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30 March 2023: How caste discrimination permeates the language of meritocracy on campus

Context:

The article represents the nature of caste discrimination in higher education institutions and many manifestations of caste discrimination.

Key highlights:

  • People believe that casteism only manifests itself via beatings or blatant assault, but it now manifests itself through subtle gestures as well.
  • Caste discrimination in higher education institutions:
    • Higher education institutions are typically portrayed as caste-free zones. Because of their modernity, upper-caste students and professors are thought to be casteless.
    • However, casteism has reinvented itself, mostly via the discussion of meritocracy. The social logic of merit is structured in such a way that it benefits the same groups of individuals who are already privileged by the caste system.
    • It is documented how professors threaten Dalit students’ attendance and pressure them to complete household tasks, among other practices that are not necessarily shown to be caste discrimination.
  • Views of advocate Abhinav Chandrachud in his book, “These Seats are Reserved”:
    • He observes that reservations were opposed in the Indian Constituent Assembly for two reasons:
      • First, they are inefficient, and
      • Second, it is regressive to assert that caste still exists in a free, modern society.
    • These arguments are not outdated; they are currently used to argue against the usage and necessity of reservations.
  • Avatthi Ramaiah, a professor at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS):
    • He claims that if there were no reservations, these so-called progressive places would be dominated by upper-caste students.
    • Even today, most of the focus on the reservation is on the concept of a “deserving” candidate rather than the past injustices caused by the caste system.
    • He claims that children from upper-caste backgrounds arrive with strongly casteist beliefs instilled in them by their family, which they try to impose on their Dalit peers. Reservations alone will not solve this complicated socioeconomic problem, yet reservations are the bare minimum.

Prevalence of verbal taunts:

  • The belief that reservation dilutes merit frequently leads to hurtful jokes, insults, gossip, and student isolation among their classmates.

Ineffective legal remedies:

  • Existing legal remedies frequently fail to address these complexities.
  • Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe cells mandated by the University Grants Commission are frequently defunct, and where they do exist, they are unresponsive to concerns.
  • Remedies such as provisions under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, are challenging to access.
  • It is difficult to get remedies under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955.
  • Caste discrimination is difficult to show in court since the registry of the court frequently fails to notice the complex and nuanced character of casteism that happens in these so-called progressive places.

Way forward:

  • There is a need for solutions that address not just external violence but also the internal trauma, crushing loneliness, and self-esteem loss caused by casteism.
  • For true change to occur, all parties—not just victims and survivors—must be sensitized.
  • Several other scholars believe that curricular reforms are essential for building caste-conscious institutional environments.