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Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Monday, January 09, 2006  
Caste in a different mould

January 08, 2006

Chandra Bhan Prasad

Indian society is known for the many prejudices it harbours. Nowhere is this more evident than in the irrational attitude towards Dalits and their rights. This unreasonable bias is justified by many far-fetched theories. Despite lip-service to egalitarianism and equality, society does not believe in the concept of a shared community existence. Rather, hierarchies are institutionalised and become a social necessity.

In such a scenario, the ideology of merit is not remotely connected to the quest for excellence or competence. It becomes a social ideology which facilitates a segregation of hierarchies which are so central to perpetuating a civilisation based on caste differentiation.

Even in moments of distress, caste rears its ugly head. After the tsunami hit Nagapattinam fishermen, women and children of so-called higher castes refused to share the shelters with Dalit survivors. Similar tales of discrimination were reported when an earthquake devastated Gujarat in January 2001. In Kutchh district of Gujarat, Dalit survivors were thrown out from temporary shelters.

Significantly, urban India is not radically dissimilar from ‘unenlightened’ rural India. Though no one will say so openly, most in urban India do not want their children to share classrooms with Dalit children. They themselves would rather work in jobs where there is no or at least minimal Dalit presence. Every now and then, when the issue of affirmative action—in education or in jobs—comes up for debate, the concept of merit is used to further entrench the concept of segregation. The Dalit is assumed to be incompetent while the non-Dalit is presumed to be superior in skills and intelligence by sheer dint of birth. People talk of “standards becoming lower” if reservations are made for Dalits.

However, we must ask if any government organisation or private sector undertaking has conducted any research into whether the Dalits recruited under the reserved category have been found wanting or have under-performed? In which case, what is the rational for opposing affirmative action for Dalits in educational institutions? Yes, proponents for the merit regime cite examination results as the basis for advocating segregation.

Prima facie, merit ideologues would appear right in their assertions. Why should a Dalit with 55 percent marks be preferred over a non-Dalit candidate with 65 percent? But the intrinsically jaundiced Indian academia has made no attempt to expose the fallacy of merit being based on marks.

It would be interesting to study why so many children who get upto 95 percent or over in school-leaving examinations rarely keep up such high standards in college at both the graduation and post-graduation levels. The faculty at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), a premier Mumbai institution, can easily decipher the reasons for this in a jiffy.
TISS can, on a random basis, acquire the marksheets of a set of 10 non-Dalit and 10 Dalit researchers and compare their performance from high school to the post-graduation level. The clue: A comparative graph would indicate the following —the score for Dalits would be 50 percent in high school, 55 percent in the intermediate level, 58 percent in the undergraduate stage and 61 percent for post-graduation. For non-Dalits the scores would be 95 percent, 90 percent, 70 percent and 68 percent respectively.

In that case, should we come to the conclusion that with growing exposure to education, non-Dalits tend to under-perform while Dalits tend to excel? No, the purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate that quality education and a level playing field at the elementary level are great equalisers.

The situation in India is that the system of education at the college and university level is of a uniform pattern and, therefore, has an equalising effect, irrespective of the quality of school education. Dalit students aspiring to higher education are also often removed from their home environment. In a more equal context, they compete that much harder to score over their more privileged counterparts.

Why does the school system throw up so many inequities? To begin with there is huge gap between government-run vernacular or Hindi-medium schools and privately-run English medium schools. Mentored by educated parents, non-Dalit students have access to private tutors and vast sources of extra educational aids and material.

A skewed primary education system works against the Dalit student whose real talent is rarely reflected in his or her marksheet. The non-Dalit may start off with a marked advantage. But as the playing field gets more even, Dalits are able very competently to erase the disadvantages of birth and hold their own with the best. In which case, the argument of standards being lowered by admitting Dalit candidates to jobs—in the private or the public sector—stands demolished.

Link to the article

8:24 AM

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