Invisible Lines

Girls' Hostel

Girls’ Hostel

The basic structure of the Constitution envisages a cohesive, unified, casteless society. By breathing new life into casteism … fractures the nation and disregards the basic structure of the Constitution …. revitalise casteism, cleave the nation … open up new vistas for internecine conflicts and fissiparous forces ….

-Nani Palkhivala

In the first place because they [castes] bring about separation in social life. They are antinational also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste …. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation.

     -B R Amedkar

 

The National Law University Delhi is a residential university in Dwarka. It offers both undergraduate and post graduate education. Its male and female students reside in separate accommodations. So far so good- common and unremarkable. However, what is fantastic and even worse is the university’s policy of allocating rooms in these accommodations following the ranks attained by each student in the General and Reserved category lists of the entrants through AILET. Needless to explain, this has meant and will continue to mean that members of different social groups will be barricaded from each other and reside with members of their own social groups because of the (ill) considered decision by the administration of this university. Whatever the rationale behind this ludicrous and ‘backward’ policy in this age, one only wants to believe like most other regressive and demeaning actions of the bureaucracy they exist not so much because they have been thought through but mindlessly performed repetitively in the name of tradition.

For our undergraduate course, out of 80 seats offered each year, 16 seats (excluding quotas on other grounds) are reserved for various scheduled castes and tribes to, one would hope, increase diversity in the Bar, academy and the judiciary, aimed at erasing existing fissures between Indians with different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, and giving all Indians the opportunity to fully realize their capabilities and contribute to their society. Sadly, this policy meant to break meaningless and unjust social barriers that obstruct many Indians has transformed itself to an instrument of institutionalizing, unlawfully, the fact of these artificial social distinctions in our everyday lives- in our residences- and influence who we interact with, what activities we engage in and with whom and so on.

The social distinctions that existed in our lives before we entered university and which justified this policy find a new lease of life in the University, where unfortunately, they are only reinforced. While distinctions of caste and so on have, on the basis of the Constitution and various and by now voluminous judicial precedents, been accepted to authorize the State to consider “… caste in relation to Hindus … [to] be a relevant factor … in determining the social backwardness of groups or classes of citizens.” And that, “unless the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people are promoted quickly and. liberally, the ideal of establishing social and economic equality will not be attained …. No one can dispute the proposition that political freedom and even fundamental rights can have very little meaning or significance for the Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes unless the backwardness and inequality from which they suffer are immediately redressed.”

But most importantly, the Court reminds that while classification and discrimination is permitted under our Constitution, such action itself must be premised on ‘upliftment’ and erasure of existing social discrimination and not on creating new ones or reinforcing old ones. Article 14 to the Constitution guarantees to one and all equality and commands that:

The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

The present policy is clearly not aimed at anything remotely beneficial to any identifiable group (save maybe ardent casteists) nor is its discrimination rationally connected with any objective. On the contrary, the classification of students into various castes etc. for the purpose of allotting them their place of residence is discrimination only on the basis of caste and does not promote any purpose outlined in the exceptions to Art. 15(1). Its purpose cannot be and is not promoting collegiality that is an inherent part of every institution but rather this policy has taken upon itself the task of undoing any benefits that might accrue due to discrimination in order to promote diversity in this university. If different social groups outside the university are cleaved and unequal vis-à-vis each other, it is rather shameful that recipients of a ‘higher’ education and most importantly, students of the Indian Constitution should be willing participants in replaying that sorry spectacle within the university.

While we do know the administration has been working overtime to make our life in the hostels, particularly in last few months over pleasant, we hope that if tradition permits they will have a second look at this policy and if they so desire, consult only among themselves in bringing a new policy.

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10 thoughts on “Invisible Lines

  1. “…this has meant and will continue to mean that members of different social groups will be barricaded from each other and reside with members of their own social groups because of the (ill) considered decision by the administration of this university.”

    The author makes a valid, but extremely limited point that is distant from the unfortunate reality that we live in. The University’s method of allocation is convenient, callous or thoughtless at worse. I hardly think the same can be characterized as being ‘ill-considered’. I’d have liked it more if the author continued the discussion to talk about how these initial segregations are given effect to not by the administration but by students residing in the hostels themselves.

    For instance, the University does not prohibit students from exchanging rooms amongst themselves. I’ve known people who did just that – chose not to live with academically gifted but instead the ones they liked notwithstanding the caste or merit barrier. I’ve had 6 or 7 room mates in my first three semesters before settling on one. However, such people are in minority. We willingly accept the allocation decided by the Administration as a permanent rule without mostly even attempting to travel beyond the said ‘mandate’.

    The point I’m trying to make gets further reinforced if we look at social groups formed outside the hostel where no ‘allocation’ exists. In the canteen, in the classroom or even while taking a walk in the evening. The tendency to stick around those who share the same caste, region, and in my opinion the most commonly observed classification – economic background is quite obvious. And unfortunately, all of this comes from the students.

    So this article does make a pertinent observation and correctly attempts to impose upon the Administration a sense of moral or legal duty/obligation to ensure that students of different castes are provided an opportunity interact with each other in the hostel. However, the source of the discussed problem is not the lack of thought put in by the Administration, but students themselves (and that includes me). Knowingly or unknowingly, we believe in one form of segregation or the other – none of which is healthy. Some prefer caste while other economic status to find a sense of belongingness. I hope the author’s not trying to shift the blame from the students to the Administration by means of this article. Unless the article is only meant to encourage a theoretical discussion, the narrow scope of the content is surprising and a little disappointing since the previous articles have been really good.

    Or I hope that my comment is premature and may be there is another one in the pipeline that further discusses the origins of the segregations that exist amongst us.

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  2. We should also take a look at the composition of our droputs. Many of the students who cannot meet the “challenges” of Law School and drop out, come from the oppressed classes, and for no apparent reason fail to merge into the mainstream and drop out.
    Any affirmative action is incomplete and flawed in design if it does not offer continued support and social inclusion.. And things that are seemingly trivial as who you room with can have exponential effect.

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    • An extremely generic statement that in my experience, lacks a justifiable basis. But at least the use of the word ‘class’ is better than caste. I’ve had three or four friends who’ve dropped out – one due to alienation motivated by caste and lack of fluency in English, second due to grades and disinterest in legal studies and third due to sheer frustration motivated by personal reasons and a lack of interest in law. Some of them were from the reserved category. In my opinion, the common thread is a feeling of lack of belongingness that arises from segregation based on anything. Simple things like not being able to speak English fluently, stark difference in weekly expenditure etc. are the common concerns amongst those dropping out. Yes, many of them belong to reserved category. However, I do not think them belonging to an ‘oppressed class’ has much to do with it. It’s the barriers that we create ourselves that lead to people dropping out. Any affirmative action to remedy this must not be expected from the administration unless one is of the opinion that a reallocation of rooms on a random basis or ensuring every room has representatives from different castes will reduce the number of students dropping out. Living in a room makes you look at the person’s face for a good amount of time; however we all make a decision for ourselves in our heads.

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  3. You make a very good point, Pathak, but I think the author’s point in focusing on the policy of room allocation by the Administration is that the very first social interaction in college is the rooms we are given and that is determined by the Administration. Sure, switching rooms is an option, but we all know that to be the exception and not the norm. While the actions of the students reinforce the segregation, the initial allotment facilitates it from the start, which is something the Administration should and could easily prevent.
    But yes, there can be no argument about the role of the student community in reinforcing the caste segregation, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

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    • I agree somewhat with the central point here as to the University’s obligation. However, two points:

      1. To say that the university should not allocate the rooms on the basis of merit is one thing. To say that such allocation leads to caste segregation, violating our FRs in the process is a completely different thing. I understood the author taking the latter stance. One can make a normative argument like that which I would appreciate more. However, to my understanding, the author is trying to make a legal one – impose a sense of legal obligation upon the university to not allocate rooms on the basis of the rank list because it violates FRs. Difficult argument to sustain on a legal pedestal in my opinion.

      2. One cannot talk about the existence of caste segregation in the hostels/campus and blame the administration for it without realizing or acknowledging how the same has come into existence. I agree that it is best to judge what is written as opposed to what ought to have been written – but sometimes a narrow or limited scope of a piece is the criticism itself. Bifurcating the cause of an evil reflects a sense of incompleteness – and that has the risk of taking away from an otherwise wonderful idea.

      Just my opinion, btw :)

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  4. They don’t have an alternate method of allocation before seeing anyone’s face, and if anything they don’t prohibit change from their allocation system. You would know that it is actually very flexible. It is a different matter that students – much like John here – don’t want to change roommates and break these barricades. Quite a bad piece, honestly.

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  5. The university does not follow this policy anymore. No such segregation was imposed on the students currently studying in the first or second year.

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  6. This isn’t a case of “considered segregation”. More like no consideration and use of the rank list for room allocation. Should be brought to the notice of the administration before the same is condemned (last para seems a little harsh) on the guillotine of basic structure.

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