educational institution
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This article is authored by Laksh Kawatra of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. The following article talks about how the caste system has a direct and indirect effect over our education institution.

Introduction

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” -Audre Lorde.

We are so engaged in our own lives, comfortably trotting forward in our own sets of privileged environment; we often forget to take cognizance of the fact that we live in a highly fragmented and diverse reality where individuals suffer discrimination not on one end but across several spectrums along the length of it.

It was in 1989 when Kimberle Crenshaw a leading black feminist threw open to the world the concept of ‘Intersectionality’ which recognized how oppressive identity-based systems of categorization of individuals connect with one another and compound the brunt of the society faced by them. It is basically a configuration of how social inequalities intersect and influence social actors in the intersecting oppressive paradigms.

Simply putting it in the words of Crenshaw the hurdles and oppression faced by a woman of colour is very different from a white woman. The inclusion of the colour identity adds racism to the already existing sexism and patriarchal setup. Therefore their experiences are very different as their identities differ grossly. It simply states the concept of ‘multiple blinds’ or barriers towards an equitable life.

To put it down in the Indian Context an example which epitomizes intersectionality is that of a Dalit woman with a weak financial background. She faces the brunt of patriarchy combined with casteism and class oppression. This oppression of Dalit women is at such a harrowing juncture in India that a United Nations report, found their life expectancy falls 14.6 years behind that of an average higher caste woman.

Educational Institutions as entities are supposed to be bodies free of any biases and divisions and ones which impart knowledge and promote growth of its students by creating a level playing field providing the equality of opportunity as mandated by the Constitution.

Tragically enough, that is far from the reality. Multiple incidents exist in the Indian higher educational society which reeks of intersectional discrimination at its forefront. Right from the suicide of Dalit student and activist Rohit Vermula who took his life after facing intense social boycotting and harassment at the hands of his peers to the suicide of Dr. Payal Tadvi a Muslim student belong to the scheduled caste who faced gruelling harassment and vilification because of her identity at the hands of her seniors very well showcase the status of equity and intersectional awareness in the Indian institutions. 

Be it endorsement of an e-complaint against institutionalized caste based discrimination at one of the premier law schools of the country like NLU-Delhi or expulsion of students from financially weak and marginalized communities on the basis of assessment of their first exams at another premier institution like IIT-Roorkee very well convey the state of these premier learning institutions.

The importance of intersectional analysis is heightened in such a scenario so as to create a special lens to view the multicultural and diverse nature of the student body and to introduce ways to ground equity and rationality in its truest sense in these institutions which are precursors to the future generations of the nation.

Throughout the course of the article, I would be discussing the barriers which exist and how exactly do they endanger the less privileged from an intersectional view-point following up with mechanisms and remedies in form of suggestions which can better the current scenario. 

Rationale 

“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another, the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.”– Kimberle Williams Crenshaw.

The basic principle on which justice is grounded is the idea that social inequalities need to be questioned for the creation of an inclusive participatory framework to bring forth the transition from a problematic rigid homogenous environment to a multicultural, inclusive and equitable environment; an environment that propagates growth and cultivates learning in the true sense.

Therefore it becomes essential to view and analyse educational institutions from an intersectional lens because unless the status quo is challenged, the inherent practices would continue to reinforce and reinvent inequalities on grounds of social class, caste, gender and disabilities.

Objective or Research Questions 

The objectives of the forthcoming discussion and analysis are grounding the lens of intersectionality in the educational institutions and to attain a sense of clarity regarding the barriers of equity and deliberating and discussing ways to curb them down. 

Hence some major questions:

[A] Identifying the grounds on which intersectional barriers dwell in educational institutions and analysing how exactly do they spurt the growth and life of an individual in the institution.

[B] How can the current scenario be bettered and what can be undertaken to facilitate the transition from a discriminative to an equitable and just environment in the institutions. 

Methods 

The methods employed for this research would draw their content from books, journals, editorials, reform manuals, rules and regulations of educational bodies, surveys and statistics, critiques by sociologists, intersectional activists, government committees reports and suggestions directly or indirectly related to reforms in educational systems in the specific context of equity and intersectionality.

 Discussion & Analysis

[A] Identifying the grounds on which intersectional barriers dwell in educational institutions and analysing how exactly do they spurt the growth and life of an individual in the institution.

“Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built great and high walls around me.
And now I sit and feel despair. I think of nothing else:
this fate gnaws at my mind; for I had many things to do outside.
Ah, why didn’t I pay attention when they were building the walls.
Imperceptibly they shut me off from the outside world.”

∼ Walls, by Constantine P. Cavafy (1896)

The above-mentioned lines from the poem ‘Wall’ by Constantine very well summarizes the mental agony and distress which students from the marginalized and discriminated communities undergo in the homogenous and rigid premier institutions of the country.

As mentioned in the rationale of the paper the quintessential feature of justice is identification and calling out of social inequalities. This leads to the initiation of the debate between ‘post-ism’ and ‘anti-ism.’ While the former is enshrined in the status quo where he consider the society to be completely post-colonial influences and therefore debates regarding race, caste, class and gender only pushes down the situation and causes problems. Whereas the latter states that the thought education has bridged gaps there still remains a divide which needs to identified and talked out to take the society forward.

In a country like India where colonial and pre-colonial rigid practices of patriarchy and casteism still run deep, a reformative approach needs to be undertaken. The fact that cases of intersectional discrimination and harassment in educational institutions are viewed in isolation and are restricted to the specific circumstances speaks a great deal about the perception these bodies currently hold. Blatant discrimination and oppression is masqueraded as a mere incident by reducing it down to certain individuals and situations and through this they ignore the tag of an institutional failure to uphold equity. Therefore it increasingly becomes important to call out such instances and practices to make institutions a safe space.

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Broadly speaking intersectional oppression happens on the cross or intersection of two or more of any of the below mentioned categories:

  1. Caste
  2. Religion
  3. Gender
  4. Class-Financial background
  5. Class- Parental Background
  6. Region or Place of Upbringing(Village/Town/City)
  7. Sexual Orientation 
  8. Political Ideology
  9. Fluency in English

This in no way is an exhaustive list; but rather a preliminary idea of the most prevalent grounds of discrimination in educational institutions.

The above mentioned grounds interacting with any of the other binaries in the list result in intersectional discrimination.

For example in the case of Dr Payal Tadvi, she was mentally harassed by her seniors in the presence of her peers on the grounds of her backward caste intersecting with her religion. What is the most problematic here is the lackadaisical attitude and disinterest of the administration, the teachers and her peers in understanding her situation and comforting her. This is precisely why intersectionality discussions and awareness needs to be grounded in higher educational fields.

Most students from the backward classes suffer on the basis of their caste and financial inability majorly because of the idea of Brahmin patriarchy being enshrined in the administrative bodies. Such was observed in the case of IIT Roorkee expulsion, Rohit Vermula’s sucide and the complaint filed by students of NLU-Delhi.

The low rates of enrolment and completion of the courses of individuals from SC and ST class, mainly females, very well bear testimony to these facts. 

Therefore re-alignment of such systems from the very grassroots and internal level is very important to dismiss such beliefs and practices which undermine the already marginalized. 

The state of persons with disability in combination with another binary is worse. Though attitudes are changing; but at an incredibly slow pace. The institutions still lack the infrastructure, the empathy, the special requirements and rights that must be accorded to such individuals.

The worst and often ignored state is of the people belonging to Trans-sexuality along with other binaries. There exists almost negligible representation with rigid hegemonic gender binaries which result in harassment and high handed behaviour which curb their very existence in such institutions even if they reach there in first place. 

Coming to hard statistics from these institutions, I take into account the diversity census report of NUJS and NLSIU premier law schools of the country. 

In relation to their academic performance; At NLSIU 29 people in the lowest CGPA bracket-3.00-3.49, SC comprises 31% and ST boils down to 27.6%. Around 35% of them are residents of small cities and towns (Tier 3 and 4). At NUJS none of the respondents from villages have CGPA above 4; Individuals having CGPA below 3 are dominated by the highest proportion of STs (51.7%) and SCs (33.9%). 

These figures represent similar trends across co-curricular and other academic activities thus clearly highlighting how the exclusion, disadvantages and undermining environment as proven above affects their life and struggles in an intersectional lens.

[B] How can the current scenario be bettered and what can be undertaken to facilitate the transition from a discriminative to an equitable and just environment in the institutions.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”.

-Audre Lorde

The first step towards betterment of the scenario hinges on the mapping and realization of the intersectional differences and discrimination. It lays down a starting point to build up on reforms and mechanisms surrounding such oppression. After recognizing, identifying major factors and concerns and calling out individuals and bodies responsible for such discrimination a gradual process of ingraining a culture with perseverance, multicultural education and delinking of hegemonic norms with identity can be started off.

I would like to suggest mainly three grounds on which work can be done to further smoothen the transition to equitable institutions:

  • A culture of cultivating empathy

What needs to be brought to the forefront is a teaching programme of an emancipatory nature. It needs to function within the guidelines of a critical pedagogy of empathy. The teaching strategy begins with a constant teacher–student interaction followed by attentive listening with the elements of interchange of roles to invoke empathy.

This would result in better understanding of problems and would build a relation on new principles based on experiencing struggles by actually thinking from the perspective of the student. Thus this would lead to creation of a safe channel grounded in equity between the educator and the educated.

  • Education of tutors, teachers and the student body about the broader nature of identities and the needs of different individuals.

Such programmes have been undertaken by several developed countries wherein special courses and awareness drives are organized at the start and throughout the session to cultivate an understanding of mind-sets and struggles of students from different backgrounds, sexual orientations, communities etc. 

This can be done both for both the teachers and the student bodies separately so they better understand the individuals around them.

Such an example of this was the module that was developed by the Bath Spa University in America after taking into the complexities of inclusion and their impact on educational bodies.

  • Strengthening Government and Organizational policies 

This includes strict adherence to the government practices in favour of individuals from the marginalized and disadvantaged. Also this lays down emphasis on formulation of strict bullying, anti-ragging, sexual harassment and equity policies in general. Not only this but also providing a speedy access to complaint and redressed of such concerns. This could be brought under a government plan and could be monitored by the government from time to time. For example the UGC mandated the creation of Equal Opportunity Cells (EOC) for the students from marginalized class and castes to register complaints and deliver speedy justice under this. 

Also there needs to be introduction of a framework dealing with representation and progress of people from the trans-sexual background as theirs is the most ignored plea. This could be in the form of government regulations, bills and university induced norms to further equity.

Therefore I believe though the measures are much easier said than implemented but there needs to be an active change to bring forth a new narrative and environment and that needs to utilize whatever it has on its hands and constantly expand. 

Conclusion

Social equity for educationalists and the society today isn’t just about progressing hypothetical information and explanatory understandings. It is about an environment created on the grounds of equity and good conscience with utmost respect for all. For social equity in instruction, the social, passionate and political settings are as important as societal structures and institutional practices. 

The need of the hour is the creation of a forum free from any biases, any preconceived notions and one that values the person in isolation not their identity but the mind.

Therefore I believe we need to commence this journey of establishing an equal playing field by identification of the intersectional differences and the problems. In the spirit of the steps enumerated above and working with constant dedication in a direction to remove the shackles of identity based oppression; we as a generation would usher in pluralistic and an equitable world. 


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