The alleged suicide by a Dalit student in University of Hyderabad has ignited a debate on the caste discrimination, which is not as explicit as earlier, but still continues to find its way into the educational institutes across the city.
Students of Panjab University and other city colleges maintain that though there have not been any major incident of caste discrimination in the recent past, the problem is rooted deep in society, and is evident in the use of colloquial caste-specific terms during discussions among students, glorification of certain castes, demand of scholarships, and reservation in educational institutes.
“Most of the students who get enrolled in colleges and Panjab University come from rural backgrounds, be it Punjab, Haryana or Himachal Pradesh. They meet students from different backgrounds here. There is a rural-urban divide, but isolating anyone because of his/her caste has not been seen much,” says Divyanshu Buddhiraja, former president, Panjab University Campus Students’ Council.
Another student, Prabhpreet Singh, a leader of Students Federation of India, says, “Zyada tar students to caste ya surname nahi puchhte (Most of the students do not ask about each other’s caste/surname). But discrimination is evident when groups are formed on the basis of commonality of cultures, and we start categorising students on that basis. The fact that there are groups of such students who felt the need to fight for their rights, be it Ambedkar Students Association proves that the discrimination persists.”
“Though we have come far ahead from those times when opportunities were denied to people of lower casts, the practice of discrimination has also evolved accordingly. Though all students will not discriminate, as soon as the issue of admission or reservation comes up, they say, “Chahe merit ho na ho. Tumhe to mil hi jayega admission. (You will get admission, whether you qualify on merit or not). This is discrimination,” says Vijay Kumar, a leader of of the Ambedkar Students Association.
Apart from issues of reservation in admissions, Dalit students assert that they are looked down upon when they demand scholarships. “The government has instituted post-matric scholarships to encourage us to study amidst financial constraints. It is our right. But in order to claim it, we have to run from pillar to post. There are some departments which do not put these scholarship notices on boards. Hum scholarship lene ke liye padhne nahi aate, par padhne ke liye scholarship lete hain,” says another Dalit student, Gurdeep Singh.
Apart from reservation and scholarships, students highlight that discrimination also breeds from the glorification of certain castes. “Hum Siddhu hain ya hum Brar hain. These are certain ways by which students exert influence of their identity over others. It means you consider yourself superior. This is discrimination. And it is evidently seen in student elections every year,” says Vijay.
President of Panjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) Professor Akshay Kumar says, “Though I have not come across any major complaint or incident of caste discrimination on campus in all these years, we cannot deny that societal biases and prejudices also make their way to campuses and institutes of higher learning. It is understated, but it exists, though the campus is not unbalanced and there are students from different backgrounds.”