by Minakshee Rode

In a place like Pune University, whenever I look around, particularly, at the post graduate students studying English Literature, Caste and gender studies, one question always bothers me: what do we expect our mind-sets to be?

Students are learning just rhetoric and politically correct language specifically in terms of caste. Despite many attempts our educational system is still unable to make them sensitive enough to try to relate the personal with the theory, as students are not ready to unlearn their prejudices and assumptions about the non-Brahmin population.

First generation dalit female students, who have migrated to metropolitan universities from across various classes; have no touch of and knowledge about the casteism disguised in the elitist culture of these universities. This is not very easily visible, but practiced so vehemently in almost each and every classroom of the campus. In this post, I will highlight the negotiations and assertions which dalit girls intentionally and unintentionally have to make in these spaces. These processes sometimes results in higher level of confidence and sometimes it can come across as arrogance of dalit girls. Well, the reception to this change is not pleasant, confidence is treated as arrogance and stigmatized as another instance of negative caste stereotype.

At first if we look at the classroom structure at the Post Graduate level; we can clearly see class based groups are formed irrespective of castes. But slowly caste comes to the fore when the fees have to be paid or the scholarship dates are displayed on the notice board. This period is thoughest for dalit girls who don’t have any visible caste identity, most don’t want to disclose their caste identities. Because of the politically correct atmosphere on the campus, the so called upper caste female students cannot express the unease and plain disgust for fellow dalit students openly, so they slowly start excluding dalit girls from the group (if there are any at all) and activities. Many of us hear this common phrasing of a sentence addressed to us: “you don’t look like your caste or you are different, you don’t represent your caste as such”, from those who make attempts to speak to dalit girls.

So, some very basic questions: what must a dalit girl look like? More importantly what is the image of a dalit girl in their mind? What makes dalit girls so different from other students? After making several efforts at interacting with the upper caste, elite girl students, from all my years on the campus, here are a few responses that I have gathered:

Dalit girls may not be getting married so their parents have sent them here.

These girls don’t have a sense of clothing, have no sense of wearing the right make up, and manners are useless.

They are caught up in the wrong place; and they can never match up to our standards.

They don’t speak politely, and are very direct (rude).

They can speak neither good English nor pure Marathi.

Their eating habits/tastes are gross.

They are not feminine enough.

They don’t belong to our culture.

They are different and so on…

What do these resposnes reveal then ?

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