“Educating” Caste

Harsh Mander, one of the rare bureaucrats who have acted with conscience and who resigned from the Indian Administrative Services in the wake of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, writes on caste discrimination in schools and how traditional behavioural patterns are re- created in what are supposed to be modern institutions.

In a dilapidated slum shanty near the banks of the Ganga in Patna is settled a group of families whose profession is to clean dry toilets with their bare hands, and to carry human waste on their heads to throw into the forgiving waters of the mighty river. I found that not a single child studied in the government school, which, as it happened, was located literally just across the road from the scavenger colony. It took a while to coax from the guardians the reason for their steady resolve to keep their children away from school. It transpired that they had indeed sent their children to the school initially. It is a custom in many government schools for the teacher to send children on errands. The upper-caste children were assigned tasks such as to fetch tea. The children from the scavenger colony were asked to wash the toilets, or to clean up after a dog had soiled the school premises. The children could not bear the shame, and refused to return to the school…

Children in rural India, and even parts of the cities, learn early the rules of caste, which survive unremittingly through their lifetimes, even as their country races into the 21st century. A survey of practices of untouchability undertaken in 565 villages in 11 major states of India reveals shockingly that in as many as 38 per cent government schools, dalit children are made to sit separately while eating. In 20 per cent schools, dalit children are not even permitted to drink water from the same source…

Caste discrimination in mid-day meals is seen in various ways. The first is defiance of the Supreme Court orders to appoint cooks from dalit backgrounds. In states like Tamil Nadu only 14 per cent of the cooks are dalit. In many places where, although, dalit cooks have been appointed, upper-caste parents retaliated by not allowing their children to eat the meal, threatening to withdraw, putting pressure to replace the cook with an upper-caste cook and so on…

Almost 27.6 per cent dalits are prevented from entering police stations and 25.7 from ration shops; 33 per cent public health workers refuse to visit dalit homes, and 23.5 per cent dalits still do not get letters delivered to their homes. Segregated seating for dalits was found in 30.8 per cent self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6 per cent panchayat offices. In 14.4 per cent villages, dalits were not permitted to enter the panchayat building. They were denied access to polling booths, or forced to form separate lines in 12 per cent of the villages surveyed. Despite being charged with a constitutional mandate to promote social justice, local institutions of the Indian State facilitate untouchability.

Dalit settlements are often segregated from the main village, and these traditions are reproduced even by the government, when building Indira Awaas housing colonies for dalits or by NGOs, post-2001 earthquake reconstruction in Gujarat. In nearly half the surveyed villages (48.4 per cent), dalits were denied access to water sources. In over a third (35.8 per cent), dalits were denied entry into village shops. They had to wait some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers kept the goods they bought on the ground, and accepted their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, in about one-third of the villages, dalits were denied seating and had to use separate cups.

In more than 47 per cent villages, bans operated on wedding processions on public (arrogated as upper-caste) roads. In 10 to 20 per cent villages, dalits were not allowed to wear clean or bright clothes or sunglasses. They could not ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear chappals on public roads, smoke or even stand without head bowed.

We found that restrictions on entry by dalits into Hindu temples were as high as an average of 64 per cent in 11 states, ranging from 47 per cent in UP to 94 per cent in Karnataka. Such restrictions endured even after conversion of dalits to egalitarian faiths. As many as 41 of the 51 villages surveyed in Punjab reported separate gurudwaras for dalit Sikhs, and even where dalits worshipped in gurudwaras frequented by upper caste jats, they were served in separate lines at the langar, and were not permitted to prepare or serve the sacred food. In Maharashtra, despite mass conversions of Mahars to Buddhism, dalits were denied temple entry in 51 per cent villages. Reports from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh chronicled divisions in the church between dalit converts and others, even discrimination against ordained dalit priests…

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2 thoughts on ““Educating” Caste

  1. This is sad, but a centralized change wouldn’t work here, esp when we talk about primary schools where such things get rooted in the children’s minds. State action as a mass movement is needed, but the question remains who has the clout.

    then these percentages, where did he get this from?

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