Facing Caste: Engaging with the Privileged

Sujata Noronha, Beena Choksi | 2023 


The caste system in India and the structural inequalities perpetuated by casteism are significant challenges to creating a just society. The problem is exacerbated because the education system, including libraries and school curricula, does not fully acknowledge and confront this complex issue. Historically, libraries have emerged as safe spaces for collective conversations, diverse collections and dialogue around sensitive subjects. This project worked closely with a selective sample of seven library educators—most of them with caste privilege—to: examine their knowledge, attitudes, and practices on caste issues by reading caste literature, with reflective discussions, and introspective journaling; and develop their preparedness to conceptualise, design, and pilot a library unit on caste with children from privileged backgrounds. The project explored three questions: (a) How does one engage in discussions on caste and social justice with children from privileged backgrounds?; (b) How do the participating children respond to the materials and discussions?; and (c) How can having a module on caste and social justice as part of the school curriculum impact the way children respond to situations of inequality? Conceptual clarity, emotional integrity, and pedagogical preparedness of the library educator had a bearing on how children were engaged in discussions on caste. Children’s responses to caste-themed stories and library activities showed a readiness to engage with the topic. Their questions about caste and caste practices were uninhibited and revealed a close and critical observation of their home environment and surroundings. Developing children’s literature from the perspectives of both caste oppression and caste privilege will enable open conversations in library spaces. Introducing or institutionalising a caste themed unit in school curriculum within the larger issue of social equality that the Indian Constitution is committed to will enable us to move along the trajectory of education as a social leveller.