The Experiences of Dalit Students and Faculty in one Elite University in India
: An Exploratory Study

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Through an exploratory study undertaken in one ’elite’ University in India, this thesis attempts to illuminate the experiences of a small set of students and faculty who are members of the Dalit caste - the so-called ’untouchables’, who are relatively ’successful’ in that they attend or are academics at this prestigious University. The first part of the thesis provides a background to the study; the role of caste and its enduring influence on social relations in all aspects of life; family, education, occupation, marriage, are explored and explained. The first part of the thesis also reviews one major policy designed to challenge some of the debilitating effects of caste. The Quota System policy was designed in the 1950s as an early form of affirmative action to ensure that higher education institutions retained fifteen percent of their places for Dalit students; the same proportion of faculty was also expected to come from this background. The study then moves to a critical account of the current experiences of Dalit students and faculty in one setting; the University of Shah Jahan (pseudonym). Drawing on a set of in-depth semi-structured interviews, the empirical study that is at the centre of this thesis explores the perceptions of staff and students in relation to the Quota policy and their experiences of living, working and studying in this elite setting. The data chapters are organised in such a way as to first explore the faculty views. The experiences of students are then examined; there is a focus on the way in which their caste is still an everyday part of how they are sometimes ’othered’. There is also a focus on the experiences of Dalit female students; an under researched cohort. Finally, the thesis turns to another under-researched matter.
The Dalit are not a homogenous social group; indeed, as a consequence of the small gains made by affirmative legislation over time, such as the Quota policy, there is a new fraction of middle class Dalit that is emerging, the so-called ’creamy layer’. The final data chapter explores the complexity involved for this relatively privileged group of Dalit in using the Quota policy to ensure access into an elite university while sometimes ’passing’ as not being a Dalit in order to ensure positive social relations at the University. Finally, the study considers the impact and influence of the Quota policy in terms of social justice issues and offers suggestions for further research in the area.
Date of AwardApr 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMeg Maguire (Supervisor) & Sharon Gewirtz (Supervisor)

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