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Faces of Discrimination in Higher Education in India: Quota Policy, Social Justice and the Dalits (Routledge Research in Educational Equality and Diversity)

Ovichegan, Samson K.

Routledge, London (2015)
ISBN: 9781138793798 (hb)

Reviewed by Jon Rainford, Staffordshire University

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Cover of Faces of Discrimination in Higher Education in India: Quota Policy, Social Justice and the Dalits (Routledge Research in Educational Equality and Diversity) Faces of discrimination in India: Quota Policy, Social Justice and the Dalits Samson K. Ovichegan London: Routledge ISBN 978-1-138-79379-8 Stlg. 95.00, hb pp. xii+ 204 Despite gaining access to an elite university, individuals from the Dalit caste or ‘untouchables’ are still treated differently and marginalised because of their background. This applies not only to students but also to the few Dalit that manage to secure employment within the academy. This book illuminates the continued inequity of opportunity offered to members of the Dalit caste in spite of national policies designed to address these issues. Focusing on one particular elite university in India, this book shows the implications continued inequity has on the experiences of the Dalit caste in this elite institution. Drawing on in-depth interviews and secondary enrolment data Ovichegan shows how legal access to education does not necessarily prevent exclusion from, or isolation within, institutions of higher education.

The first chapter sets the scene through a clear explanation of the Caste system in India and how this distinct social structure differs from other cultural systems and intersects with issues of race and class. It then moves in the second chapter to explore in detail the quota system policy that was brought in 60 years ago to address the issues of underrepresentation by the Dalit in higher education. Through a critical analysis of this policy, the impact this has in practice on Dalit and the way in which this quota policy creates tensions across and within the caste is explored.

The central three chapters draw on in-depth interviews with staff and students to thematically analyse their experiences and shows the impact this policy has had on their experiences of the university. First, through the experiences of senior academics before moving onto students, and finally, looking at the specific issues relating to the most marginalised of all, the female Dalit students. In examining the differing experiences of female students, it highlights the impact of colliding casteism and patriarchy. As one participant stated, ‘the fact of the matter is that Dalit women are mistreated and segregated from non-Dalit women’ (134). Therefore they are not only excluded based on their caste but also by their gender leading to feeling of multiple marginalization or as another participant, Neeta states, ‘The feeling is like […] we are nothing.’ (132)

The final two chapters problematise the homogenous treatment of the Dalit caste and explores the tensions this creates within the Caste between those who have more privileged backgrounds and the impact this has upon the effectiveness of quota policy. Concluding with an exploration of the implications of the study the significance of its findings. It does this effectively by showing the nuances and complex issues that separate individuals within the Dalit caste, leading to intra-caste tensions.

This book offers a unique insight into issues of inequity within the Indian Higher Education system and does so in a clear and interesting way using a multitude of voices to draw out the complex issues that surround the quota policy and its effectiveness. That being said, the Dalit caste is, as the book states, a heterogeneous group and makes up 16.2 per cent of the population (p.2) and therefore the limited number of voices within this study from one elite institution may not resonate with wider experiences in elite higher education in India. This is an issue Ovichegan clearly acknowledges in his conclusions and recommendations for wider studies. Despite potential issues of scope, what the book does skillfully is to foreground some of the ways in which national policy when enacted does not quite achieve what it aimed to achieve due to the complexity of structural issues.

Beyond the scope of the particular case of an elite university in India, its findings have much wider implications in the Sociology of Education when trying to understand why policies that seek to address issues of structural and cultural inequity may fall short of the mark. This book does this by showing how social justice is not just about access but about cultural change, something that is of concern to those trying to widen access to and success within higher education on a global basis.