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In a society stratified along caste lines, academia cannot be immune to caste dynamics. Caste paired up with wealth disparity has always created inequalities in education in India

Rajesh Ranjan, Nidhi Suman Published 23.05.24, 06:36 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

How inclusive are prestigious academic scholarships? Although Rhodes does not reveal the caste profiles of the recipients of the scholarship, a closer look at their caste positioning would reveal that an overwhelming majority of the recipients are upper caste. The Young India Fellowship and the Aditya Birla Scholarship reveal a similar pattern of non-representation of marginalised communities.

The academic world is not an isolated entity. In a society stratified along caste lines, academia cannot be immune to caste dynamics. Caste paired up with wealth disparity has always created inequalities in education in India. In his book, Caste Discrimination and Exclusion in Indian Universities: A Critical Ref­lection, N. Sukumar writes that in educational spaces, caste privilege is transformed into a language of “merit”. Thus students who enter educational institutions through reservations are immediately marked as non-meritorious. To justify their “deserving place” in academic institutions, Dalit students attempt to dissociate their caste from their accomplishments.

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Meritorious scholarships are marketed by universities as beacons of equal opportunity. However, a closer examination would reveal that these acclaimed scholarships, far from being great equalisers, frequently serve to reinforce deeply entrenched caste and class disparities.

The Aditya Birla Scholarship’s aim is to mentor aspiring young talents. Further, it claims that the programme is not restricted to academic excellence but rather evaluates scholars on “holistic parameters”. But eligibility for the scholarship includes the top 20 students (in terms of their entrance exam ranking at the time of admission) who are invited to apply through the dean of the respective institutes. It allegedly disproportionately benefits students from affluent, upper-caste backgrounds, perpetuating a cycle of privilege that undermines the principles of equity and inclusion. Similarly, an overwhelming majority of students who received the Young India Fellowship, provided by Ashoka University, were from the upper castes in the last five years.

The Diversity Survey conducted by the Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access reveals that over 7.01% of first year students fund their law school education through scholarship. It also noted that “over 40.9% of the students who reported that they are taking help from relatives or family friend(s) to fund their legal education belong to the reserved categories... This is concerning because overall only around 31% surveyed students belong to these marginalized communities... [illustrating] the significantly higher dependence of students from marginalized communities on external sources of funding compared to the pattern of funding seen in the General category of students, which largely depend on parental support.”

Educational institutions should represent a fertile ground for embracing diversity among students. They should serve as dynamic settings where varying viewpoints converge. In Indian educational campuses, entrenched caste privileges and the dominance of certain social groups inhibit the development of a diverse, thriving citizenry.

Research underscores the positive correlation between diversity and various societal outcomes, including enhanced democratic participation, academic achievement, civic responsibility, and cultural engagement among students. Echoing B.R. Ambedkar’s sentiment, it is evident that virtue and morality should transcend the confines of caste distinctions. Embracing diversity within educational institutions is not just a moral imperative but also a practical necessity for fostering an inclusive, progressive society.

Rajesh Ranjan is a Lawyer-Researcher and graduate of the National Law University, Jodhpur. Nidhi Suman is pursuing her legal education from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. The authors would like to acknowledge Neel Madhav and Anurag Bhaskar for their inputs

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