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… even though the marginalised groups can access education as it is constitutionally mandated, exclusion manifests in dubious ways. The principle of merit is largely undefined. However, the social and economic worth of individuals and institutions is valued on the basis of this amorphous principle. Any standard definition of merit will again feed the myth of the “family farm” comprising parental background, alma mater, economic occupations, physicality and geographical location. Needless to say, these privileges are available only to a chosen few who are then considered as “meritorious”, “worthy” and the “best”.

In an ongoing study sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on ‘Discrimination and Exclusion in Institutions of Higher Learning in India’, SC/ST students of four universities — Delhi, Mumbai, Madras and Hyderabad — were mapped. A total of 72 respondents were interviewed on various parameters. More than 70 percent of them felt stigmatised by their caste identity within the classrooms, peer group and the academic environment. Unsurprisingly, Rohith wrote in his suicide note, “My birth is my fatal accident.”

Universities as Modern Agraharas*