When schools continue to exclude, can education reduce caste discrimination in India?

When schools continue to exclude, can education reduce caste discrimination in India?

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Caste discrimination is slowing down India’s progress in education. Read more http://bit.ly/1bLz0yv

27% of the Indian population claims openly to practice untouchability. Education is the solution. Read more http://bit.ly/1bLz0yv

National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data on education covering  a sample of almost half a million people across the country shows that in the richest expenditure class, for every person who could not read, there were two who were graduates or above. 

At the same time, for the poorest class, for every person who was a graduate or above, there were 127 who could not read. NSSO also found that the proportion of educated persons (those with secondary level education and above), increases eight times between the lowest and the highest expenditure class for India as shown in Figure 1

educational class

Untouchability is not a thing of the past

Poverty in India is intertwined with caste-based exclusion. Praful Bidwai points out that many from the upper strata of India’s caste ladder practice untouchability -- what he calls as casteism’s most obnoxious aspect -- which regards “lower” castes as too “polluted” to be allowed even into one’s house.

Much of India’s poverty is concentrated among social groups which are excluded from the mainstream through systematic discrimination. 

India Human Development Survey (IHDS) of 2011-12 covering  42,152 households across the country had shown that 27% of the Indian population claims openly to practice untouchability (30% of rural and 20% of urban households).  Caste-wise disaggregation of these households reveals an interesting picture.  While the spread is across the whole social spectrum, the “higher” castes comprise the majority of households who practice it. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Families Practicing Untouchability across Castes: Rural and Urban India

untouchability

                                Source: http://www.sonaldedesai.org/blog/is-untouchability-still.html

Caste discrimination invading education

Education is indeed a tool of social transformation. However, the stranglehold of caste-discrimination makes this process a slow and difficult one. Official data indicate that across India, four out of five female teachers and three out of four male teachers belong to the three caste groups where practice of untouchability is the highest – Brahmin, forward castes and other backward classes. 

Understandably, Indian schools are often sites of extreme forms of discrimination.  India Exclusion Report (2014) by Centre for Equity Studies observes how exclusionary and discriminatory practices prevail in Indian schools. 

There are instances where teachers discourage hard work among Dalit and Adivasi (Tribal) students, either unfairly stereotyping them as beneficiaries of reservations or questioning the value of education for such children -- who they presume will only undertake menial, traditional, caste-based occupations later in life. 

The social transformation agenda of Indian education system has scope for radical improvement. 

Discrimination within educational institutions keeps many students out of it, or affects their performance within. 

Poorer children are shown to have lower educational participation indicators, and it follows that a higher proportion is out of school. Marginalised households including Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and female-headed households, and households with persons with disabilities are vulnerable to educational exclusion due to impacts of poverty

As a result of many of these factors, 75% of the more than six million children currently out of school in India are either Dalits (32.4%), Muslims (25.7%) or Adivasis (16.6%)

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While discussing the generally underdeveloped nature of our society and polity, many present explosive economic growth as India’s magic bullet, which will solve all our problems including social evils. However, this is often in spite of available evidence.  

India Human Development Survey data showed that caste discrimination remained neutral to the economic standing of people. The difference between the poorest and the richest households practicing untouchability was a mere 2 % in rural and 1 % in urban areas. Somewhat surprisingly, education of the household was found to be a strong determinant -- the practice of untouchability fell considerably with a rise in education, particularly groups where practice of untouchability is the highest. 

For example, between Brahmin households where the highest educational qualification was classes 1-4, and Brahmin households with graduates, practice of untouchability fell by a significant 24 percentage points.  This seems to be the case of Indian states as well – Bihar which spends on education around $100 per pupil had one in every two households practicing untouchability, and Kerala which spent $685 per pupil had one in 50!

It is clear that the magic bullet, if any, will have to be transformative education for India, and not single-minded economic growth.  The ‘benign neglect’ of school education post-independence has adversely impacted the well-being of generations of Indians, and we do not have much time at hand.  

School education in India is a major site of class and caste struggle – where the poor from marginalised social categories inch towards a future of justice, prosperity and equity, with great difficulty.  How we shape our educational system is the key to how fast we can emerge as a modern, developed nation.  

 

by: Oommen C Kurian, Part of Oxfam India’s Policy, Research and Campaigns team. 


General FAQs

What is caste based discrimination?

Caste based discrimination is the violation of one’s economic, political, social, civil, and cultural rights owing to their identity. In India, people belonging to Dalit, Tribal, Muslim, and other minority groups face caste based discrimination, preventing them from fully participating in social, economic, and political activities.

What is meant by discrimination in education?

Discrimination in education is the act of excluding certain people from exercising their right to education, based on their caste, gender, race, ethnicity, or disability. Discriminatory practices have been observed in schools across India, where Dalit and Adivasi (Tribal) students face the most discrimination. Students from these communities are discouraged from participating in activities and often separated from students from other communities.

What is unequal education?

Unequal education is the denial of education to marginalised groups, resulting in social and economic exclusion of those groups. It also refers to the unequal distribution of resources, such as funding, learning material, and qualified teachers, among socially excluded groups. Unequal education deepens inequality and pushes people further into poverty.

Is caste discrimination illegal in India?

Caste discrimination is illegal in India. Article 15 of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination in ground of religion, race, case, sex or place of birth. Further, Article 17 of the Constitution abolished untouchability in every form and is deemed as a punishable offence. Unfortunately, caste discrimination is still practice in India, and excludes certain groups from social, economic, and political activities.

What is caste based discrimination in India?

In India, certain groups are excluded from participated in social, economic, political activities and are denied access to basic facilities including education and healthcare. People belonging to scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, dalit, or other marginalised groups are often shunned by the society, not allowed to mingle with people of upper caste communities, and not allowed to marry outside their caste.

 

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