needs to have a basis in humanity. The All India Survey on Higher Education states that there are very SC and ST girl students in higher educational institutions. If such discrimination against them continues, then there is no point in making any new education policy without addressing the current problems faced by girls from marginalised communities.
Dnyanada Lad and Ajay Rahulwad are students of Bachelors in Arts from Fergusson College, Pune. They are members of a student group named ‘Ambedkarites Students Organisation’ in the college.