Tag Archive for India

South Asia’s Caste System Discussed by Scholars, Students

In South Asia, particularly in India, people are born into a caste system that determines their social status, career, and access to resources and opportunities. Under Brahmins (priests, intellectuals), Kshatriyas (military, warriors), Vaishyas (merchants, farmers), and Shudras (laborers, servants) are Dalits, also known as the “untouchables.” Those in the Dalit caste group struggle with oppression and discrimination and are considered “dirty” and spiritually polluting.

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan’s South Asian students’ association Shakti presented a conversation titled “Caste Conundrum and Identity Politics.” Panelists included Hari Krishnan, professor of dance; Indira Karamcheti, associate professor of American studies; Manjula Pradeep, a human rights lawyer and former director of the Navsarjan Trust; and Meena Varma, director of the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Shakti members Sushraya Jay and Darshana Banka moderated the discussion, which explored gender, privilege and their corresponding impacts on a day to day basis.

Shakti members Sushraya Jay ’21, top left, and Darshana Banka ’22, top right, moderated the discussion, which explored the caste system, gender, and privilege, and their corresponding impacts on a day-to-day basis.

"The caste system is so ingrained into society so people have adjusted life ... It doesn't bother everyone in India. There's millions of people who support this system because they have benefits associated with a caste," Pradeep said. 

“The caste system is so ingrained into society, so people have adjusted life. . . . It doesn’t bother everyone in India. People don’t want to talk about it. There are millions of people who support this system because they have benefits associated with a caste,” Pradeep said. “But the lower you are in the caste, and you’re born in the (Dalit) community, you have to do degrading work. If you’re born an untouchable, you live and die an untouchable.”

"We all need to be hyper-aware of the circulation of caste discrimination, even in daily life. If you see something, say something. Being a silent observer; it's not enough anymore," Krishnan said. Everyone needs to be an activist, everyone needs to be in solidarity ... and be aware of the social political problems that continue to promote and propagate violence."

“We all need to be hyperaware of the circulation of caste discrimination, even in daily life. If you see something, say something. Being a silent observer; it’s not enough anymore,” Krishnan said. “Everyone needs to be an activist, everyone needs to be in solidarity . . . and be aware of the social-political problems that continue to promote and propagate violence.”

caste

Karamcheti discussed the Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965, which opened up worldwide immigration to the United States. Since the 1917 Immigration Act, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zones Act, immigration from various non-white countries had been restricted to around 100 persons per year. The Hart-Celler Act raised that cap to 20,000 per year, prioritizing highly skilled, highly educated individuals and family reunification. Consequently, those migrants joined the U.S. as members of the upper and middle classes. “They had professions in the public sphere, often highly prestigious, and incorporated into the U.S. into a flattening out of caste. In a sense, that first wave of immigration comes in, not caste-less, but as upper-caste. As those numbers increased into the 2000s, what you get is the community of South Asians, putting caste-ism into practice.”
As long as the South Asian community was small in number, the dominant culture saw them as all belonging to the model minority. “In this sense, ignorance about their internal differences was in a sense protection; people could pass in terms of their caste identity. South Asians, as their numbers increased, put caste-ism into practice against each other. As the dominant culture gained knowledge about South Asians, knowledge in this case led to more caste discrimination,” she said.

"If you have to ask what caste privilege is, you're probably privileged," Varma said. We need to bring caste into the open, bring discrimination out into the open. We need to be caste aware and that's why solidarity networks are so important."

“If you have to ask what caste privilege is, you’re probably privileged,” Varma said. “We need to bring caste into the open, bring discrimination out into the open. We need to be caste aware and that’s why solidarity networks are so important. One thing we can do, as when we talk about COVID, is to stop using the word ‘social distancing.’ Even though this is now global terminology, this is what has happened to Dalits for 3,000 years. We are now being social, and being distant for reasons of health, but it is because we need safe distancing, not social distancing.” Varma also described the work of Dalits. “Dalits are manual scavengers; they are cleaning human [feces] with their hands,” Varma said. “Cleaning of dry latrines is mostly done by women, and sanitation workers, mostly men, die every day because they are lowered into a manhole without protection. Here is a country that can send satellites into space, but can’t automate its sanitation.”

High School Counselors from India, Middle East Visit Wesleyan

Several high school counselors visited Wesleyan on June 5 through the 2019 Global Educator Program. The visit was coordinated by Chandra Joos deKoven, director of admission (pictured third from right).

On June 5, 17 high school counselors from India and the Middle East visited campus to learn about Wesleyan’s distinctive liberal arts education.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of students from India have chosen to pursue higher education in the United States. Wesleyan has seen applications from India increase by 70 percent over the past 5 years.

“We’re hoping to expand our presence and raise our visibility in India,” said Chandra Joos deKoven, director of admission. “During our four-hour program, we wanted to give the counselors a visceral sense of what Wesleyan has to offer, what makes us distinctive amongst our peers, and how our greater campus community may be a good fit and match for their students.”

Consul General of India Donates “India Corner” Collection to Wesleyan

India

Pictured from left, Joyce Jacobsen, Ishita Mukerji, Andrew White, Consul Sandeep Chakravorty, Michael S. Roth, Swapnil Rai, Balu Balasubrahmaniyan, Steve Angle, and Consul Vipulkumar Mesariya gather at the new “India Corner” in the Olin Library’s Smith Reading Room.

Wesleyan’s Olin Library is now home to a collection of 33 titles donated by the Consulate General of India, New York.

On May 1, Consul Sandeep Chakravorty visited campus and participated in a formal dedication of the “India Corner.”

Housed in the Smith Reading Room, these volumes, representing India’s rich history and culture, and covering the country’s linguistic and geographical diversity, join the library’s other robust holdings in Indian history, culture, and politics as well as Wesleyan’s rich heritage in Indian music, dance, and theater.

Among the donations are Introduction to the Constitution of India by Durga Das Basu; Sufi Lyrics by Bulleh Shah, India: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya, Contemporary Dogri Short Stories by Ved Rahi, and Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. All are cataloged and available for checking out at Olin.

Wesleyan is the fifth U.S. university to be gifted such a book collection; the University of Buffalo, the University of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Rutgers each have their own “India Corner” at their libraries.

Several Wesleyan faculty and staff attended the "India Corner" dedication ceremony on May 1.

Several Wesleyan faculty and staff attended the “India Corner” dedication ceremony on May 1.

“We’re looking at colleges and universities like [Wesleyan] that are blossoming in their connection to India,” Consul Chakravorty said. “The collection is interesting and represented the diversity of India, from the north, south, east, and west, and some are in Hindi, and other languages.”

3 Students Awarded Summer Research Grants in India

Three Wesleyan students will conduct laboratory research in India this summer as recipients of the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program (UISFL) grant.

Claire Glickman ’21, Guadalupe (Lupita) Sanchez ’20, and Jaye Jeong ’20, will work at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai. Their grants are being administered by the College of Integrative Sciences, with support from the Fries Center for Global Studies.

Wesleyan received the two-year $165,699 grant to support the teaching of Hindi and Urdu, the research of STEM faculty and students in India, and the increase of cultural programming related to South Asia. The grant funds 50% of the total expenditures to which Wesleyan is committed over the two-year life of the grant, with the remaining 50% ($165,699) coming from nongovernmental sources.