In a webinar streamed on Neelam Social, a platform initiated and lead by director Pa Renjith, speakers from different walks of life discussed "Discrimination in Higher Education: Addressing the questions of representation, institutional casteism and absence of protective mechanisms" on Sunday. Rajya Sabha MP and former solicitor general Adv P Wilson, Dr PM Yazhini, PhD student Lalitha M, and advocate Disha Wadekar spoke mediated by Tejaswini Tabhane, a student of economics at IIT Delhi.
Senior Advocate P Wilson, tracing the journey of implementing All India Quota in 1984 and subsequently for reservations in the quota, said, "All the legal hurdles were settled in 2016 but till today from '16-'20 the central government is denying reservations for OBCs." Wilson raised the issue of OBC representation in NEET in the parliament in 2019.
"Every year, UGC sends in letters demanding implementation of the equity regulations and an action report. In '15-'16, out for 880 colleges, only 155 even thought of replying to the UGC. In '17-'18 only 40% of colleges replied. Over 50% did not even bother to respond," says Adv Disha Wadekar. UGC Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions Regulations 2012 demands that institutions of higher education take measures to safeguard the interests of the students and eliminate any discrimination of any student based on caste or creed, amongst others.
A Supreme Court lawyer, Disha is handling the case of the institutional murder of Dr Payal Tadvi. She also moved the apex court seeking guidelines to set up a mechanism to address campus discrimination which will focus on "implementation and improvement of equity regulations". "Out of those who did not respond to UGC, a majority are private institutions," she added.
"Why are we talking about reservation when we are talking about discrimination? Representation is very much important for marginalized people. The representation is bound with discrimination. It is not the case of individual students but the entire education structure is itself based on caste discrimination," said Lalitha M who is pursuing her PhD in Urban studied from IIT Madras.
Disproving the merit argument wielded to negate caste-based reservations, Lalitha added, "The concept of merit itself is constructed to exclude the marginalized communities because merit is a mythological construction which is not constant and prone to change based on the power structure in different departments who decide the benchmark for this merit."
Dr PM Yazhini, based in Chennai, sharing insights into the casteism that operates in the medical field, said, "Just like casual sexism, there is casual casteism in medical colleges. The medical community is one in which casteism is so rampant because of the holy look the medical fraternity has."