SocietyCampus How My School Constantly Discouraged Me For My Dalit Identity

How My School Constantly Discouraged Me For My Dalit Identity

The school's constant discouragement proved that if an upper caste student is involved in multiple activities, she is an ‘all-rounder’ or ‘multi-talented’, but when I do the same, I am 'distracted'. Its disapproval of my Dalit identity was more than evident.

I remember being a complete introvert as a child which worried my parents. So they continuously encouraged me to participate in every single activity in school, and I did. I was quite good at what I did (music, painting, academics, and many more) I couldn’t make any significant progress in oratory skills, but I still participated and tried to improve. Because of many of my activities and achievements, I was envied by many of my schoolmates (apparently, even by some of the teachers).

As someone born in a city like Mumbai, and as a girl born to parents who are exceptionally great in many ways, I never understood the extra vigilant stance of my parents towards the world. No, I was never discouraged for anything by my parents for being a girl; for that matter, I didn’t even realise for a long time what sort of resistance was being faced by other girls from their families. But many times, I used to feel that my parent’s insistence on making me ‘bold’, ‘courageous’, and ‘extraordinary in everything’ was a little too much. It was, as they’d explained, because I was a Dalit. My father always quoted from Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s speech, “You have no other option but to work hard. Because when you’d work worth gold, they (so-called ‘upper’ castes) will consider it worth tin.”It inspired me and confused me at the same time.

Looking at the world as a child, I was oblivious to the depth of it and couldn’t relate the quote to my real life. But my parents took me and my sister to visit Shivaji Park (Dadar, Mumbai) to pay our tribute on the death anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar like other lakhs of people coming from various regions, classes, and statuses from all over the country.

if an upper caste student is involved in multiple activities, she is an ‘all-rounder’ or ‘multi-talented’, but when I do the same, I am ‘distracted’.

They were successful in exposing us to the harsh realities of discrimination and poverty running in our society. This was why I don’t belong to the group of Dalit youth who enjoyed the bliss of ignorance and claim that the times have changed, that we face no discrimination in society. Most of the youth from the well educated/well-earning section of Dalit community actually believe that celebrating all sorts of festivals together with other communities, getting enrolled in good schools and being friends with Brahmins collectively means that we are not excluded and we are all equal. I accept the fact that I have lived a comfortable life and went to a good school and the fact that this privilege is not accessible to many from my community. Still, I thought I never faced discrimination until I realised how my perception was wrong.

Almost 5 years after passing out of school, while searching for some old documents I found a certificate from the time I was in 2nd grade. It said that my painting was selected for a children’s exhibition in Delhi art gallery. I thought hard and tried to remember why this memory was not significantly implanted in my brain. I tried to search for any memory of a prize distribution ceremony. I couldn’t remember anything, because no such event had happened.

On one usual school day, a peon had brought it along with other usual stuff like chalk, duster and attendance register. He handed it to the class teacher, who saw my name on it and passed it towards me. That’s it. I must have kept it in my bag, because I wouldn’t have understood what it was; I was in Marathi medium till 4th grade.

It was quite an odd treatment from a reputed school that announced every single achievement of students (no matter what it was, even some small local level competition) on speakers and made the entire school clap for the students. I wonder why I never asked even myself why the school didn’t announce it on speakers. No matter how much my parents might have praised me for that after reaching home that day, it was still not the same, was it?

I wonder why I never even asked myself why the school never announced my achievements on speakers as is generally done for students.

Then I started remembering my entire school life from this newfound perspective. I found a lot of similar incidents, right from kindergarten. For example, the third prize that I got in some competition in my junior KG had not been given to me on stage (where annual prize distribution ceremony was taking place) with the excuse ‘only first and second prizes are given on the stage’, which was invalid because some got their third prizes too, on stage. Or, when the school appointed a special mentor to another student for Homi Bhabha Young Scientist Award, the same school didn’t even bother to check my result for the second level of that exam.

Also read: Student Politics And Ambedkar: Voicing Dalit Bahujan Agency In University Spaces

I discovered that I could sing well in my third grade. One of my teachers (who was also a Dalit) brought it to the notice of school’s music teacher and my parents – I am eternally grateful to him for convincing my parents to enrol me in a music class. I started learning music and looked forward to joining my seniors for the school’s annual musical program for the public from our students above fifth grade. The twist here is, when I got in 5th grade, all those senior singers of the school (who were all from upper castes, mostly Brahmins) passed out of the school and the school never conducted that program, saying that there weren’t enough singers (or those who were, largely belonged to SC/ST/OBC and didn’t need a platform to showcase their talent).

One more ‘comical’ incident was that I was the student who won medals in various inter-school drawing competitions, and I was also the student who represented the school by singing on Doordarshan (solo) and in AIR (group). But after listening to my mother talking about my achievements on the same Doordarshan program, many of my teachers looked surprised and cynically prodded her by saying, “Oh! We never knew that Mudita could paint as well!” Or, those who knew said, “We thought she was only focused on academics”, some even went as far as berating me for being distracted in extra-curricular activities despite knowing that I was always one of the top 5 rankers. So if an upper caste student is involved in multiple activities, she is an ‘all-rounder’ or ‘multi-talented’, but when I do the same, I am ‘distracted’.

Also read: Dear Teachers, I Refuse To Be Your Standard ‘Good Girl’ | #ChalkfullBullying

I recently finished a course on education policy-making arranged by the Center for Civil Society, Delhi. It had a separate emphasis on ‘access to school’. In one of the lectures, Vimala Ramchandran said the term ‘access’ to school needs to be redefined. No doubt students are getting physical access to schools, but that’s not enough. Not all kinds of discrimination are ‘loud’. A larger part of it is extremely subtle. The subtlety increases as you go higher the ladder, making Dalit students feel more and more insecure.

Featured Image Source: Planet Radio

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