New Delhi, May 17 (KMS): The Dalit community is one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged ones in India. The community has confronted discrimination not just in India, but in all the different nations Indians have migrated to.
In India, caste plays a role in education in discriminating against and excluding Dalit students. They are deprived of their rights. Education is an important tool for social transformation and mobility, but caste discrimination makes this difficult and slows one down.
I found that teachers are not interested to work hard on students from the scheduled castes, due to the mentality that, “These lower caste community children have no future and involve themselves in the menial, traditional, caste-based occupations later in life.”
There is lower educational participation from students belonging to marginalised communities, be it the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, Muslims or girls and trans people.
Caste-based discrimination in primary education
Various caste-based practices can be seen in rural, government schools, where Dalit-Bahujan students face discrimination for their caste.
Take the mid-day meal scheme for instance. It aims to improve the nutritional standards of children in school. But, Dalit-Bahujan students are discriminated against by making them sit separately from the Savarna students.
In some schools, Savarna students’ parents have requested teachers to make their children sit separately, and not eat from the same plates which Dalit-Bahujan students eat.
Even the diet provided during mid-day meals took a casteist turn, when there was an attempt to remove eggs from it.
In terms of the preparation of food, when it is cooked by Dalit women, Savarna students in Uttarakhand and other states, have refused to eat it. They go home instead to avoid eating meals at school.
In Rajasthan, the Valmiki community children are asked to separately. Their plates are not washed by the helper of the school, who washes only the plates soiled by Savarna students. They are also not allowed to drink water directly from the pot or filter; they are forced to wait for someone else to pour water from the pot, from a distance.
This is what some Dalit students had to say
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.” Intellectual, missionary and teacher, Dr James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey had famously said this.
In India, the education of girls and women is bound to play a significant role in improving the standard of their living. But, many are doubly burdened due to gender inequality and caste discrimination.
I talked to some Dalit students and asked them about the problems they faced in schools and colleges. They told me there are no reservations of any kind, besides a handful of seats which have been reserved in limited streams.
Also, they told me that the atmosphere in schools has been designed to encourage students to think about caste, since some of us were not there based on “merit”. It convinced us that some of us were not good enough.
Let me share a personal experience with you all. A friend once told me that a schoolmate told him: “Tumko pata hai tum choti jaat se ho aur hum bade jaat se (did you know you are from a lower caste while I am from an upper one)?”
Later, I asked my mother: “Mummy, hum badi jaat se hai ya choti jaat (mom, are we from an upper caste or a lower one)?” I still remember the facial expression of my mother when she heard this question. She asked me about the reason behind the question.
I narrated to her the story that my friend told me. At the end, she told me: “Kuch nahi, inn baaton par dhyaan mat do (don’t worry about such things)!”
Some protections against casteism
The Indian constitution does not allow the practice of untouchability, through Article 17; and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Regardless of these robust provisions and acts, Dalit students continue to face discrimination.
Apart from the right to primary education granted to all children in India; and Article 24, which prohibits child labour; Article 15(4) empowers the government to make unique provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward class of citizens.
Apart from legal protections, the Socio-Legal Information Centre has developed alliances with Supreme Court unions and grassroots organisations. It has engaged in advocacy and campaigns. Such centres and collectices are a part of the bigger movement fighting for Dalit rights in India.
Dalit students coming together to form student unions, or join pressure groups, where they can assert their right to education and freedom from discrimination, is one potential solution to the problem of casteism on campus.
Bullying by Savarna teachers and students is only a part of the problem, the push back against reservation in educational spaces is one more. Half of the vacant positions meant for SC-ST faculties remain empty in educational institutions, leading to a domination of Savarna faculty in these spaces.
Dalit-Bahujan students are made to feel like they are not intelligent, innovative or creative. This must end!