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Abstract 51

‘Caste on Campus’, reimagining the academic space: Narratives from JNU and BHU

Dr Pankaj Kumar, Research Associate, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India

When the idea of “social exclusion” entered into academic debates as a theoretical concept around the end of the twentieth century, it was meant to reflect the situation of those people who no longer experience themselves as fully participating members of society, but instead as part of a merely dispensable human mass. In contrast to members of the underprivileged lower classes, who at least experience having a positive social identity within a system of social inequality, these individuals find themselves in a state of social isolation providing no positive identification at all. The sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman coined the expression “wasted life” to describe this condition. At its extreme, structural discrimination can be described as structural violence.

In India, higher educational institutions are much contested space where students from Scheduled Caste face [in]direct discrimination and exclusion on the basis of their caste identity. Caste is a major factor to discriminate and exclude them from various spaces in the university as these students from the margins do not have ‘social capital’. The overt and covert discriminatory practices pervade across disciplines, gender and courses. Students are facing caste discrimination and exclusion in internal examination, viva voce, inside or outside the classroom/laboratory, peer-group, teacher-students relationship and hostels’ premises etc. Most of the time students from scheduled caste have faced discrimination but it is difficult to prove that it was caste discrimination or exclusion. Their location in the social structure identifies them as stereotype or stigmatized and allocates them numerous labels as “not capable” and “quota students”. This kind of discrimination and exclusion negatively affect their life and they suffer from mental pressure, inferiority complex, psycho-social ostracism, which if left unchecked leads to dropouts or in suicides.

A university is supposed to be a democratic space which moulds students into politically vibrant citizens. These meritorious institutions of higher learning are supposed to perpetuate a legacy of humanism. But our universities have become sites of social exclusion, where dalit students are denied a share in the cultural and social capital of society, and are expected to bear this denial silently . Caste determines the field of education in India. Students who belong to the lower structure of caste experience discrimination based on the- ‘neoliberal idea of merit masquerading as discrimination’-language and vocabulary, Accent and expression, communication and social skills and mannerism, Names and surnames, locality and residence, dress and looks, body language etc. Social discrimination or exclusion leads to deprivation, mental block, humiliation, identity crisis, inferiority complex, communication gap, prejudice, escapism, suspicion, isolation, and crisis/conflict.

Based on the findings from the fieldwork undertaken at these two universities, the paper would seek to answer questions like does experience of discrimination and exclusion against SC students leads to a formation of an excluded and stigmatized identity in the university spaces? How identities and social categories are constructed and played out in university spaces? How the stigmatized identity is negotiated in the multiple spaces within campus life? Is it possible to focus on the relational approach (inter and intra personal, inter and intra group relations) in both exclusion and inclusion within the institutional paradigm? What have been the perceived challenges of SC students despite various regulatory framework governing educational institutions?

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