“Kerala Government’s education policy is racist”

June 29, 2012
(Names of schools have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

“Kerala government’s education policy is racist” a Dalit parent
accuses the most extensive and elaborate education reforms in Kerala
since independence. Explaining himself the articulate young man says:
“This is not pedagogy, it is pelagogy. Do you know what that means?”
He inquires sharply, almost impatient. “Yes” I reply, and that is
sufficient explanation for his accusation. Pedagogy becomes pelagogy
when an entire education reform targets the most disadvantaged groups
and only the most disadvantaged groups.

The salience of non-word “pelagogy” comes from its association with
people group/caste “pulayar”. Kerala’s history of caste system had
transformed “untouchability” to “unseeability” and groups/castes like
Pulayar and Parayar were slave castes. According to missionary letters
from the 1800s, slave castes like Pulayars and Parayars had to hide
themselves if they heard upper caste men walking the high roads. If
they did not, they could be “cut down” (I’m not entirely sure what
that means, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it means they could be
killed.) A local historian clarifies in a news article on the
historicity of markets that slave trade transpired in markets like the
Changanessery chantha where Pulayars could be bought and sold as

Of the 479456 Scheduled Caste students in the state, 466326 study in
public schools, i.e. 97.2% (Selected Educational Statistics 2010-11
released by the Department of Public Instruction, Government of
Kerala, p. 53). Pulayars and parayars and similar groups have been
categorized as Scheduled Castes for protection and affirmative action
but this protective term has taken on an untouchability-association.
The lived realities of that association become painfully evident in P.
Sanal Mohan’s article on Dalit students in Universities (Kalayangalile
Dalitar). The education reforms in the public K-12 schooling sector
takes on a similar association since public schools cater largely to
disadvantaged populations.

The reforms itself follow authoritative recommendations of educational
theory, and propose to nurture critical thinking and analytical
skills. Implementations are trickier, but government investment
continues. For instance, last week was celebrated as a reading week
and at the weeklong celebrations at SRC government school, the chief
message was that of critical reading, not just of books, but of social
situations and nature. At MAM public school students have created a
bhiman book (Bhiman standing in for giant, as the mythological Pandava
brother Bhiman is remembered) that is being bound and will be released
this Friday. But Dalit groups argue that even analytical skills and
creativity, if singularly associated with the lower castes, takes on
different meanings in contemporary Kerala.


One thought on ““Kerala Government’s education policy is racist”

  1. Very interesting. I think I remember learning in one of my SAST classes about how some families who are in higher castes but quite poor lie about their caste so that their children can get into schools that have these quotas for scheduled castes.

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About leyamathew

Penn GSE, CASI Summer in Kerala 2012