Despite decades-old inclusion policies, Dalits are systematically underrepresented in science institutes in India. Why?
IN THE SUMMER OF 1976, 26-year-old Raosaheb Kale entered the School of Life Sciences at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, alongside about 34 other incoming doctoral students. At the time, a committee of teachers at the school would review the students’ records and assign each to a Ph.D. supervisor to mentor them through graduate school. When the school posted the list of assignments, Kale scanned the piece of paper: Every single student, he said, had been matched with a supervisor, except for him.
A fascinating reflection on privilege, prejudice and exclusion, with implications for higher education and research programs well beyond India.
Kale knew why his name was missing: In his class, he was the only one from the Dalit community — formerly known as the untouchables. The teachers didn’t want to supervise Dalits, Kale said, because they perceived that Dalits “won’t perform well.”
Historically, Dalits were considered so low that they fell outside the caste system, a rigid social hierarchy described in ancient Hindu legal texts. Brahmins (priests) occupied the top of the pyramid, followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders), and then Shudras (artisans) at the bottom. Today, caste, which is defined by family of origin, remains an ever-present reality in Indian culture, and functions somewhat similarly to race in America.