Tamil Nadu: Abuses, segregated meals, forced to clean toilets, systemic discrimination faced by Dalit students A recent survey by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Front (TNUEF) has revealed harrowing details about the state of Dalit students in the schools. The survey shines a light on alarming data on caste and violence against Dalits in the state

22, Jan 2024 | CJP Team

School students from the Dalit community are made to eat meals separately, subjected to slurs, and even forced to clean toilets instead of studying, according to a ground-breaking survey by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF). The survey has exposed a troubling reality of caste discrimination deeply entrenched in schools across Tamil Nadu. The survey details that about 30% of the surveyed schools exhibit various forms of bias against Dalit students, according to NewsClick. Various incidents of Dalit students being beaten up by higher caste students have been reported in the media often.

The report reveals a grim picture of discrimination, ranging from assigning menial chores. There are about 15 schools where Dalit students have to do tasks like cleaning toilets or are being segregated by caste in queues during lunchtime. Furthermore, these discriminatory practices go beyond making these students perform chores and extract their labour. There is a significant lack of Dalit students reported to have less access to extracurricular activities and avenues for their academic growth.

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Over three months, approximately 250 volunteers from the TNUEF conducted a survey over 664 students across 441 schools within the state. This study took place at 321 government schools, 58 government-aided schools, and 62 private schools. The sample included 644 students from different grade levels, providing a nuanced analysis of caste-based discrimination at various stages of a student’s educational journey. The organisation has furthermore issued an alert regarding the encroachment of Hindutva and caste-based extremist ideologies within the student community.

Instances of caste-based oppression manifest in various forms, both overt and subtle. These include the unjust denial of hostel accommodation to Dalit students, educators probing into the caste identities of their students, disproportionately harsh penalties imposed on Dalit students for minor transgressions, and the exclusion of Dalit students from engaging in arts festivals, among numerous other discriminatory practices.

Furthermore, the survey reveals that one school situated in the urban enclave of Madurai district opted to withhold recognition for academic achievers in the higher secondary examinations. This decision was due to the fact that the top two performing students happened to be from the Dalit community. Students from the Dalit community also face more punishments than other students. There were also several incidents where Dalit students were subjected to slurs. 

Violence based on caste between students was also reported in 25 schools across districts like Ramanathapuram, Cuddalore, Tiruvannamalai, Tenkasi, and Dindigul.

The report also highlights that caste identity is openly displayed in 33 schools. Students were wristbands, ‘dollar chains’’, handkerchiefs, bindis, threads and even stickers to display their caste within school. Teachers also do not seem to be spared where three schools, with two from Tiruvannamalai and one from Chennai, were identified as harbouring discriminatory practices among their teaching staff.

The TNUEF has submitted its finding to the Justice Chandru committee which is further preparing a report that aims to address caste related issues in students in educational institutes. The TNUEF has further called upon the Tamil Nadu government to release guidelines that would facilitate the teaching and learning of equality among students and promote social justice within educational institutions. Additionally, the organisation advocates for the establishment of counselling centres at the grassroots level to provide support to victims of discrimination and asked for the government to improve infrastructure at schools as well. The organisation has also further asked the government to ensure that a redressal mechanism for casteism also be instituted in these schools with the formation of committees with teachers, parents and students to address the issue. It has also asked teachers to undergo sensitisation programmes to equip them to deal with such issues and harbour a discrimination-free approach.

According to The NewsMinute, Samuvel Raja, TNUEF’s state general secretary, has told the government that if they don’t take proactive action the organisation will be forced to reveal the names of the schools where these instances were recorded.

In response to queries about the results of this survey, the school education department has reportedly stated that they are looking into mitigating these issues through various measures. A report by Times of India has claimed that the Justice Chandru report will be implemented through policy measures. Earlier in 2023, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M.K. Stalin had designated retired Madras High Court Justice

K. Chandru to head a committee which would be tasked with providing guidance to the government on strategies to eradicate caste and racial disparities among students within educational institutions. This initiative comes after the brutal incident from Nanguneri, in Tirunelveli district, which took place in August 2023 where a group of students from a higher, intermediate caste attacked two school children from the Dalit community. The recent survey of schools by the TNUEF has been submitted to this Justice Chandru committee which is currently looking into the issue of casteism in educational institutes. Groups in Tamil Nadu are rallying to bring about concrete changes in policy to mitigate caste violence against Dalits in the state. Founded in 2008, TNUEF has been actively engaging in advocating for rights of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes over the past 15 years. Throughout this period, the organisation has taken up various issues pertaining to marginalised castes and raised it to the government. Thus, the TNUEF had similarly in August, 2023 observed the dull and slow response to the subsidy schemes for ST and SC people, highlighting the need for robust monitoring mechanisms. Addressing this concern, the front had introduced a proposed legislation and unveiled a draft law titled ‘Tamil Nadu Scheduled Castes Special Component Scheme and Scheduled Tribes Sub-Plan Fund (Programme, Allocation, and Implementation) Act 2023.’

Image Courtesy: justicenews.co.in


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