Skip to main content

Smartness, brilliance, humbleness are all caste traits, say top Indian varsity students

Counterview Desk
A research paper by two research scholars with the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA, Gaurav J Pathania and William G Tierney, based on campus interviews with students of a high-profile educational institute, suggests how deep caste prejudices and discrimination are rooted among the educated youth.
The researchers in their paper, titled “An Ethnography of Caste and Class at an Indian University”, choose an Indian university, which “enjoys a high placement in academic rankings”, where upper caste students evoke caste in two different ways -- through criticising the reservation system, and through discussing the ‘hereditary traits’ and ‘behaviour’ of lower caste students.
Refusing to name the university, the paper – which is based on “open-ended recorded interviews” for six months in dorm rooms, in the cafeteria, watching television in the common room, and participating in annual celebrations – interviews 50 male students on a campus spread across 69 acres, full of greenery and magnificent boulders, surrounded by other colleges, and located near an upscale shopping area.

Excerpts from the section “Caste as Ascribed Status”, which provides a peep into what students think:

As I knock on Akhil’s door, I find him studying at his desk. He turns his head and mutters, ‘Yes, please, come in’. Confidently, he introduces himself as ‘Akhil Bhargwa’ (all names are pseudonyms), emphasising his surname which denotes a Brahmin caste. A writing board hanging on the wall has his schedule written on it, as well as a quote stating that ‘Target is just 180 days away from you’, referring to the time left for a competitive examination.
Akhil is surrounded by books and keeps rearranging his notes while he talks. While talking about his hometown and his family, he recalls with pride his grandfather who served as a post-master. His father has a Master’s degree in Law (LLM), and his mother has an MA. Akhil is tall and thin with a deep voice and animated facial expressions. He explains, ‘Some of my friends don’t want to be friends with lower castes as they don’t trust these people’.
Akhil’s closest friend is Rocky, an OBC student completing an MA in History. As I approach Rocky’s door that morning, I find it ajar. I peep inside and find him praying. Like him, many students have a small temple in their rooms. Rocky worships twice a day and goes to temple every Tuesday. He chants the word ‘Om’ while he does Yoga every morning for two hours. His friends jokingly call him Yoga Sultan (King of Yoga).
Rocky is popular. One of his friends, Atul, comments, ‘Rocky is a good guy, though he is OBC. But still we love him, and we made him our hostel representative’. During a later meeting with Rocky’s next door neighbour, Vijay, who is upper caste, we slowly come to discuss how lower castes perform in class.
He says, ‘In my class, none of the SC and ST guys completed their degree without failing once or twice, but none of the upper caste students failed in any exam’. We ask, ‘Why do SC/STs fail even after getting the same education with you?’ He confidently replies, ‘They don’t know how to struggle for their career’.
The majority of upper caste respondents find performance linked to one’s caste, which in turn is ‘genetic’ and can be ‘traced through DNA’ as offered in the opening example. Accordingly, traits such as ‘smartness’, ‘brilliance’ and ‘humbleness’ all are particular caste traits.
The notion of the purity and impurity of blood is a strong one, as Akhil claims: ‘Like values and culture, genes are transferred through family. SC/ST and even OBC people don’t have those values in their family because their hormones are different’.
Such is the belief that ‘hormones’ and ‘genes’ ‘reproduce’ characteristics of a particular caste, and that one’s skin colour is also linked to one’s caste status. Ronny, a short, chubby upper caste student proudly introduces himself as Kshatriya (a warrior caste) in a very convincing way, points to himself, and explains the performance of lower castes:
“See, my colour is a little dark. If I marry a white [fair skinned] lady, there is no guarantee that my offspring will be white, but yes, they will be fairer than me. Then the next generation will be fairer than the previous one. In the same way, we cannot expect Dalit students to think like us. It will take many generations for them to reach to our level.”
Virtually every upper caste student shows a sympathetic attitude towards Dalits, but they are against the reservation system. Vijay, an upper caste Rajput student who studies electronics and recently got a job offer from a multi-national company, shows affection for the lower castes. ‘I like my electronics teacher, though he is Dalit, but he knows his subject’. He further reveals:
“I am from an upper caste, but we are not very well off. I remember in my childhood I have seen my grandparents were not allowing lower castes to enter the house. They used to give them drinking water from a distance. But my parents got an education, and now they let them sit next to them. When it will be my time, I will be teaching my kids to marry inter-caste.”
Vijay sounds progressive, but he never did anything against his family’s will and followed his family’s values of twice-born (upper) castes. He believes that a good student should follow a pure and restrained life.
Higher education is a sophisticated arena where caste and other forms of discrimination are often hidden. A Dalit student, Raghu, finds it more of a systemic problem:“When I go to pay my fee and I run into my friends, I purposely try to avoid that place. If they see me paying half of what they pay, it makes them angry, and sometimes out of frustration, they make some funny comments.”
As a lower caste, Raghu qualifies for a discount in university fees due to the reservation policy, which has become a bone of contention for those who feel students from reserved categories do not deserve a place in the university.
Rajesh, another Dalit student, shares a similar experience: ‘Even after being so long at this campus, I am a little scared to go to receive my scholarship or filling out any form with my friends. I don’t want any person to know about my caste’. He complains how office staff sometimes show little sensitivity about a student’s privacy concerning caste identity: ‘They will shout loudly in front of everyone, asking “Where is your caste certificate?”’
Prem, a Dalit student who is always seen wearing a cap, happily shares that he has ‘1000 friends on Facebook’. He is very active on social media sites and uploads pictures daily:“I used to have a girlfriend, but once she got to know about my caste, her relationship status on Facebook changed to ‘single’. She was hanging out with me but never revealed to her friends that she is hanging out with a Dalit. Later, she found a guy of her own caste and broke up with me immediately.”
Prem laughs, ‘I have around 200 upper caste girls in my friend list, but I am still single. But at least through Facebook I have hopes to get hooked up’. Yet, his WhatsApp status reveals feelings of being an outsider, ‘an alien in the human crowd’.

Comments

TRENDING

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

Counterview Desk
In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’.
Pointing out that Evergreen Revol…

Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

Some Hindu bodies in US defending BJP-RSS' divisive, violent activities: Agnivesh

Counterview Desk Last week, Washington DC saw speakers at a religious freedom roundtable, chaired by the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, express concern over "eroding" space for religious freedom in India. Dr Mike Ghouse, executive director, of the Center for Pluralism in Washington DC, referring to the roundtable, said in an email alert that Indian-Americans have "a moral duty to prevent India from being labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)".

Preventing childhood deaths: India performs worse than Bangladesh, "equals" Pakistan

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released study, “The Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report 2018”, prepared by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has identified India among 15 other countries which are still far off the mark in achieving the targets of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).

Karnataka: NGO Akshay Patra "not sensitive" to nutrition demands of school children

Counterview Desk
Well-known civil rights organizations, Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have sent a letter to the Union minister of human resource development, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, other concerned ministers and officials of the state expressing concerns regarding the mid-day meal (MDM) to school children, insisting, all contracts to the Akshay Patra for supply of MDM should be immediately terminated.

India's rewritten textbooks talk of demerits of democracy, praise Hitler, underrate Mughals

Counterview Desk
A detailed, 3,800-word review of the books rewritten under directions of the BJP rulers across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014 has suggested that one of aims of the books is to instill a sense of doubt about India’s democratic polity among the country’s young minds. Reviewed in the prestigious US journal, “The New York Review of Books”, in its latest issue (December 6, 2018) by Alex Traub, the scrutiny insists, the effort has also been to paint Indian history from the angle of “Hindu triumphalism”, even as creating “Islamophobia”.

Govt of India "tarnishing" NGO reputation, dossier leaked selectively: Amnesty

Counterview Desk
Amnesty International India has said that a deliberate attempt is being made to tarnish its reputation by leaking a dossier, supposedly made by investigating agencies, to media without giving it access to any such information. The high profile NGO’s claim follows a Times Now report about proceedings launched by investigative agencies, including Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the rights body for “violations” of rules pertaining to overseas donations.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Four children die after poor UP Dalit, Muslim families forced to flee to forest area: PVCHR

Counterview Desk
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has said that the forest department police’s crackdown, allegedly without any prior notice, on Dalit and Muslim households in Dakhin Tola, Churk Bazaar, Sonbhadra district, Uttar Pradesh, beating up “children and old people, women, and men in an inhuman way”, has led to “forced displacement, starvation and discrimination”. This has reportedly affected about 350 people.

Vedanta is out but corporate loot continues in Odisha: Local activists tell NAPM yatra

By Our Representative
Lok Shakti Abhiyan leader Prafulla Samantara, winner of the Goldman Environmental (also known as Green Nobel) Prize in 2017, has regretted that though Sundergarh in Odisha, like other forest areas, is a fifth schedule area, where Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) is applicable, but these laws are being “outrightly violated to facilitate corporate loot.”