Upper caste domination in higher education

Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

The data obtained by the non-profit organisation Egalitarians under the Right to Information Act (RTI) shows severe under-representation of marginalised sections in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. 

As of 31 May 2021, the total number of teaching faculty in IISc was 466. Of this, 13 (2.78%) belonged to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), 13 (2.78%) to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and only two (0.42%) to the Scheduled Tribes (STs). However, these figures fall way short of the government-mandated 27% quota for the OBCs, 15% for the SCs and 7.5% for the STs. 

The institute did not do well on gender indicators either. The total number of female teaching staff was 38 (8.15%), in which not a single woman was from the ST category.

Teaching faculty at IISc Bengaluru
Figure 1

The situation isn’t much different in PhD enrolment either. In the three years from 2018-19 to 2020-21, a total of 3,074 candidates were admitted in the various PhD programmes at the institute. 

Of which, 119 (3.87%) were from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), 599 (19.48%) from OBCs, 286 (9.30%) from SCs and 85 (2.76%) from STs, compared to 1,985 (64.57%) from the General category. 

The total number of female students enrolled for the PhD courses was 1,023 (33.27%), of which a majority (715 i.e. 69.89%) were from the General category. The data also reveals that 12 transgender candidates had applied for the PhD programmes and all the 12 were shortlisted, however, none of them made the final cut.

PhD admissions in IISc Bengaluru
Figure 2

The data received by the Egalitarians through an RTI query for the IIT Roorkee showed similar trends. Out of 479 faculty members, only 4 (0.8%) belonged to the STs, 10 (2.1%) to the SCs, and 56 (11.7%) to the OBCs, while the General category constituted a major proportion with 409 (85.4%) members.

Faculty diversity at IIT Roorkee
Figure 3

The same pattern can be seen in the PhD admissions too. Only 15 (2.9%) candidates belonged to the STs, 57 (11%) to the SCs, 137 (26.4%) to the OBCs, while 245 (47.3%) belonged to the General category for the autumn and spring session of 2020-2021.

PhD admission at IIT Roorkee
Figure 4

The dismal representation of ST/SC/OBCs is not limited to the IITs and IISc but can be seen in the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) too.

At NIT-Arunachal Pradesh, STs and OBCs constituted only 9.6% (5) each whereas SCs constituted only 5.8% (3) of the teaching faculty. NIT Srinagar did not have any faculty  belonging to the ST category, whereas only one faculty member each belonging to the ST category was found at the NIT Durgapur and NIT Delhi.

Teaching faculty at NIT Arunachal Pradesh
Figure 5
Teaching faculty at NIT Delhi
Figure 6
Teaching faculty at NIT Srinagar
Figure 7
Teaching faculty at NIT Durgapur
Figure 8

The above data reveals a heavy bias towards upper castes, especially upper-caste men, in both faculty recruitment and PhD enrolment in these ‘premier’ institutions of higher education. Similar bias has been reported in other higher education institutions such as at the IIT Kharagpur, IIT Delhi and IIT Jammu

Renny Thomas, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, citing the annual report of the IISc for 2017-18 in his paper, shows the lack of representation of SC, ST and OBC scientists. He states that of the total 434 academic staff, Dalits and OBCs number only 18 (4.15%). 

Thomas conducted an ethnographic survey of various scientists and academic staff at the IISc in 2012 and 2016. This survey revealed a common belief among many scientists that Brahmins are made for doing science and research and only they possess the ‘passion’ and ‘sacrificial mentality’ for the pursuit of knowledge. They further stated that affirmative actions such as reservation shouldn’t be enforced at the post-graduate level such as PhD and beyond. These biases and strong opposition to reservation policy has led to the monopolisation of scientific knowledge production in the hands of few dominant groups like Brahmins and other upper-castes who are mostly men. Thomas suggests that it is necessary to not only expose such severe gaps in the representation in institutions like the IISc and IITs, but also to scrutinise the culture of ‘doing science’.

Speaking on the lack of representation in elite institutions in India, Professor Vipin Veetil, who was recently in news for his resignation from the IIT Madras alleging caste-based discrimination, told The Satyashodhak, “The presumption that in the absence of reservation, the recruitment is done only on the basis of merit is not true. India is a caste-based society and no individual is judged on the basis of merit; rather they are judged on the basis of birth. And Hindus are very clear that if you think on the basis of your skills and capacity, that you can go beyond and exceed by doing work other than what you’ve been assigned by your caste then you’ll be punished in such and such ways.”

While stressing the need for affirmative action, Veetil said, “The caste society is an anti-meritocracy society. So to imagine that in the absence of reservation, recruitment will be done purely on the basis of merit is to presume somehow that these institutions don’t operate in India but as if they were operating in Germany or Japan, and as if the individuals who populate these institutions and recruit people are not indians but come from foreign lands, but given these people come from india they will come with their caste biases.”

He further added, “The interview panels are mostly Brahmins or some other upper castes who grew up in Indian society, carrying values of Indian society. So to expect or presume that someone will be hired purely on the basis of their merit is fallacious, and it is to ignore all the caste history of Indian social life and my impression is that the caste of the person who judges has an influence on the judgement that comes out and because our people are not in the judging position, I think we’ve been on the losing end since decades.”

Egalitarians had written an open letter to the Members of Parliament (MPs) on 15 July 2021, asking them to raise the issue of institutionalised discrimination in faculty recruitment and PhD admissions in the parliament.

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