Published: 31st March 2018
Students 'caste' Kerala in doubt: This is more about hegemony than technology
Does the 'casteless Kerala' rumour tell us more about the weakness of the system or the secularism of the society?
When was the last time you wondered why every form you fill asks so many personal details? How about power structures that determine that unless you reveal your gender, religon, caste, etc you will be denied education or a job? In the last few days, following the news of 1.24 lakh students who have opted not to mention their religion (now revealed to be a technical error), the consciousness of Kerala has woken up to these questions far beyond the battle on distant shores between Mark Zuckerberg, Cambridge Analytica, and the US House Committee.
More recently, our UIDAI chairman gave his Aadhaar data to the courts to prove that nothing useful can be found from it. Much to his chagrin and the delight of his retractors, it turned out to be the opposite. In the education sector in Kerala, the conflict came home and touched a raw nerve. The fact that it was a technical glitch or a matter of convenience that created the furore can only testify further to the power of a well-oiled machinery of hidden persuaders that had spread its roots through everyday society. Next time you fill in a form, ask yourself: Do they really need this information?
To better understand the implications, we must note that social inequalities have been part of society since its inception. Indeed one can say it is an inevitable part of social structure. This is not to say that we should not strive for a vision where all are treated equally. Our hope for the future lies in a society that moves towards more equality.
Education and technology may hold a promise of a brave new world where the ‘lions will lie with the lambs and swords shall be beaten into plowshares’, however, they are also a product of a society with all its inequality - often enhancing and reinforcing the difference between the haves and the have-nots. It is when glitches occur that the hidden mechanism is suddenly revealed and are in plain sight.
Education has failed to live up to its promise of emancipation championed by Nehru and others. After 60+ years of independence and reservation, the diversity in society is not represented in the rolls of today’s educational institution. Many of Kerala’s schools and colleges have more women enrolled than men as seen in many years of MHRD AISHE reports. Does this represent empowerment? Or are women, despite their education largely still in nurturing roles? How relevant is modern education and its promise for employment, at a time when traditional job descriptions are no longer relevant?
This is the real question. Not whether people are filling in this caste or religion.
(Dr Jessy Mathai Fenn is a Faculty Member at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kerala)