ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Discrimination on Campuses of Higher Learning

A Perspective from Below

We need to understand the many-headed nature of discrimination prevailing on the campuses of higher education in India. This article argues that discrimination, exclusion and humiliation in campuses can be expressed at different levels: in appointments, admission of students, content of curricula of the Social Sciences and Humanities, the way teachers and Dalit students interact, and how upper caste students interact with their Dalit counterparts. The article is based on the narratives of Dalit students and teachers collected purposively from different universities across the country.

Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hydera-bad Central University has raised some very important issues regarding the environment prevailing on the campuses of higher education. We need to ask whether universities have become democratic and inclusive in their ethos. Are they representative in their composition? Is there diversity in the appointment of the heads of the institutions—vice chancellors and directors? Is there diversity in appointing teachers—professors, associate professors, assistant professors and university employees (officers and clerks)? Do the admissions of students represent diversity? It is important to analyse all this because if all of them—heads of institutions, teachers and students—come from the same social background with their own cultural baggage, then there will be no caste-based discrimination and exclusion on the campuses of higher learning. However, if the composition comprises a minority of actors with a stigmatised natural identity, then discrimination and exclusion are bound to occur.

In this context, by mere observation we can argue that these institutions are not yet inclusive, and hence not democratic. For instance, out of 46 central universities and one open central university only one vice chancellor belongs to the Scheduled Tribe (ST). In Madhya Pradesh, out of 19 universities there is one Scheduled Caste (SC) vice chancellor and in Uttar Pradesh in 25 state universities there is no one from the SC category. These examples are sufficient to bring home the point that these universities are not inclusive. In the same vein, according to information obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the University Grants Commission (UGC) revealed that till 2009–10, out of 1,688 sanctioned professors and 3,298 associate professor posts there were only 24 professors and 90 associate professors in 24 central universities from the SC category. In percentage terms, it is 2.73% and 4.4%, respectively, vis-à-vis the constitutionally mandated 15% of reservation for SCs.

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