This lesson plan was introduced to 28 teachers from ICSE and CBSE schools based in Kolkata at a History for Peace workshop on June 28, 2023.
Fundamental Rights spanning between Articles 10 and 35 of the Constitution of India guarantee basic human rights to all citizens of the country. These rights—to equality, freedom, education, constitutional remedies, of religion and against exploitation—are enshrined in the legal document as inviolable. Of these, Article 15 categorically prohibits any discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. What generally evades our understanding and knowledge of the provisions of this article is the practical regard or disregard of these safeguards rampant in our society.
Human Rights Watch, an organization that defends human rights globally, notes that, “Caste divisions in India dominate in housing, marriage, employment, and general social interaction-divisions that are reinforced through the practice and threat of social ostracism, economic boycotts, and physical violence” ('Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination Against India's "Untouchables"' in HRW, Feb 07, 2007). Furthermore, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records that atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes have increased by 1.2% in 2021 (50,900 recorded cases) over 2020 (50, 291 recorded cases), in which most attacks are triggered by minor, trivial matters such as drawing water from a public well, eating food with others in public, entering a temple, a groom riding a horse, sporting a moustache and so on. 84% of crimes against Dalits were accounted from nine states alone, with Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh featuring at the top of the list. Within the academic sphere too, complainants of caste-based discrimination are often termed as 'mentally weak', 'obsessed with their caste identities', 'paranoid' and 'over-sensitive', as reported by the study titled, 'The Steady Drumbeat of Institutional Casteism' (2021) conducted by the Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW), Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES), Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Times of India, October 02, 2020.
Based on these premises, teachers can initiate a lesson on caste while teaching Article 15 of the Constitution in their history/civics class.
Introduce the lesson with the definition of caste—an identity based on descent and heredity that stratifies and segregates the society into rigid, immobile categories/communities of people. With the help of videos and testimonies, acquaint students with the lived experience of Dalits. Substantiate the case by using data from reports of the Pew Research Center and International Dalit Solidarity Network.
Teachers engage with the workshop presentation on Caste in/and the Constitution at The Seagull Foundation for the Arts on June 28, 2023. The workshop aimed at addressing biases and negotiating caste identities in everyday life.
Then, briefly touch upon the contested history of caste: The Rig Veda mentions the varna system by which people were denoted by their professions. Within this system, mobility was possible. Identity by birth was called jati or clan. Aryans brought with them professional divisions that were later adopted by the non-Aryans as well. This system of social stratification received validation from the Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu where he delineates irrevocable duties and social positions of respective castes.
Conduct discussions in an open forum on questions such as: Does caste matter? Have you experienced caste-based discrimination? Do you think awareness around caste is important? Does this hierarchical system of identity based on birth and no other merit or skill seem logical? The common objection against caste-based reservations in the education sector is that it compromises with merit—discuss your views on it.
Divide your class into four groups. Assign each group the following modules/worksheets:
Caste and Constitution
Caste and Literature
Caste and Social Life
Caste and Academics
Task for Group One: Find incidents of caste violence from recent history. Look up provisions in the Constitution such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and relate to whether recent cases of caste violence and crimes received redressal pertaining to the law.
Task for Group Two: Examine poetry/prose from Dalit writers. You can refer to writers such as Namdeo Dhasal, Manoranjan Byapari, Meena Kandasamy, Baby Kamble among others. Reflect on the differences between the language and articulation of Dalit writers from those of other savarna writers you study in your syllabus.
Task for Group Three: Pay attention to the language you use daily. Check for casteist slurs such as ‘chandaal’, ‘kameeni’, ‘anpad-gawaar’, ‘dhobi’, ‘chamaar’. Now look up the meanings of these and such other words, trace their history and then review your statements again.
Task for Group Four: Find out news reports of Dalit students committing suicide in higher educational institutions. What are the instigations to these suicides? Is the institution responsible to any extent for perpetuating caste prejudice? How can peers stand in solidarity with victims of caste violence?
At the workshop on June 28, 2023, Group Two analysed excerpts handed out to them, and contrasted them with other writers that are generally taught in school. During the discussion, they commented on the boldness of language and fearlessness of articulation that stems from their subordinate position and subdued status in society.
Ask the groups to share with the class their insights and reflections on the tasks given to them. They can provide feedback as to which exercise they found interesting and useful, additions and modifications they wish to include and ways and means in which they can disseminate this knowledge among their peers, not only to spread awareness but also to equip them to seek redressal, if and when required.
Download Lesson Plan here:
Download the presentation used for the workshop here: