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Caste in India

In: Social Issues

Submitted By gandharv123
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During our study to understand the caste and class dynamics between the PGP students at IIM Bangalore, we came across results and insights that potentially led us very different conclusions than what we had initially assumed.
Our team floated a survey to gauge the popular reactions of people with respect to some commonly held class and caste notions. The survey, open to all PGP students at IIMB, attracted close to 80 responses. Thereby the sample size is not sufficient enough to project the findings as being generic to the Indian society at large. The survey conducted focussed on 3 main aspects of student identity at an educational institute in India. The fact that it is a part f their identity is proof enough to assume that there are schisms in the Indian society on the lines of class, caste and community. Considering the kind of people that an elite institution like an IIM would attract, the survey results were interestingly different from our presumptions. Before going further I would like to state that we were lucky enough to attract sufficient and proportionate responses spaced out equally across the social background spectrum.
Most people who participated in the survey refused that they have had a discriminatory experience of any sort till date. However a majority still stated that discrimination does exist in the basis of various divisive factors. The paradox resolved itself when we dug a little deeper through the caste and class spectrum. The key factor is people tend to associate themselves with people from similar backgrounds intuitively assuming that forces of caste & class discrimination continue to exist in the society. Another important factor to consider here is that most people believed and we acknowledge through experience that most groups on campus have been formed on the basis of a shared regional heritage rather than caste. This is however a more inclusive characteristic rather than being a exclusionist trait like caste. Taking the point of regional affinity a little further, we inquired on the student run activities on the campus. This questioning particular attracted a very interesting response. An important pointer before I discuss this issue further; most respondents are assumed to have been PGP1’s & thus they were the ones who were actually being interviewed for various club selections rather than being the interviewee. Most response that validated the fact that caste/region played an important role in club selections were from the people who classified themselves under the general category. Most respondents from the reserved categories however refuted the claim. This was by far the most interesting result that our survey threw up. Without attempting to unravel the mystery and logic behind the result I would simply state it as an empirical fact that does not conform to logic or Indian intuition.
The basis of reservation in Indian society context was the fact that people coming from ‘’lower’’ (no offence intended) castes had an unequal representation in the Indian society & thus remained economically handicapped. If that were the only criterion & logic to reservation then we think we have been highly successful in terms of achieving the goal of economic benefit distribution at least on a superficial level. While saying this we are virtually toeing the line on very limited data that we have managed to collect. The responses we attracted to the questions on family income revealed that the respondents on either sides of the reservation spectrum enjoyed similar spread across the 3 income classes that we created in the survey. This theory was further buttressed by the interaction we had with the PGP office officials. Though not forthcoming when it came to the caste data, the officials did give us an insight into the financial aid application data. With some tolerance for error it can be said that the applicants for the financial aid initiative of the institute were equally divided between the reserved and the general category. With the probability of the data being skewed due to the yet very abstract definition of the non creamy OBC layer it is still highly suggestive of the fact that contrary to popular belief the “non-reserved” quota at IIMB hails from humble and almost complementary economic backgrounds.
Another encouraging facet that emerged from the survey was that most people were unaware about the social castes of their peers. This is a testimony to the fact that the institution has been extremely defensive and careful about the fact that no data on caste of any student is revealed. It also brings to fore another implied fact i.e. the Indian student community has matured over the past few years to look beyond the caste barriers. It is slowly but surely getting eroded.
In response to a question on reservation people argued that the criterion of reservation should be economic and not caste. The views on the issue were largely divergent with the majority tending towards an economic background based reservation. In one of the interactions that we had with a student who identified herself as a reserved category student said that reservation has run its due course. It has done what it set out to do. Now the basis of reservation, if any, should be the economic background of people. Ahe further went on to state that she thought that the very notion of reservation, initially conceived to bring balance to the Indian society in terms of equal representation to people from backward castes and class was causing a negative effect on the mindset of people. This was because the issue has been so over hyped in the India media circles that it is difficult to remain untouched by it. Though she conceded that her stay at IIMB had been very comfortable with no references to her caste backgrounds being made, she did say that the same cannot be said about the undergraduate courses running through the country. She categorically stated an example of a reputed medical institution where a friend of hers, from a similar caste had become the stock of jibes and taunts. She said that though the frequency or severance of these experiences have been fewer over the past few years, the undercurrent of caste identity still existed in the Indian setup.
During the course of our interactions and through our surveys as well, we also bounced off a few questions pertaining to the social construct of marriage. This was done mainly to gauge the level of maturity and the attitudes of the Indian student community towards issues of inter caste and class marriage. Juxtaposing their opinions against that of their parents about the issue of Inter class & caste marriage, we observed an encouraging albeit expected result. Most of the students said that they would be open to the idea however their parents will/are uncomfortable with the notion of an inter caste alliance. One of the major drawbacks of the survey however was that, we accidentally could not record the gender of the respondents and thereby we fall short of adding further muscle to the argument we make on the inter caste marriages.
Conclusion: The survey and a few subsequent interactions with the respondents and other stake holders at IIMB reveals that caste discrimination or differentiation, at least at the student level is fast losing its relevance. Instead differences that emerge out of the economic wellbeing of a person have gained prominence. Another form of “identification” that is more evident today in the campus is the divide on the basis of the regions and language. This though a divide is mostly encompassing in its nature rather than being exclusionist like caste. The opinions of people when gathered in person brought out certain incidents that they faced relevant to the context. Most students and we agree that caste based reservation has started to lose its relevance today.

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