City bred kids talk heavily about reservation and how it is an ill to the society and how ‘merit’ must take the bait. Caste is inconspicuous in urban classrooms as most city going kids hardly have Dalit or ST classmates wearing the badge of such demarcations. If they do, then mostly they are socially mobilized with an urgent need to hide caste identities. Caste is hardly spoken of in early formal schooling years for city bred children. As a result they grow up thinking that caste is a non-issue, that the country has moved past caste and that we no longer need to work on it.
A study called ‘Isolated by Caste: Neighbourhood- Scale Residential Segregation in Indian Metros’ shows that in localities of metropolitan cities like Kolkata, Bangalore and Rajkot respectively, 60, 20 and 80 percent of localities do not have Dalit residents. In fact, upper caste households earn 47% more than the national average annual household income while SC/ST households earn 21/34 % less than the national average according to a wealth inequality record published in 2018 on the World Inequality Database. According to an NFHS report, 45.9 % of the ST population were in the lowest wealth bracket while 26.6 % of the SC population inhabited that rung. This clearly shows where the ghettoization of the poorest of poor Dalits comes to take place. In rural India’s poorest part, there is no further reach of social mobilization. Therefore , even though Dalit children go to schools they are socially segregated from their caste privileged classmates inside the classroom.
According to an Indian Institute of Dalit Studies Report published by the UNICEF, Dalit children in the caste dominant villages of parts of northern and western India faced discrimination from accessing water in schools to the sitting arrangements inside classrooms. While drinking water from taps, Dalit children had to make a separate line or stand away from caste privileged children. Drinking of water together wasn’t allowed. The former even had to wash taps before drinking in order to explicitly communicate their inferior status to the general caste children. Dalit children had to sit separately from the rest of the class or mainly in back rows. Possibilities of getting picked on by teachers and insulted in front of the whole class was far more for them. Name calling of caste compromised students, using terms like ‘son of a caste’ were also in practice. During annual school celebrations or religious events, the children are forbidden from partaking in several ceremonies or rituals on account of their place being outside the Hindu religion. Dalit children were found to have volatile relations with peers and teachers with academic guidance or help refused to them as their caste privileged peers would receive. This study was done by IIDS in 2009,located in Rajasthan and selected children across 234 Dalit localities in various stages of education in both government and private schools.
Discriminations such as these are rampant in rural India. Often when Dalit houses are built higher than any of their caste privileged counterpart’s, or Dalit children get admitted to top ranking institutions of higher education, families back in the villages have to face volatile behaviour and even atrocious violence at times. This prevents skill enhancement or broadening of future horizons for these children stuck inside ghettos of prejudice and hatred. Under such a scenario, that, further, existed for centuries, the development of ‘merit’, in the privileged sense of the word people so casually flip around, is quite impossible to develop. Further when generations of children are persecuted socially and have to live under constant fear of even dreaming to better their lifestyles, progress and mobilization remain a distant dream.
Reservation in schools is a much needed thing and so is the need for laws to ensure participation. However when the very mentalities of the enforcers of law are filled with prejudice, it is difficult for any execution to be successful. Thus when voices of antipathy to the plight of already trapped people, are raised from the creamiest coves of elite society, the problem takes a further downward spiral. The best that caste privileged city dwellers and youth can do is understand how deeply ingrained caste is inside the Indian psyche. Half hearted understanding and raising voices to the contrary can only lead to creating an environment of collective hostility to progress and liberation.