Caste based discrimination is not a new phenomenon in India. Caste system is best described as a social stratification. This system can be traced to the Manusmriti. “Manusmriti, widely regarded to be the most important and authoritative book on Hindu law and dating back to at least 1,000 years before Christ was born, acknowledges and justifies the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society.” The Dalits are people who fall out of the caste system, they are considered polluting due to the occupations they engage in. Systemic and occupational oppression were a part of their life. “Dalits are the lowest in the caste hierarchy and have been historically excluded from the caste system under the justification that they are so low that they do not deserve to be assigned a caste.” Dalits (Scheduled Caste) are a small fraction of the backward classes, other groups include the tribal (Adivasis or Scheduled Tribes), and other backward classes (OBCs). The systemic oppression faced by the backward communities have been repeatedly pointed out in various researches. The most prominent of all these sectors is the education sector where this inequality stands out the most. “Dalits and Adivasis continue to lag behind upper caste Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, and these disadvantages seem to accumulate at higher levels of education.”
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 came at a time, where the education system in Indian needed a radical change. The first look of the Policy makes it seem to be well-equipped to deal with the technological advancements, the progressing society and the changing environment, however further analysis prove that idea is nothing but merely an illusion. The policy did put forth changes for the betterment of the existing educational system, but it however clings itself to the patriarchal notion that our country has set its foundation on and thus to a large extend ignores the underprivileged. When reading policies such as the NEP it is pertinent to keep in mind the fact that the devil is in the details.
The NEP 2020 was supposed to be the breath of fresh air in terms of caste education in the country. However, except for a fleeting reference to the Scheduled Caste in a single section, the entire document refuses to address the issues in terms of education that the marginalised communities face. Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the lack of clarity towards the reservation system. It should be kept in mind that “reservation is the bare minimum that can be done in terms of affirmative actions in the highly differentiated socio-economic milieu in which we exist” and the only mention of this policy in the NEP is the “small offerings of scholarships and assistance to the “meritorious” underprivilege”
“A student who does not belong to an other backward class (OBC), scheduled class (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) is almost three times more likely to getting English medium education than a Scheduled Caste (SC) student.” According to data, only a mere 14.9% of SC students, 16.8% of ST students and 23% of OBC student receive education in English against a population of 37.9% of students from other classes. This data clearly points to the inequalities that exist in the education system. However, the NEP refuses to take into consideration these inequalities by not mentioning anything at all in terms of affirmative actions.
Another highly problematic part in the NEP is the impartment of vocational education. The policy stated “Every student will take a fun course, during Grades 6–8, that gives a survey and hands-on experience of a sampling of important vocational crafts, such as carpentry, electric work, metalwork, gardening, pottery making, etc.” Though it seems to be a positive change, it is in fact a way to reinforce caste based occupations that brutally tied down people from across generations particular caste to a single occupation. What makes this point even more worrisome is that this provision would be carried by passing on authority to “local communities and as mapped by local skilling needs.” This would reinforce “occupational divides given that ‘local communities’ themselves are structured by caste-based segregation.”
Education was, is and will be the biggest revolution in terms of social reforms. The best way to bring about a change in the conditions of the backward communities is to educate them and thereby empower and uplift them as a community. Ambedkar quoted, “We are arriving at a stage when the lower orders of society are just getting into the high schools, middle schools and colleges, and the policy of this department therefore ought to be to make higher education as cheap to the lower classes as it can possibly be made”, and this quote should be kept in mind when further drafting provisions regarding education. Privilege cannot be ignored. It is of imminent necessity that the privileged be made aware of their privilege and the under-privileged be empowered. The inclusivity as mentioned under Section 6 of the NEP, remains a mere term on analysing the policy. Inclusivity can only become a reality when understanding and accepting the reality privilege is. The NEP by refusing to recognise privilege and not putting forth any affirmative action fails in its mission of bring about inclusivity thereby rendering the entire policy highly tricky.
There should be introduction of reforms that bridge the existing lacunae’s and it is pertinent that people who are a part of the socially backward castes be made part of drafting these reforms. “Remember, Gandhi shedding his modern clothes, spinning a charkha, and renaming us as ‘Harijans’ changed nothing. But Dr. Ambedkar wearing a three-piece suit and holding the constitution in his hand led to our emancipation.” Education is the way forward, and in order to bring about a real change, one that is impactful we need inclusivity in all sectors, especially in education. The privileged should be made aware of their privilege and the under-privileged should be given equal opportunities. The Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution also reflect the same idea when it states “The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”. Only then can we recognise our country as truly free from the grip of caste-based discrimination. Inclusivity should not be exclusive!
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
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