IIM campuses make conscious attempt to ensure gender diversity. Why not for caste diversity?

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Well-known academic, social and political activist Sandeep Pandey was recently in Ahmedabad as a visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM-A), taking a course in Transformational Social Movements, which he has been doing every year. In a recent commentary, Pandey, along with  Anurag Bhaskar, another academic, presently teaching a seminar course on Law, Politics and Social Transformation” at the National Law University, Delhi, has taken strong objection to the manner in which the IIM-A has been “ignoring the caste reality of India.”

The commentary, published in the e-journal “Indian Cultural Forum”, argues that the caste reality is being ignored despite the fact that that the students are taught to make a “critical enquiry of the dominant model of economic development pursed by governments”, and are told about about “various inequities in society, and more importantly, the reasons thereof.”

Pandey and Bhaskar say, students are, in fact, made “face-to-face with the realities of caste, class, gender, nationality, etc., and get insights into our divided society and try to understand the forces which further seeks to sharpen the divisions and movements which attempt to redress the discriminations based on these divisions.”

We in counterview.org carried some of the articles by IIM-A students following their interaction with Pandey as part of the course requirement on Transformational Social Movements.

Text of the commentary by Pandey and Bhaskar:

The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) is considered to be one of the most reputed academic institutes of the country. IIMs are the most sought after institutions by students trying to get admission into a two year management programme. Among the several IIMs, IIM Ahmedabad has developed itself into a very fine institution with evolved and perfected institutional mechanisms which are a model for other management institutions.

IIM Ahmedabad believes in exposing its students to different paradigms of thinking and then leaving it to them to analyse and reach a mature understanding. Among other things, IIM Ahmedabad offers a diversity of courses, some of which conduct a critical enquiry of the dominant model of economic development pursed by governments.

One such course which informs the students about societal processes is “Transformational Social Movements” which challenges their hitherto understanding of society, economy and government. They learn about various inequities in society and more importantly, the reasons thereof. They are face-to-face with the realities of caste, class, gender, nationality, etc., and get insights into our divided society and try to understand the forces which further seeks to sharpen the divisions and movements which attempt to redress the discriminations based on these divisions.

Students who attend this course mostly come from well-off backgrounds. Many students, learn about the hierarchical caste system and the practices which go on in its name even now, for the first time in their lives. For instance, in June 2019, when a local Whistleblower theatre group performed the play “Urfe Alo”  as part of the social movements course, the students of IIM Ahmedabad realised that even if someone is educated but belongs to the community of manual scavengers he/she may have no other option but to continue in the same vocation because of the rigid caste structures and societal-family pressures.

As part of the assignment, students were required to write articles, several of which were carried by online portals (including counterview.org). A student wrote an article titled “The Social status of dalit men has improved marginally with time, but the condition of women is standstill”, in which she remarked that the course had helped her in understanding social challenges faced by our country in the garb of economic prosperity. Another student poignantly asked in his article, “Are bandages enough to heal the stab wounds that are caused by caste discrimination?”

The students were equally moved with a lecture by Dakxin Bajrange, who, through his Budhan theatre, has been highlighting the plight of the Chhara community, a de-notifed tribe which is still treated as a criminal community by the police administration. This lecture motivated three students to write on this community after visiting their habitation in Chharanagar, Ahmedabad. These exercises made the students sensitive to the most marginalised communities of our society and understand how caste system is responsible for their travails.

Critiquing how higher education institutions work, another student wrote that it is scary to think that the decision makers of tomorrow are currently sitting in elite campuses with all the skills in the world but “don’t see caste discrimination around them”. She doesn’t expect them to take decisions which will change the situation of the downtrodden communities like the manual scavengers or the Chharas.

In a telling revelation, which will definitely be a surprise for the IIM Ahmedabad administration, she has shared how some students inadvertently advertise their imagined personality traits associated with their particular castes, keeping the caste system alive and kicking on campus, against the wishes of those who want to forget their caste identities.

This calls for a strong intervention to maintain diversity in the campuses, which can contribute towards a holistic development of students with an inbuilt sense of equity. Moreover, if IIM Ahmedabad is open to running courses which sensitise its students, then why is it averse to maintaining diversity on its campus?

Diversity has been one of the prime objectives of the constitutionally mandated reservation to the historically marginalised social groups like the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. IIM Ahmedabad does not offer this reservation in admissions to its PhD. programmes since 1971. The lame excuse is that the number of seats for admission to this programme is not fixed. But the intention is more important. Is there even an attempt to implement affirmative action or a policy of inclusion?

The other IIMs now offer this reservation since the IIM Act was promulgated in 2017 under which every IIM shall be a Central Educational Institution for the purposes of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions) Act, 2006. As a result of the earlier denial of this reservation, the social composition of faculty members at thirteen IIMs is very skewed. From data obtained under the Right to Information Act by Deepak Malghan and Siddharth Joshi associated with IIM, Bengaluru, out of the 642 faculty members only 4 belong to SC, 1 to ST and 17 to OBC. IIM Ahmedabad doesn’t reveal caste wise data of its faculty members. A third of all the faculty members at various IIMs have obtained their Ph.Ds from the IIM system.

The admission policy of IIM Ahmedabad’s PhD programme is anachronistic. It does not represent diversity. Educationists now believe that only the diversity of students will strengthen the social integration process in a society. An article by Shamnad Basheer and others underlines the relevance of diversity in higher education institutions. It states that a diverse workforce enables a business enterprise to develop unique and creative approaches to problem solving.

IIMs produce leaders and managers of tomorrow, and therefore, a socially diverse group of managers will be able to work better with business partners, employees, and clientele. Lastly, individuals educated in a diverse setting will more likely contribute to a positive work environment by decreasing incidents of discrimination and stereotyping.

When there is a conscious attempt to ensure gender diversity on IIM campuses, why can a similar effort not be made for caste diversity? The beginning can only be recognising the problem. It is high time that IIM Ahmedabad corrects its procedure of admission to the PhD programme.

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