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Can Educational Institutions in India Be Better Equipped To Deal With Casteism?

In the end, educational spaces need to be a unifying space where diversity is encouraged and not looked down upon.

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On one hand, seventy-five years of independence is being celebrated with great enthusiasm and frenzy, but on the other, we often hear of incidents indicative of a way of life devoid of freedom. Democracy gets relegated only to the songs we sing.

Appalling things have happened at many places in the recent past that have challenged the basis of this democracy. Mahoba, Hapur, Muzaffarnagar incidents to name a few where casteism has reared its ugly hood and spread the venom far and wide. The damage is almost invariably inflicted on those belonging to the lower caste.

As the insanity continues to wreck havoc, one feels compelled to ponder on the morbidity of terms and concepts like 'untouchability' but to take it a notch up – the concept of 'unseeables' existed too!

Swami Vivekananda termed Kerala a 'lunatic asylum of casteism’. This singling out was due to the extreme caste-based discrimination that was prevalent in the South Indian state as well as the steady derogation of ethnic cultures.

The stigma was so deeply ingrained that some people were allowed to leave homes only at noon such that their shadows weren't cast far- for if it touched the members of the upper caste, they would purportedly turn 'impure'.
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It didn't end here. This 'unseeable’ person had to leave his house with a bell hanging around his neck and had to keep ringing it so that the ‘upper caste’ member could know about his arrival from a distance and move away.

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How Educational Institutions Enable Casteism

These practices haunt even today. Perhaps, in some distant, isolated villages which do not make headlines but one is aware of the deep rot in such rural societies.

Our socio-political systems change rapidly. A new leader brings new hope and one feels almost convinced that his/her life will change. But these so-called transformations keep societal systems at bay barely impacting at individual or community levels.

This is how a feeling of deceit creeps in and one feels betrayed by social ideals that were preached to uplift all members across rank, race, caste, and creed.
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The children or the young are the most impressionable and often succumb to societal pressures which pushes them to take extreme steps. More so, this nightmare trails them to educational institutions which often become breeding grounds for their demise.

Contrary to this, we think of educational institutes to play a valuable role in shaping present and future generations, to make them responsible and skilled individuals, possessing knowledge and understanding, having positive attitudes, and a sense of co-existence and harmony.

If schools and colleges become centres of violence, if the teachers spread casteism, sectarianism, racism, and misogynistic ideas among the students, then we're heading towards a worrisome future.

This when experienced in childhood itself, either manifests as trauma or is imbibed as normal behaviour in many.
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Training Those Who Train Us

Teachers ought to be examples for future generations to follow. The reformist mentality against social ills must emerge from them. Things like equality, equanimity and dignity must not only be one for the books such that we as a society generate empowered individuals and less victims.

One-third of our population spends a large part of every day in school or college. This becomes the most opportune to instill a deep understanding in them and initiate change. The time is fertile for harnessing Emotional Quotient (EQ), lessons on facing failure, not falling into the deep gorge of negativity, and so on.

But for this, training teachers is necessary by those who deeply understand this dimension of education and have actually worked in this field. Developed countries have acknowledged these needs and many have also worked sensitively on these issues.

Let's take the example of Finland which has executed such a system with perfection. Institutes there especially prepare study models and training programmes to help bring about changes in behaviour, thinking, and attitudes in children.

Parents, leaders, educational institutions, political parties, and social service organisations alike contribute to these programmes.
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Educational Institutes Must Be Vigilant in Imparting Lessons Against Social Discrimination

The moot question is: can we implement the same in our country? Would there be political will to realise such goals? Can we go past traditional means of amassing votes in the name of caste for personal and political gains and address the elephant in the room? If yes, what are the steps we must take to mobilise others to help eradicate it?

It is high time we tap into the power of education not just to optimise trainees at the cerebral level but also in real life situations. Awareness of issues can go a long way in ushering development. Institutes must take initiative and involve parents to have these values duly imparted. Digital tools or interpersonal communication can be instrumental in furthering them.

Unfortunately, present-day education has only become a means to get degrees and jobs. But are they faring beyond in influencing the culture of our times and inspiring personal growth? One doubts.
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From adapting to new life situations to coping with ever-changing socio-economic and cultural landscapes, it may feel a lot to deal with but with the active cooperation of schools, parents, and professional counsellors, it is possible to ward off forces that pull us down and attain proficiency for reasonable discourses.

However, to work towards such goals, it is imperative to set a budget and deploy adequate resources for conflict-resolution.

In the end, educational institutes need to be a unifying space where diversity is encouraged and not looked down upon. Any form of discrimination must be condoned immediately. It becomes the collective duty of the state, the education board, management and administration to ensure that protocols are in place. Prompt measures must be taken such that students don't get affected by trifles and are better prepared to face the world at large.

(Chaitanya Nagar is a freelance journalist, translator, and poet. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Education   South India   untouchability 

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