[b]The Hindu Caste System[/b]
The Hindu caste system has been around since the creation of the religion itself and remains greatly entrenched in the Indian culture. The basis of the caste system is rooted in the Hindu belief of the cycle of Samsaa, a reincarnation cycle where a person's atman (or soul) is placed in a different varna (or caste) each lifetime. The varnas, in order of most respected to least, are the Brahmin (priests), Kshatryas (warriors and rulers), Vaishya (farmers), and Shudra (servants). Although, in modern days the castes and jobs listed are not neccesarily linked as they were in more ancient times. Outside of the caste system lies the Scheduled Castes (also known as the Chandala, Harijan, Dalit, or Pariah), who, according to ancient teachings, did not belong in the caste system, as they were without a Dharma (the purpose of someone's caste and the path they must follow to fulfill their Varna). Because the religion teaches that caste placement is dependent on one's behavior in a past life, the culture surrounding the caste system very much favors the rich over the poor, based on the belief that lower castes deserve their standing. The Scheduled Castes were (and are) treated the worst, even earning the derogatory nickname The Untouchables. Though many improvements have been made to even out the gaps in education caused by the caste system, the problems regarding lack of education for lower castes has yet to be fully addressed.
To be clear, this article only addresses the effects of the Hindu caste system on education in India. As of 2001, 80.5% of the country was Hindu, making it the most prevalent religion in India. That being said, India is an incredibly religiously complex country with several different caste systems found in other religions and village structures throughout its different states. Furthermore, the number of Hindus that still believe in the caste system decreases with each generation. And most importantly, the problems the Scheduled Castes face are not limited to education, they are consistently threatened with violence, sexual assault, and a multitude of other problems that entire books have been dedicated to exploring.
As well, this article can not claim that the caste system only hurts members of lower castes. In fact, many women in higher castes are uneducated because of the belief that an educated higher-caste woman brings shame upon her family and could potentially raise her dowry through education. As well, many members of higher castes have socioeconomic statuses that are quite low, and face problems in accessing education similar to that of lower castes.
[b]Its Effect on Education[/b]
The problems Scheduled Castes face when trying to access education are based mainly on a deep-rooted bias against their caste that starts in early education. In India, education is free for children ages 6-14, though many are unable to access it still due to the price of transportation, materials, etc. The discrimination the Scheduled Castes face in education appears to be more about a general belief that lower castes do not deserve education, rather than the actual barring of them from education. The Humans Rights Watch reported that caste bias is incredibly apparent in lower schools, where teachers fail Scheduled Caste Students without cause and ignore them in classes. Students match teachers unwelcomeness towards Scheduled Castes. The Ministry of Human Resource Development released in 2012 that 186 schools in several different Indian states reported discrimination based on untouchability during their midday meals. Scheduled Caste children were segregated from the rest of the children and many children of upper castes would bring their own cutlery for fear of a member of the Scheduled Castes touching the school-provided cutlery. This discrimination leads 50% of the Scheduled Caste children to drop out of school, with disproportionally more women then men, in part due to all the extra discrimination women face in regards to education(see various other Givology blog posts like this one: http://www.givology.org/~givologystaff/blog/449492/). The dropout rates of Scheduled Caste children have grown much larger compared to other castes. In 2008 the difference reached 16.21%. One consequence these drops out face, especially women, is that many have no choice but to work in illegal Sumangali systems at incredibly young ages after they quit school.
For Scheduled Caste children that do not drop out of primary education, these prejudices continue in equal prevalence, even as students reach university age and attend institutes of higher learning. This constant discouragement from peers and teachers has led to grave emotional problems in Scheduled Caste university students, some even turning to suicide. In just four years, twenty Scheduled Caste suicides were reported at elite Indian educational institution, many leaving notes that directly blamed their suicide on their experiences as a member of the lower castes. One particular student had recently failed several exams, and was given his degree symbolically postmortem, once a committee reviewed them and found that the tests had been unfairly graded and he should have easily passed.
The government has been increasingly intervening to stop caste discrimination in India. In 1947, untouchability was abolished with Indian independence. However, this abolishment was found incredibly hard to enforce. As has been shown time and time again, laws can not change minds, and the practice of untouchability continued, especially in rural areas. By 1997 however the situation had improved a bit overtime, and Kocherik Raman Narayanan was elected the first Scheduled Caste president of India. As Scheduled Castes remained economically disadvantaged, 1990 brought about government reservations, where 22% of state university places were put aside for the Dalit and 12.5% of government jobs. The hope was that by improving the Scheduled Castes’ ability to access education and employment there would be an increase in the skill level of the Scheduled Castes, helping them access more lucrative jobs, and thereby decreasing segregation and discrimination. By 2006, the number of reservations were increased even more, with the government changing the 22% of reserved spots in the state universities to 27%.
Though many of these improvements were beneficial in theory, many merely created more tension in India. Laws created with the purpose of preventing untouchability are often underfunded and unenforced. In the case of government position reservations, in 2012 there were 25,037 “reserved” spots in government departments that were unfilled, with only about 18% of these positions vacant because there was no available candidate. Meanwhile, the added spaces in universities for Scheduled Castes sparked outrage in many educated higher caste citizens, who protested and staged walk outs. They argued the law was discriminatory and allowed more underqualified students to take coveted spots in universities that more qualified students who happened to be from higher castes deserved. The argument exists that these reservations only perpetuate the existence and the stringency of the caste division, and fuel discrimination in schools by causing many higher caste citizens to claim even the most qualified of the lower caste students are only there because of the reserved spaces.
How You Can Help[/b]
The problems the caste system fosters are hard to address, but a few partners of Givology have been helping to provide education to those most in need. The project [url=https://www.givology.org/~tfindependence/]Training for Independence[/url] directly targets the Mushahar tribe, a Dalit group located in Uttar Pradesh, providing education and nourishment to a group that is so greatly discriminated against. [url=https://www.givology.org/~nefoundation/]The Nanubhai Scholars[/url] project provides university scholarships to Indian students who demonstrate financial need and academic merit, without looking at caste, religion, or ethnic background. Lastly, [url=https://www.givology.org/~asha/]ASHA[/url] is the first initiative in the Ginwara area that spreads awareness on issues that its community, mainly made up of lower caste citizens, faces and helps villagers survive, taking advantage of the Right to Information. More projects like these can be found in the GIV Now section of the Givology website.
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