Dalits and Access to Higher Education
Oppressed, broken, or crushed is the direct translation of the word Dalit, which is used to describe the class of citizens that are lowest on the caste system’s social ladder. Previously considered “untouchables” by the standards of the caste, their goal is to eliminate this oppression that they have experienced going back to the beginning of the Hindu religion and second century BCE. However, during the time of Mahatma Gandhi, he called the groups Harijans and promoted keeping the caste system in place while changing the stigma behind calling almost 25 percent of the country’s population. Currently, there are over 200 million Dalits in India alone, according to Paul Diwakar, from the National Campaign of Dalit Human Rights.
Dr. Ambedkar, a lawyer and Dalit from the 1950’s initially called for the caste system to be ripped apart to limit the “untouchability” of the Dalits, but eventually gave up on this and converted to Buddhism. He had the right idea, however, as the Indian Constitution abolished the untouchability status by law, but socially, many still treat Dalits as such. It has disproportionately affected them in a 2004 tsunami, their sanitation facilities and sewage systems have been worse than the higher castes, and even politically have been undermined by the higher caste systems. Specifically, a good amount of Dalit injustice stems from education, especially higher education akin to college and other sorts.
When looking at the data, there is a misrepresentation in Dalit education in many states and villages, with only few states actually educating them past a certain point at a reasonable rate. This is due to the socio-economic hardships of not only being poorer and unable to get certain jobs, but also because they are not socially accepted by everyone in India.
In a study conducted by Kathryn Lum at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, which shows at the most elite universities in India, the discrimination of Dalits is similar to students in the LGBT community, and really focuses on the inner struggles of their life, both institutionally and socially at college. They actually have some pressure to not reveal their caste status, called the “Dalit Closet” which is why Lum compares them to this group. The students are well aware of the disadvantage that they have been given, and use it to motivate and mask themselves off, facing many internal challenges with fitting in as well. Ultimately, the author suggests change in the systems, admission of Dalit students, and talks of how a middle class of Dalits has actually emerged. There are now state legislature spots reserved for Dalits, and they are apt to pass at elite universities, but almost because of a societal impostor syndrome, some have developed a lot of mental issues.
To combat these injustices, the Indian government has mostly done its job on eradicating the unequal distribution of equity that the caste system had created. Now, it is more so up to private businesses, schools, and other institutions to not discriminate against Dalits. Yes, public buildings in certain areas most likely have some stigma toward the Dalit population, and some villages almost segregate Dalits from higher classes with specific areas for them, it is really a collective social change that needs to be made: Dalits need to be accepted as touchable, or accepted in society. While this defeats the purpose of caste, to break up groups, caste is stagnant, and does not allow for anyone to move up, meaning that these same groups will continually be institutionally discriminated against.
Since the beginning of the caste system, Dalits have been labeled untouchable. They have been oppressed, been unemployed for, given the worst treatment possible. This treatment has been mitigated in previous years, with people such as Gandhi, and legislation such as making it illegal to discriminate against Dalits. Similar to prior and current situations in American politics with the treatment of many systematically oppressed groups, Dalits will continually be oppressed against. To change this, an entire social change among all members of society to bolster a better, positive treatment for the previously untouchable Dalit class in India.