Education of the Downtrodden & Exploited Castes & Classes

Challenges for the Education of the Oppressed-Exploited Castes & Classes


The struggle for education in India is multifaceted and deeply intensive. The older the caste system, the older the struggle for education. The Education system works as a part of the Social system. Therefore, it is vital to understand the form and direction of the social system in a broad sense and in its entirety. Presently, the Social System of India operates under the Patriarchal Caste-Class hegemony, wherein the subaltern castes and women are gut-wrenchingly exploited. The following data shall highlight the extent of this exploitation.

According to UNESCO’s 2021 Hunger Index, India ranks at a deplorable 101st out of 116 countries. 27.15% of the population suffers from hunger. These numbers are growing as the days pass. Our Happiness Index has slipped down to 139th out of the 149 countries. According to the UNESCO’s Indices, India’s Education Index during the 29 years of 1990-2019 has slipped from 0.311 to 0.555.

Global Hunder Index 2021 India Ranking
The GHI Ranking of 2021 places india at 101 out of 116 countries

The reality & gravity of UNESCO’s report was laid bare during the Pandemic of Covid-19 on the streets of India where the economy and citizens were left in a complete mess. Covid-19 stripped the sham called governance to stark nakedness for the world to witness.

Universalization of Education

From Gram Panchayat to even Delhi, the Government did not have any official records of laborers from the unorganized sector. Such negligence can only materialize in a system of extreme exploitation. According to some studies, 52 crore people are laborers in the unorganized sector. Out of which 23 crore people are migrant(displaced) laborers.

Migrant Labourers India
Courtesy: PTI, Deccan Herald

This means that 35% of the total population are unorganized laborers. If local laborers, agricultural laborers, fishermen, domestic workers, women, peddlers, rickshaw pullers, etc. are included, the number rises to more than 90%.
While discussing this with Prof. Anil Sadgopal, he brought to my notice that the number of all these workers has been 93% since many years. This 93% constitutes Dalits, Adivasis, Nomadic-Vagrant Castes and Tribes, OBCs, Women, Muslims, all of whom are exploited and oppressed. This 93% populace is struggling for their self- existence, for survival. What about THEIR education? The wealth in this nation is the fruit of their labor, their sweat and blood. But they never get to taste their own fruit. They never get their rightful share.

Mahatma Jotiba Fule & Dr. Ambedkar for Universalization of Education
Courtesy: Forward Press

140 years ago, Jyotirao Phule propounded the association of education with material interests. He pointed out that a large portion of the revenue collected from the labor of the workers was being spent on the higher education of a few. Jotiba expressly pointed out the need and hunger of the majority of the masses for primary education. He expounded & took the standpoint of universalization of education. Dr. Ambedkar took this thread forward and took the stand of nationalization of education.
Universalization of education did not materialize in the post- independence period. On the contrary, only those policies were being introduced which ensured that the majority of the populace would be thrown out of the stream of education. As a result, 90% of the students are pushed out of the education stream at various stages. It is crucial to first understand why does the established government adopt such a policy? What is the political standpoint behind this? Production, knowledge of production (research), distribution, and the ethics of human inter-relationship are directly related to education.

Caste-capitalist Production Relations and Education

Dr. Ambedkar brings it to our notice that the caste system is based on the two pillars: Marital relations and Production relations within the Caste. In ancient and medieval times productive knowledge (agriculture, carpenter, blacksmith, weaver, etc.) was not allowed to become a part of formal education. In fact, such knowledge was not recognized as knowledge! It was merely a task to serve.

Caste Based Production
Courtesy: Velivada

As a result, the productive knowledge of these castes was transmitted informally from one generation to another. And in this way, through experience, analysis & observation, and cultural transmission the caste-based production started taking shape. This production was taking place without formal education. Due to the hierarchical structure of the caste system, the share of surplus production was naturally hierarchical as well, with the topmost receiving a larger share than the ones at the bottom. In order to preserve this arrangement and prevent any disruption, the streeshudratishudras (stree=woman, shudra=OBC, atishudra= lower than shudra) were not allowed to be a part of formal education.
After the Industrial Revolution, this caste-based production system took a hit and gradually mixed production system came into existence. Europe abolished the feudal mode of production and adopted the capitalist mode of production. However, in India the capitalist mode of production was adopted by retaining the feudal (caste) mode of production and changing its form.
A Mixed production system has come into existence today in India. Retaining the main framework of Caste-based production, the tools provided by Capitalism are used in the process of production. For example, a farmer uses a tractor threshing machine. He uses those tools as a means to an end, but not in the sense of knowledge derived from capitalism. So if the tractor breaks down, he would have no clue as to why it broke down.
Barring a few exceptions, agriculture and caste-based production have not been fully industrialized. Therefore, there has been no radical change in the traditional production methods and tools in India. With the complete industrialization of traditional methods and means of production, caste-based production relations start to disappear. The tools of some caste-based production have been fully industrialized. Traditional textile production has been replaced by textile mills.

Traditional Weaver of India
Courtesy: The Companion

The means of capitalist production reduced human labor by increasing production. As a result, the traditional weaver became an excess and was available as a laborer. The traditional weaver could not be the owner of or own a Cloth/Textile mill, and so remained a laborer. If capitalist knowledge (knowledge, science) had been made available to the traditional weaver, he could have been the beneficiary of capitalist production. The establishment cunningly implemented a dual process; on one hand they prevented the proletariat from reaping the profits of capital production, and on the other they tied them down to the caste-based cultural framework. That is why the exploited castes seems to be stuck in a caste family structure, caste-based marriages, and caste-based kinship.

Women’s education

Since the fall of Matriarchal era, the question of emancipation of women(gender equality) remains unanswered, even today. Com. Sharad Patil maintains that a woman is a triple slave. The three shackles of slavery, caste-class-patriarchy, work together to exploit women, thus making her a triple slave. Despite the ancient history of women being bright and inspiring, restrictions were imposed on women in order to maintain the caste system. The caste system was strengthened through intra-caste marriage, sati practice, ban on widow remarriage, ban on education. The institutions of marriage and family were confined to Brahminical rules thereby reproducing the Caste System. In order to maintain the patriarchal caste system, a ban on women’s education was introduced.

Slavery of women in India
Courtesy: The Companion

In the educational-context(while defining the context of education) the searing, extensive, and pervasive exploitation of women was hidden by deifying and glorifying women. We can see this in education policy today.

In a Caste-Class-Patriarchal society, the establishment owes no need for the universalisation of education. And hence, even after 75 years of post-independent India, the question of universalisation of education has not been solved. Universalization of education will most likely lead to questioning the system and lead to a rebellion against the confined slavery. In order to quell this rebellion even before it began, Education policy for a handful was devised. But Phule-Ambedkar, Periyar, Savitribai Phule, Shahu Maharaj took the stand of universalization of education. They strongly believed that education could be a tool for change. We are the followers of these great men & women, hence this challenge of universalization of education is before us. It is pertinent to discuss these challenges.

Flaws of Pre-Admission Test for Higher Education

Higher education entrance test was started under the guise of assessing merit. However, these tests were used to setback the students of higher education, especially those from the exploited caste-class sections. What is Merit? How do we define it? What are its criteria? These should be discussed in detail. But without this discussion, pre-admission test has been imposed. Many students and parents have committed suicide under the burden of this exam. I believe that these are not suicides but institutional murders.
Many talented students could not partake in higher education due to the cumbersome, complicated framework, incompatibility of various cultural and economic perimeters and the high cost of this examination. Global and Indian capitalist economics and their politics lie concealed within the design of these exams.
Any centralization is antithetical to collectivism/democratic spirit. It is pro-dictatorship & fatal to democracy. The single- window formula has been used for the pre-admission test. The syllabus, examination system and pertaining decisions have been made unilaterally. Students from big cities like Mumbai, Chennai and tribal students from remote areas; Brahmin students and Dalit students; Male students and female students, all have been applied the same criteria. Everybody has been assigned the same criteria disregarding their historical oppression and present exploitation. It is not a formula that promotes equal justice but a one that promotes inequality. Dr. Ambedkar says that India is not one nation but there are many nations in every village. India has an extreme stratification on the basis of Caste, Religion, Gender, Economy(Class), & Culture.
Therefore, the “single window” formula cannot be justified in order to include all these in higher education and provide a fair share in higher education.
Therefore, NEET & other such entrance exams must be opposed.
Lower castes, offsprings of social exploitaion, owe their backwardness & regression to lack of educational guidance, time and labor spent to arrange two square meals a day. This in stark contrast to the ones not facing such struggle. Hence, the exploited castes and women do not stand much chance in this test. Besides this, another biggest challenge is the highly expensive coaching classes. This coaching market is global. The coaching industry’s financial turnover runs into billions, trillions even. These coaching classes charge fees ranging from Rs 40,000 to Rs 3 lakh per annum. Despite paying such hefty fees, the students are not provided surety of even passing the exam.
The passing ratio of students of all these coaching classes does not even reach double digits. This market and looting has the tacit support of all political parties and the government.

Theoreticalization & Flaws of National Education Policy 2020

The draft of National Educational Qualification Framework was recently unveiled by the UGC. This draft is a part of the National Education Policy. The provisions of this draft, by violating the Constitution, are aimed at abolishing the powers of the state government, and depriving the exploited castes, classes, and women from higher education. As we all know, Tamil Nadu has historically striven for the Autonomy of states. Provisions also include for massive centralization of education thereby depriving the state autonomy. Following are some provisions and their effects:

  1. By violating the constitutional rights of the state government, it has reduced the state to an agency and facilitator.
  2. The rights of the state government are to be abolished by centralizing all the powers of curriculum, teaching method, and examination system.
  3. Disregarding the cultural diversity and environment in India, the provisions champion the principles of bringing everything under one umbrella. This clearly signifies the endorsement of inequality over diversity.

National Education Policy has endorsed the National Testing Agency. The Pre-admission test for higher education will be conducted through this agency. This agency is a private entity. Abolishing the principle of inclusivity, this will create a monopoly. The NTA’s monopoly will work to close the doors of higher education for the Dalits, tribals, Nomadic Tribes & Castes, OBCs, Muslims, and Women. For entry to the Higher Education, the NTA will assess the students on the following: 1. Language 2. Subject Knowledge, and 3. Aptitude.
The test will be conducted in only 14 languages out of the 22 languages listed in the State List. So the students from those 8 excluded languages, which could not make it to the list, will be evicted in the first phase itself. There is much more to shed light on this but I will restrain myself in view of time constraints.

The theoretical blueprint of the National Education Policy 2020 are clearly stated in the Kasturirangan draft. The Draft received over two lakh responses (this figure is likely to be higher). There is no way of knowing as to how many of these responses were entertained or even noticed. But by presenting the 2020 document in a very slippery and enticing language, it has created the impression that a heaven will be created in the field of education. Heaven is attained only after death. Therefore, our death is inevitable for this ascension to heaven. Hence, we need to think of the National Education Policy 2020 by connecting today’s reality with tomorrow’s future without falling for the lure of heaven.

The following is the theory of National Education Policy after our

  1. NEP-2020 will strengthen the caste system in India.
  2. Going beyond privatization of education, NEP-2020 is
    predisposed in adopting the formula of capitalist market forces
    (Therefore, 93 percent of the population will not be able to
    buy education in this education market).
  3. It will solidify the second class status of women in education. The content and structure of education has been absurdly limited to child-rearing and housekeeping, in line with the Caste System perspective.
  4. Violating the Constitution it aims at abolishing the powers of the state government. By centralizing the decision making process, it is a killer of democracy and the constitution. (The subject of education is in the concurrent list so the state government gets independent powers. They have obliterated).
  5. By denying the cultural diversity and diverse environment, it seeks to endorse one singular culture.
  6. The caste system has created discriminatory stratification in India. The reflections of this stratification can be witnessed in the classrooms. The NEP2020 openly endorses this stratification. It insists for the manufacturing of policy makers, administrators, and laborers, the stratification as mentioned earlier.
  7. The use of school complexes and clusters reduces participation in primary and higher education.
  8. Rejects the formula of reservation for recruitment and promotion of teachers, professors and students and seeks to create dominance of certain specific caste-class.
  9. It advocates the instilling of caste-class based patriarchal consciousness in the content, context, and structure of education, while at the same time rejecting the equitable, modern, and constitutional values-based education.
    10.It creates an illusion of accepting the mother tongue as medium
    of instruction. However, in reality it simply does the
    opposite. (The question of mother tongue is very complicated in
    India as languages change every 50 kilometers. Dialect is
    widely used in India. A language formula that justifies all of
    this has not been used in the NEP2020.

In short, the National Education Policy and the earlier education history is a big challenge for the education of the exploited castes, classes, and women.

Author profile
Ramesh Bijekar


One response to “Challenges for the Education of the Oppressed-Exploited Castes & Classes”

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