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Caste and Private Universities - Suryanshu Saini

The halls, the auditoriums, the statues– all ossified, were revitalized from their rigid state by the chants of “Birsa-Phule-Ambedkar” at Ashoka University this late March. The private universities have done an impeccable job of erasing the caste question on campus. By legitimizing systemic barriers as something natural, they have essentialised institutional casteism. Such a casteist administration has now been held accountable by the progressive and democratic minded students of Ashoka University. On 20th of March the Social Justice Forum at Ashoka University called for an indefinite protest until their demands were met.

What were those demands?

  A comprehensive caste census of all employees, staff, administrators and students.

    A university sanctioned annual event called the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture.

•    Changing the exploitative late fee payment policies.

The administration responded with outright hostility when the students were at first not even given the permission to protest against the administration, by the administration itself. After several public and private meetings with the protesters and the unwavering protest through all kinds of weather outside the campus gate, the administration was finally brought to its knees and had to accept all the demands in writing on April 4th.

But why is caste so crucial, moreover why must there be proportional represen- tation? Caste forms the kernel of south asian society. From production to leisure, social or economic relations, all are tainted with caste. Caste is a material rela- tion, it exists outside of our mind. What this means is, one cannot simply close their eyes and wish away caste. The caste system is an objective phenomenon which is not destroyed by the ignorance of upper castes but only by waging an unrestrained struggle against it. Struggle for self respect, for land and most importantly, struggle for power.

The same struggle accompanies a call for representation. A seat at the table which has been historically denied to the people of lower castes. But it is their historical prerogative to continue the struggle beyond that, such that no such table exists which operates on the principles of brahminism.

The call for reservation is hence two fold. First to have representation within the system, second, to abolish such a system which is simply incapable to persist without exploitation of one man by another. And for this, an anonymous caste census becomes a prerequisite.

These private ‘Institutions of Eminence’ to be, are simply spaces for savarna faculty and student body to toot their own horns. The bahujan only exists as the butt of their jokes. And if gaze widened, perhaps menial labour. These private spaces keep the caste system alive and well behind a moat called ‘merit’. One must ask oneself what special meritorious upbringing has one had, apart from being born into an upper caste family and all the fortunes which accompanies it, to make up 61.5% of the student demographic studying at a ‘prestigious’ instituition whilst only making 30% of the actual population. What did those children lack, except being lower castes and all the misfortunes which accompanies that, who make up 70% of

Is it not precisely the caste-class relations which produce and reproduce merit?

“Incidentally, the transformation of personal means into material means and of material means into personal means is only an aspect of competition and quite inseparable from it. The demand that competition should be conducted not with material means but with personal means amounts to the moral postulate that competition and the relations on which it depends should have consequences other than those inevitably arising from them.”

"Brahmanwad-Baniyawad Murdabad!” This slogan raised by the Social Justice Forum for an end to casteism was itself classfied casteist by the mainstream media. So what does the slogan mean? Brahminism is the world outlook of Indian rulling classes. It is the theory of classified inequality, hegemony and oppression. It bans independence, equality and sovereignty. It is a systemic phenomenon orginating from the social relations and in turn changing them. Though not confined to brahmims, we call it brahminism because they have been instrumental in its development and sustenance.

Baniyawad refers to the phenomenon of compradorism which became the principle means of acquiring wealth for Indian merchants during the British rule. One must ask oneself, when more than half our population was facing starvation conditions, why the Tatas, the Birlas, the Marwaris, the Shroffs and other such compradoric castes were thriving full and well? Compradorism is simply subservience to imperialism at the cost of local .

So what does one make of the upper caste pride when the sole reason they stayed afloat through British colonization was by bending over backwards for their white overlords? The same pride which threatens any little crumbs won over by the lower castes by their incessant struggle against brahminism. What does one make of the merit acquired by these upper castes which could have only been possible because of the access to the resources they had, which they historically gatekept from the lower castes?

But why must we, who make up the majority demographic in elite institutions, who do not ‘see caste’, well, see it? Brahminism lays the foundation of all oppression in our country. The same brahminism which enables the administration to be casteist, enables its misogyny and queerphobia on campus. The same manusmriti which instructs the upper caste to pour lead down the ear of a lower caste fellow who dares listen to a verse of Veda; tells us that women are born unequal and are undeserving of freedom.

Who better to understand the alienation, the humiliation someone from a lower caste faces than women who are ostracised at every level of power? Whose merit is questioned in spite of “working twice as hard only to achieve half as much”.

“If a larger country oppresses a smaller country, I’ll stand with the smaller country. If the smaller country has majoritarian religion that oppresses minority religions, I’ll stand with minority religions.

If the minority religion has caste and one caste oppresses another caste, I’ll stand with the caste being oppressed. In the oppressed caste, if an employer oppresses his employee, I’ll stand with the employee. If the employee goes home and oppresses his wife, I’ll stand with that woman. Overall, oppression is my enemy.”

Thanthai Periyar E. V. Ramasamy

It is imperative that the oppressed sections within the student demographic, like women and queers broaden their ranks, address the classist and casteist tendencies within them and form a strong united front with other marginalized sections of our society. The progressive students of Ashoka University, under the guidance of Social Justice Forum have set a precedent–that private institutions mustn’t be the gurkuls of the olden days. Education must be open to all students irrespective of their caste or class.

The statue of Periyar must awaken from its slumber. The heads of social justice are not be appropriated by the regressive and reactionary ruling classes. This Ambedkar Jayanti the demand for an anonymous caste census and implementation of constitutional reservation must be the call of every progressive students’ movement.

The students all across the country must fill the big shoes left empty by our predecessors and defeat Brahminism in all spheres.

Jai Bhim, Hul Johar!

References

  1.   Social Justice Forum’s Instagram 
  2.   Social Justice Forum’s Twitter 
  3.   Social Justice Forum on ‘End to Brahminism’ 
  4.   NIRF data filed by the University for the year 2024 

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