Home Commentary Age-old caste system prevails in India’s educational institutions

Age-old caste system prevails in India’s educational institutions

The Indian government needs to take stern action against discrimination meted to students and faculty belonging to marginal social groups in educational institutions of national importance.

According to provisions in India’s Constitution, all government institutions are mandated to provide 15 percent reservation for scheduled castes (SCs but sometimes referred to as Dalit, meaning “broken/scattered” in Sanskrit), 7.5 percent for scheduled tribes (STs), and 27 percent for other so-called backward classes (OBCs). They have traditionally been on the bottom of the country’s society.

The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes comprise about 16.6 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively, of India’s population of 1.3 billion, according to the 2011 census. For OBC, no consolidated data is available.

Sadly, this policy provision is not followed in admitting students and hiring professors from these three lower social groups in all autonomous public institutes of higher education such as Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), that tend to cater to the elite and discriminate against others. 

The SCs and STs are officially designated groups of historically disadvantaged people, while OBC is a collective term used by the government to classify castes which are educationally or socially disadvantaged. SCs, STs and OBCs are outside the four-tier caste system in India, which is based on the Hindu religion.

The country has 20 IIMs and 23 IITs. These are autonomous public institutes of higher education and known as institutions of national importance. 

According to the latest data, there are no SC and ST faculty in 12 out of 20 IIMs. The 12 IIMs include two of the top IIMs — Ahmedabad and Kolkata. The rest 8 IIMs have just 11 SC/ST faculty members.

As per the data available up to January this year, SC/STs account for less than 3 percent of all faculty members in IITs.

Human rights activists and church leaders have deplored the discrimination against students and faculty from these groups.

This scenario has been on account of the age-old caste system that prevails in all levels of Indian society including educational institutes. 

The IIT and IIM, one of the crown jewels of India’s education system are not only upper-caste clubs but they’re oppressive caste spaces for people who do not belong to the general category, who are from the three categories, says Suraj Yengde, human rights activist and academic.

The Indian Institute of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology have not been implementing reservation in its entirety and bypassing it by citing an old order by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that exempted scientific and technical posts from the reservation policy.

The DoPT, the nodal central government body on matters related to reservation, had in its 1975 order sought to exempt scientific and technical posts from the reservation policy.

Siddharth Joshi, IIM Bangalore doctorate alumnus and researcher who had co-authored a paper with IIMB Professor Deepak Malghan on caste bias in IIMs, said: “In 1975, exemption was given to IIM Ahmedabad by the DoPT as far as reservation in faculty positions was concerned, while IIM Ahmedabad had expressly sought this exemption, other IIMs just assumed that they have also got exemptions and not implemented reservations in their faculty positions.”

The institutes have often argued that the marginal SC/ST representation in their faculty is due to lack of a sufficiently-qualified applicant pool.

“What we found, as we note in our paper, is that at the time (2017), one-third of the faculty of all IIMs was drawn from their doctoral programme. This means one-third of the faculty members were trained by IIMs themselves,” Joshi said.

But the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad refuses to follow the reservation in its doctoral programme. When it comes to IITs, the argument on lack of merit has been similar.

Bringing in an analogy of quota system in cricket and other sports in India, IIT Delhi Professor M Balakrishnan in a paper on OBC reservations argued: “I can confidently say that any ranking of quality of undergraduate engineers produced would put IITs in the top 20 worldwide if not in the top 10. And it is this achievement that is going to be hard to maintain with the proposed reservations policy.”

The IITs have mostly been providing reservation to Dalits, tribals and OBCs in faculty hiring but only at the entry-level — assistant professors. The government has directed IITs to implement quotas in senior faculty posts as well.

On Nov. 21, the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government sent a directive to all IITs and IIMS through the Ministry of Human Resource Development asking IITs to implement quotas in senior faculty posts in the core technology stream. A similar notice was issued to the IIMs as well, which the ministry said, “supersedes all previous orders.”

The management institutes have been directed to abide by the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act passed in March 2019.

The act provides for reservation for SC/STs, OBCs and economically weaker section candidates in direct recruitment of faculty by clubbing vacant posts of the same rank across all departments in an institution. The IIMs have been asked to create a roster and proceed with hiring accordingly.

It is said that IIMs are not inclusive. Only two SC, no ST and 13 OBC candidates are among the 512 in the faculty. In terms of the breakdown of the figures, in IIM Ahmadabad has eight students belonging to reserved categories out of 83 total students, IIM Calcutta nine against 84, IIM Lucknow 7 against 67 and IIM Bangalore none against 134.

Commenting on the anomalies in IITs and IIMs, Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, said: “I painfully understand how Dalits and Adivasis are denied systematically in IIM and IITs. There is a stereotype that they do not have the needed intelligence for such institutions.”

Most of the so-called ‘high caste’ people suffer from deep prejudices against SCs, STs and OBCs. They are filtered out already in the admissions for undergraduates in these esteemed institutions and if in case they scrape through they are insulted all based on their sickness of prejudices, said Jothi, former director of Jesuit-run Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, Calcutta.

“There is certainly an aggressive negative promotion about Dalit and Adivasi resulting in such a situation of blatant violation of existing,” he said. 

The higher caste people are against the access to higher education by STs, SCs and OBCs. They know the key role that colleges and universities play in society and how important it is for all people, regardless of socioeconomic background, to have the opportunity to access this higher education.

Education expands mind-sets, and those minds can then expand the scope of the world at large. From a micro to a macro level, it is with education that one sees great change.

Again higher caste people do not want the weaker section people to seek a higher education and commit to making this world a better place — together, so that weaker sections do not embark on study, especially those previously excluded from the opportunity.

“Government should work for bringing diversity in IIMs and IITs. Participation of STs, SCs, minorities and women in premier educational institutions are only backbone for better and vibrant India,” said Lenin Raghuvanshi, a human rights activist.

Data of Dalit and tribal representation in IIMs and IITs is alarming and bringing reality of caste-based structural discrimination.

“We need to invest in Dalit, tribal, minorities and women for their opportunity and dignity. We need to pressurize the government for affirmative action at all levels,” said Raghuvanshi, who works for the empowerment of marginalized sections of society.

John Dayal, a lay Catholic leader, said many of the STs, SCs and OBCs missing from IITs and IIMs are religious minorities including Christians and Muslims.

The 966 million Hindus comprise some 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people while 172 million Muslims make up 14 percent. There are 28 million Christians. Other religions include Baha’i, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and the Parsee faith.

“By law, in the government-run elite institutions such as the IITs and IIMs, there has to be a reservation for SCs and STs. The reasons then of the absence of these people or their subjugation lies elsewhere,” Dayal said.

The suicide by an OBC woman doctor recently in Chennai, southern India and by several others shows the stress and alienation they are subjected to by their seniors or peers who think they are from the superior castes and these people gave no right to be sharing with them. Even eating arrangements themselves show acute caste discrimination and isolation.

“But the examination process cannot be allowed to escape scrutiny. The tests have to be tough, no one questions this. But if the passing these examinations require going to coaching centers which cost several millions, then there is built-in inequity,” said Dayal, spokesperson of century-old All India Catholic Union.

Raj Kumar is the pen name for a journalist who focuses on human rights and issues related to the Catholic Church in India. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of UCA News.

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