This month, we were asked to weigh in on whether we need to talk more about racism in education. I find myself itching to limit the entire post to one word: yes. It feels so obvious, so desperately apt. Instead, without trying to substitute racism for casteism, or suggesting that they're interchangeable, I'm going to use this space to, among other things, talk about the equivalence there exists between the structuring principles of race and caste, and how this affects the education system in India. I have to start, however, by going back to an idea I started playing with a few posts ago: an education that does not equip one to challenge the inequalities hardwired into the world we've created is no education at all. Education is political: if it does not challenge status quo, it reinforces it.
Who gets to study is no longer a question we ask in India - at least on paper, everyone does. With the passage of the RTE Act (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009), education is now a fundamental right for all children in India between the ages of 6 and 14. Where do they get to study, though? For how long? How far must they travel to access the nearest school or college? How many teachers actually show up at aforesaid school or college? What are their qualifications (and no, I don't mean merely degrees: everyone knows there are several ways to acquire these pieces of paper)? Is the school in question guilty of upholding caste norms in its seating arrangements/access to amenities/treatment of students, regardless of whether we're talking about rural or urban settings (because, increasingly, the contours of both ideas - though especially 'rural' as a category - are being renegotiated, in sometimes contentious ways)? These are the questions which ought to animate and inform public discourse and policy decisions about the education system. Instead, the current right-wing hegemons appear interested only in rewriting history altogether - renaming roads, cities, schools and other institutions; recasting ancillary figures on the far-right like Deendayal Upadhyay as important 'national' figures, while suggesting travesties like the fact that Emperor Akbar did *not* win a battle we know he did; suggesting that the RSS had a role to play in India's Independence movement (mpppfffftt - it's tough to not snigger at the thought of this bizarre inversion of historical facts) - all so as to recast Hindutva as a principle foundational to the idea of India. News flash: it simply wasn't.
India is rabidly racist - one has only to think of the horrendous treatment we mete out to students from elsewhere, particularly ones from African nations - but how could we possibly not be? Any nation that can stomach the principle of caste, which is the most brutal 'classification' of human beings based on birth anywhere in the world, cannot help but differentiate, and differentiate repeatedly, on the basis of every parameter society can construct in a desperate and insular bid to separate 'us' from 'them'.
Despite outlawing "untouchability", often written off by caste apologists as the only thing wrong with the caste system; as the aberration of what was once a just system predicated merely on the division of labour (and not labourers, as Babasaheb sharply reminds us), India has never rid herself of the scourge that is caste itself. The RTE might make it so that the children of manual scavengers - the erstwhile 'untouchables' - may now attend a primary school alongside their so-called 'forward caste' peers. But once there, if they're made to (as Babasaheb himself was) sit-eat-drink separately from the other children, how is anything ever going to change? "Segregation, humiliation, and violence," as Harsh Mander writes: these are the lot of Dalit children who dare to imagine that they can avail themselves of an education.
Nothing short of critical pedagogical interventions which would overhaul what we consider to be the very purpose of our educational system, and the resources to channel these interventions into more meaningful curricular design, can help us change these terms of engagement. The system is broken (although I don't think there was ever a time when it wasn't; education has always, in some shape or form, been the preserve of a few - the Brahmins along the caste axis; the elite when it comes to class - and has been responsible for ossifying instead of challenging class/caste divisions). Any wonder then that it can only churn out broken people like ourselves?
 Read more here, in case this absurdity passed you by: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/maharana-pratap-not-akbar-won-battle-of-haldighati-rajasthan-history-book/1/1010616.html
 This is only the most recent incident in a long, long list of ignominies: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/attack-on-african-students-greater-noida-xenophobia-nigerian-students-envoys/1/919276.html