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

Young environmentalist's arrest 'sinister', even parents not told of her whereabouts

By Our Representative  The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a civil society network, has said that it is “highly disturbing” that Disha Ravi, a young woman climate activist from Bengaluru was “picked up” in what is referred to as a “closely guarded operation” of the Delhi police. Disha, 21, has been remanded to police custody for five days after she was taken from Bengaluru to Delhi.

Mukesh Ambani's earnings during Covid 'can lift' 40% informal workers out of poverty

By Dr Gian Singh*  The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.

US forensic revelation enough evidence to release Sudha Bharadwaj, others: Civicus

Counterview Desk  Civicus, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organisations and activists claiming to have presence in 175 countries with 9,000 members and working for strengthening citizen action, has sought immediate release of Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in 2018 under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Evolution of Sardar Patel's understanding of those 'involved' in Gandhi's assassination

By Shamsul Islam*  As the world mourns the 73rd anniversary of MK Gandhi's assassination by Hindutva terrorists on January 30, 1948, RSS, the most prominent flag-bearer of Hindutva politics, whose cadres rule India today, is found reacting angrily to the reality – that the criminals who assassinated Gandhiji were not only part of the ideological world-view of Hindu Mahasabha (led by VD Savarkar) and RSS brand of Hindu nationalism but were also connected with these. 

No Election Commission safeguard against electromagnetic hacking of EVM: Study

Counterview Desk  Releasing a new study simultaneously in Chennai and Kolkata in view of the forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) – a civil society initiative – has regretted “lack of integrity of EVM voting”, pointing out, the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not appear to safeguard against the possibilities of ‘side-channel attacks’, i.e, hacking electronic devices through electromagnetic and other methods.

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”

Top academic claims he warned farmer leaders of Hindutva plot on Jan 26 morning

By Shamsul Islam* The photographs here show a Hindutva protagonist, Deep Sidhu, with his real masters. He is said to be the culprit who tried to derail the historic farmers' struggle by putting up a religious flag at Red Fort on January 26, with no Delhi police which works under the Indian home minister Amit Shah, a senior RSS cadre who is often described 'Iron Man' by Hindutva camp-followers. 

'Viability' of agricultural cooperatives vs govt proposed pro-corporate economic model

Dr Gian Singh* The farmer struggle started from Punjab against the promulgation of three agricultural ordinances by the Union government in June 2020 and the enactment of three bills by Parliament in September 2020 to replace these ordinances is unique in many respects. There is no other example of such a peaceful and democratic farmer struggle.