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The unworthy students of India: Why are students at the school level made caste and class conscious?

The unworthy students of India: Why are students at the school level made caste and class conscious?

Nandini Singh

“Students who enter through reservation have never had to work hard, knowing they will get a seat anyway”

“…these students do not have the merit to survive in premier institutes like DU, IITs, AIIMS etc. and when they can’t handle the academic standard they expect, they drop out. Or kill themselves”

“…I hate reservations. I hate the advantage these castes get due to them. I couldn’t get into my choice of college due to this absurdity”

These are a few examples of views I came across while taking a general survey of Delhi University students for a documentary project. Such  abhorrent and hateful views are shared by many savarna and even a few Dalit- Bahujan students across disciplines and years of study, showcasing the failure of our society to educate the youth into caste and class consciousness even after 75 years of independence.

Why do such views matter? Why are views of students fresh out of school important?

At a ground level, they not only highlight how deeply caste discrimination is entrenched within minds of the masses but also the refusal of schools and families to teach their children about the history of oppression, marginalisation and discrimination, thereby inciting hatred in nascent minds and creating ‘false consciousness’ thereby leading to savarna students perceiving themselves as ‘victims’ of an ‘unfair” policy such as reservation.

On a larger level of understanding, it demonstrates how caste biases are perpetuated from one generation to another. An alternate point of view is integral to break such prejudices. The question thus arises: what are educational institutions doing to make students caste conscious and sensitive?

Many savarna students claim their households to be ‘caste free’ recounting that their first encounter with caste came about when they had to fill their high school registration form. A fact that they gloss over is that they had the privilege of not having to face the baggage that comes with Dalit-Bahujan and tribal identity. 

In these same ‘caste free’ households, they have separate utensils for the domestic help, they give away their ‘joothan’ as benevolence, the toilet cleaning staff has no identity or name beyond the title of ‘jamadaar’and are interacted with outside the premises only,and the children are asked not to play with slum children.

Caste free indeed.

With these flawed ideas of social equality where the status quo is considered the ‘normal’, these children go through their schooling where they share such thoughts and opinions with peers who want to fit in and this need for validation forces them to accept the hegemonic notions that are continuously perpetuated in the student circles, leading to creation of a new generation of Savarnas who are ignorant towards caste issues, and marginalisation of Dalit-Bahujan students who are too afraid to assert themselves at this age and thus any scope of them voicing themselves is suppressed.

It is imperative to ask, what kind of social values are being perpetuated in schools? Is preaching equality without acknowledging what makes us unequal justified? Is education, thus, catering to the narrative of dominant social groups?

Such provocative questions are indeed quite necessary to put emphasis on the fact that schools are agents of socialization and are ideal places for promoting awareness and consciousness regarding caste and class. What’s absurd is that this simple idea is not implemented at all. 

Even if it’s considered that it is ‘too triggering’ to be discussed in classrooms, then I question, how hard can it be to devise a strategy that inculcates caste consciousness without being harsh on young minds?? And why is it not a priority?

Ignorance and misinformation rules the behaviour of such uncultivated minds as they enter adulthood and college, where the potential of being educated gets buried among the overwhelming hate and opposition to reservation in public educational institutes, the issue of ‘seat kha jaana’ being of more significance than centuries of oppression.

However, what can be expected of students who were never taught about caste and society, neither at home nor at school?

Doesn’t a bird born in a cage think that flying is an illness?

Who really is to blame here?

It is invisible to eyes blind with casteism and communal hate that a large chunk of their Dalit-Bahujan classmates are first-generational learners, and/or have braved multiple obstacles to be in the same classroom where their merit and entire existence is questioned. Moreover, the audacity to determine which social group does have merit is a tendency of savarnas that is not criticised as much as it should be.

The self-victimisation allows them to shed the responsibility of recognizing and keeping their privilege in check, because it is easy to put blame on communities that do not have polished articulation due to being denied equal access to resources to be squatting over what ‘rightfully’ belongs to the savarnas, (that is, shared education spaces), rather than identifying it as an institutional problem of national importance.

The cut throat competition for a handful seats and the near 100% cut-offs are glorified as requisite of eminent and premier institutes and no question is raised on why more of such can’t be created to achieve education for all. No question is asked why should the children of our community have to die to prove that they belong to such spaces.

How long will these remain alien spaces for Dalit-Bahujans?

How scared are upper castes of us asserting ourselves, of us educating ourselves, of us organizing ourselves?

In this day and age where Dalit-Bahujan kids learn to be subjected to slurs and caste violence before they learn to read a primer, are classes on caste consciousness in schools too much to ask?

By denying the relevance of such education the society is making a conscious decision of creating a generation- that is bureaucrats, politicians, policy makers, diplomats, businesspersons, scholars and way before that, people, who become proponents of casteism, caste discrimination, prejudice and caste atrocities.

Maybe it’s too much to ask, maybe it’s a mammoth task to do, but if you really are aiming for equality, dear India, then why are you so afraid of dismantling a system that eats away your young?

Jai Bheem!


Nandini Singh is a student of History at Miranda House, University of Delhi.


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