Caste discrimination in Higher education institutions

2023 APR 6

Mains   > Society   >   Features of Indian Society   >   Scheduled Caste/Tribe


  • The recent increase of suicides among Dalit students in higher educational institutions has once again drawn attention towards caste-based discrimination in such spaces.


  • Hierarchical caste system continues to be a key characteristic of the Indian society.
  • Casteism is practiced and even normalised in the current higher education system of the country.
  • It may exist in the direct form of abusive casteist comments, hostel segregation and ragging or in its indirect ill-informed opposition to the constitutionally mandated policy of reservation and social segregation in games and cultural events.


  • Article 15(4):
    • empowers the state to make special provisions for advancement of Socially and Educationally Backwards (SEBCs) or SC/STs.
  • Article 16(4-A):
    • Empowers the state to make reservation in Promotions for SCs and STs.
  • Article 46:
    • Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections.
  • OBC Reservation:
    • There is a single Central OBC list with entries from each State. An individual belonging to an OBC community and whose income is below Rs. 8 Lakhs would belong to non-creamy layer category and is eligible for reservation.
  • Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
    • It was enacted by the Parliament to prevent atrocities and hate crimes against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
  • Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1976:
    • This act prescribes punishments for the practice of untouchability for the enforcement of any disability arising from and for matters connected therewith.


  • Willful ignorance:
    • These institutions rarely acknowledge the discrimination and wilfully ignore both subtle and overt forms of casteism.
  • Underreporting:
    • Reporting of cases dents the chances of victim to lead a normal academic life. This results in under reporting of cases and the chances of repeated offences.
  • Marginalisation of victim:
    • Persons who share experiences of caste-based discriminations in higher educational institutions get accused of being ‘obsessed with caste identities’ or being ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘paranoid’ about it. This contributes to the further marginalisation.
  • Narrow view of affirmative action:
    • The opposition to reservation is used by the so-called high castes to supposedly ‘save merit’ while discrediting, discriminating and humiliating people from oppressed social backgrounds for exercising their due right.
  • Failure to implement reservation policies:
    • Despite various court judgments upholding the legitimacy of reservations, academic institutions have not fully complied with this constitutional obligation. This is evident as data shows that reserved seats often go unfilled even at the enrollment stage.
  • Social conditioning:
    • The ones perpetuating casteism are those who have benefitted from the hierarchical social order and do not want to relinquish their privileges. So, they vehemently propagate caste discriminations and vote bank politics among the younger generations.
  • Stereotyping:
    • Reports have found that faculties often stereotype marginalised students as academically weak and award them lesser marks/provide poor guidance.
    • For instance, a report prepared by a committee of the Union government to investigate allegations of harassment of SC/ST students at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi found 85% of Adivasi and Dalit students felt that internal examiners had discriminated against them while awarding grades.
  • Privatisation of education:
    • Privatisation of higher education in India has adversely affected the overall prospects for oppressed social groups to break their vicious cycle of exploitation. The lack of the policy of reservation combined with exorbitant fees makes such private education institutions inaccessible and exclusive.
  • Poor representation:
    • Within the public education institutions, the representation of marginalised groups in teaching and administration is dismal.
    • For instance, according to data by the education ministry, presented in 2019 in Lok Sabha, out of 6,043 faculty members at the 23 IITs, only 149 were SCs and 21 were STs- accounting for less than 3% of the total faculty members.
    • Similarly, out of the 642 faculty members across 13 Indian Institute of Management (IIM’s), only four belong to SC and one faculty member belongs to ST.
  • Poor investigation:
    • The remedial measures against caste discrimination in higher education appear completely insufficient. Caste-based discriminations are usually hidden under the garb of ‘ragging’ by the college authorities and no strong action is taken against the culprits.
  • Delay in justice:
    • With over 3.4 crore pending cases, ours is one of the slowest judicial systems in the world. As time passes, victims tend to reconcile with the situation. Also, the perpetrators of the crime get enough time to influence the victims.


  • Reservations may provide access to higher education, but as the many deaths by suicides of Dalit students reflect, the battle for creating truly nourishing educational spaces is a much longer one.
  • If we are to address caste discrimination which is heterogenous and institutional, there is a need to examine remedies that can attend to the whole spectrum. There is a need for radical social reforms in academic institutions and all stakeholders involved must be sensitised to eliminate biases and prejudices.
  • This could include strengthening and expanding reservations for socially disadvantaged communities, implementing the various reports and regulations of the past while infusing the study of humanities into technical courses of medicine and engineering.
  • There is also the need for anti-caste-based discrimination legislation to provide a direction to address caste-based discrimination both conceptually and operationally, similar to the recent reforms on sexual harassment at workplaces.


Q. Has caste lost its relevance in understanding the multi-cultural Indian Society? Elaborate your answer with illustrations. (GS 1, 2020)

Q. “Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, the caste system cannot be eradicated in India.” Comment. (GS 1, 2018)