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Key Moments of Education Policy towards the Poor


Geetha B. Nambissan
Caste and the Politics of Education Policy, Institutions and Practices: A Study of Dalits in India

Dalits (officially named ‘depressed classes’/’scheduled castes’) were traditionally denied education because of their social location as ‘untouchables’ in the caste hierarchy. In the mid-19th century the Caste Disabilities Removal Act and colonial policy are seen as providing the first opportunities for education to castes lowest in the social and economic hierarchy in India. What is relatively less known are the persistent struggles for access to schooling by the ‘untouchables’ themselves in the face of considerable antagonism by caste Hindus and the failure of policy to address the politics of caste, poverty and education. What is also striking today as we look at educational statistics is the overall still relatively low school enrolment (especially at the post primary stage) and completion rates among Dalit communities as compared to the non-scheduled populations. Inequalities in the spread of education can be seen in relation to gender, class as well as sub-caste across India which suggests complex intersections of structures, institutional processes (including policy interventions), community histories as well as individual agency that have influenced school/post school attainments in diverse regional contexts.

In this project I propose to look at the relationship between caste and the politics of education policy and institutional practices. I explore how ‘untouchability’ and ‘polluted status’ attributed to depressed classes/scheduled castes (intersecting with poverty) has mediated their access to and participation in schools, shaped experiences within educational institutions and influenced outcomes. Here I would like to focus on the role that Ambedkar played in envisioning education in relation to discrimination and emancipation of untouchable communities, his engagement with policy as well as his efforts to spread education among the Dalits. Ambedkar’s influence (inadequately documented) on these communities specifically in the sphere of education can be seen in Dalit life histories and literature. I would also look at how key education policies and programmes in the decades after 1947 addressed the issue of caste, poverty and education and how these structures and processes have played out in diverse ways as reflected in individual life histories.