Known for the diversity of its student community, the University of Delhi ends up masking the dominance of the privileged in its spaces by not addressing the emptiness of the concept of merit.
Despite the perpetual complaints of corruption and inefficiency within public institutions and government offices, public higher education institutions continue to be icons of (relative) integrity in India. Government colleges regularly top the lists of best institutions in the country. Unlike private institutions for one, they seemingly are based on merit alone rather than unscrupulous “donations” and have a sense of legitimacy associated with them. The University of Delhi is no exception, with it painting a picture of being socially progressive with its apparently diverse crowds from all over the country.
However, a simple examination of the makeup of the student body shows a different side. While the geographical diversity holds up to an extent, it shows a dominance of those from urban areas. This is important for a seemingly inclusive institution, considering the fact that about 70% of the population lives in rural area, and is also indicative of the obvious dearth of facilities in rural areas. Socially, a look at the merit list shows the disproportionate lack of lower caste and minority religions. An article by Nidhin Shobana pointed to her similar observations of the alumni list of Miranda House and is worth a look.
Even without the statistics, encounters with the caste/class privilege are routine and invisible. If you had lived in a big city, chances are you probably have a few schoolmates in the University, too. Or, there must be other students in the University from your city, from the same circle of three or four top schools of that city. Or, maybe you’ve had instances where you’ve run into an old classmate/neighbour/family friend on the University campus, wondered “What a small world!”, and left it at that. If you ask those who do not belong to your social strata, however, it turns out that these chance meetings and coincidences have their frequencies going down as one’s social standing goes down.
Of course, this is not a sweeping generalisation. There is no total dominance. It does seem odd, though, that most people who seem to do well as per the narrow definitions of marks scored are of a numerically minuscule class, and will probably also dominate corporate and administrative fields when they leave these institutions. Even worse, there seems to be no conversation on this unfair dominance that hides diabolically in the name of “merit”.
A quick activity can illustrate the point that this article is trying to make – we urge our readers to ask within their respective classes, students who are Dalits and Bahujans, to raise their hands. The few hands will speak for itself. Premier institutions of the country, like the ones within the University of Delhi, reek of the hegemony of the Brahmin-Savarna class. Merit isn’t the sole reason that lands them within the confines of such colleges, but the perpetual cycle of a fairy advantageous existence because of their social standing within the larger society. It is the ugly truth that we must confront. It is the norm that has dictated the corridors of such colleges for decades now. Nidhin Shobana’s article, speaks of the same.
So, the next time you hear someone in the university merrily quip, ‘what a small world’, pat them on their backs and ask them to think twice.
Feature Image Credits – Fuccha.in
Ankita Dhar Karmakar