5 April 2022

Gender and the Site of Higher Education.
Author: Nupur Jain, Savitribai Phule Pune University.

With neoliberalism and the increased visibility of women in higher education, there are different ways in which covert and overt forms of discrimination have become normalized in spaces of higher education. This has further complicated the ways in which the question of women’s representation and leadership in higher education have re/emerged. Public and private institutions in India in the space of higher education are playing significant role in providing access to education. This site gets further complicated with the increasing number of educational institutions run by different trusts / philanthropic organizations / minority institutions etc. A cursory look at different types of institutions points out the ways in which they intersect when encountered by shifts on the landscape of higher education in contemporary India.

My observations for this paper are based on my involvement in a project on gender equality in higher education, conducted by SPPU, India and Brunel University, London. We know that the site of higher education is fraught with major shifts and challenges. Despite gender parity, many overt and covert forms of discrimination are intertwined with everyday forms of institutional and familial oppression across institutions. While looking at various institutions, it becomes important to contextualize them within the larger contemporary Indian politics, and especially in a comparative framework with other institutions. These institutions intersect at multiple levels - socially, politically, regionally, culturally and so on. Some pioneer public institutions of higher education have set historical precedents for encouraging women to gain education and become self-reliant. But these spaces come with its own set of challenges. It is visible in how differential treatment is meted out to women students, certain spaces are demarcated as out of bounds, and notorious rules and uncompromising hostel timings are imposed on them. This demonstrates how women students continue to protest and demand recognition for their fundamental and constitutional right to education by challenging patriarchal norms and sexual control over women’s bodies.

In the process of working on the project and especially mapping it from a gendered perspective, some crucial themes emerged in the context of how exclusion operates in higher education. One such way in which this occurs is through spatial segregation. This translates into different kinds of exclusions and discriminatory practices for different actors in higher education such as teachers, students or non-teaching staff. The capacity to claim equitable treatment in the campus and university is directly contingent on the access to different spaces, specifically for women. This also points to how exclusion becomes structural in many ways.

Over the years, the landscape of higher education has evolved with the influx of modernity, globalization and neo-liberal policies. Policies have been specifically aimed at making higher education more ‘valuable’ by making it more expensive, and therefore elitist. This has coincided with the growth and proliferation of many private institutions of higher education in India. With this the vision and goals of educational institutions have also shifted. Private universities emulate ideas of creative philanthropy, while generating surplus amounts of profit. In this process, we also see how institutional excellence gets demarcated through the rigid boundaries of acceptable and non-acceptable student behaviour.

It is common knowledge that the overall space of higher education has a largely celebratory attitude towards disciplines like Technology, Engineering and Sciences. Social sciences face issues at multiple levels, ranging from generating funds to showcasing positive performance. Despite sincere and rigorous efforts to include Arts and Humanities within the larger fold of mainstream, respectable educational streams and jobs, spaces like student unions in institutes remain dominated by students pursuing professional degrees. In addition to this, most departments are male-dominated. Women professors from social science departments are expected to be available anytime, for any extra work. They are expected to be more suited for teaching gender, by virtue of being women. We need to understand this as a part of a larger structural issue, because in a culture where male teachers have their own cults and are looked up to be fashionable and cool despite being young and less experienced, female teachers get further de-intellectualized. I look at this as ghettoization at the level of pedagogy and teaching.

In spaces of privatized higher education, this ghettoization is also seen at the level of curriculum. For example, a history syllabus / curriculum will be taught without any reference to or texts written by female historians. This reflects not only the kind of courses that are taught, but the manner in which they are taught as well. Why is gender component restricted to only certain subjects and papers? This also raises the question about who then teaches these papers. Women professors might be deeply invested in teaching and learning gender, but why should they be the only ones who have to teach it? This not only puts extra pressure on the female professor to ‘deliver’ what is expected out of a gender curriculum, but also marks the fragile case of how gender gets gendered in academia. Privatization of education along with neoliberal policies are dismantling the very disciplinary foundations by replacing social science disciplines with more marketable subjects. This affects how institutions and its various actors make interventions in the space of higher education.

Contextualizing the NEP

In the past two decades, India has witnessed volatile shifts in higher education because of caste politics as well, with states mobilizing the marginalized castes for electoral purposes. Their influx into higher education with promises of upward mobility and employment opportunities needs to be problematized. Many students from marginalized backgrounds are first generation learners with multiple challenges. In this context, state intervention through policies like the NEP actually end up hindering their progress. The policy makes the neoliberal process of de-politicization more institutionalized. For example, the exit option in NEP pushes the first-generation learners, and economically and socially weaker students to leave education at the first available chance. This is unfortunate, given how difficult it is for them to enter and survive in these spaces in the first place. On the other end, private institutes’ alignment with the NEP becomes ‘valuable’ at many levels. Collaborations between state, educational institutions and corporate / multinational companies get lauded as exemplary milestones. Women students often become the tokens of this faux empowerment, thus derailing an essential conversation about the many illusive forms of ghettoization that occur on the site of higher education.

Reading Between the Various Forms of Covert and Overt Ghettoization

It is important to look at these various continuities and discontinuities to point out the covert and overt forms of ghettoization and discrimination that exist across the continuum of higher education - public universities on one end, and private institutions with modern state of the art infrastructure and western, Americanized model of education on the other. The forms of exclusions in public institutions that garner dissent and also massive media coverage become hyper-visible in a particular context. What makes it visible is the political currency that these universities hold in contemporary India, where right wing majoritarianism and surveillance of minorities has been unleased aggressively amidst the larger nation building project. One also needs to contextualize this in the operational limits of state led politics and violence through extra-constitutional outfits who operate with complete impunity at the local level

So when questions of gender come up in such state public universities through, say, questions of gendered and spatial segregation, and ghettoization, it creates the dichotomy of good space / bad space wherein women students contaminate the pure space of higher educational institutes. This ends up reproducing the rhetoric of how minority religions are patriarchal. Gender gets relegated to being a cultural problem. To be precise, it becomes a problem of a ‘distinct cultural milieu’ that is the problem of the minorities. Invariably then, in a context where we see increasing and dangerous eruption of violence towards the minorities in India, any assault on the identity of student becomes ‘more urgent’ than women’s issues. Women’s problems get relegated as non-issues when their own men are being beaten.

In this context, there is a greater need to assess the presence of women in higher education spaces. The Department of Women and Gender Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University and Brunel University have collaborated on a project that intends to further Gender Equality in Higher Education. The next section uses data from a survey designed and conducted for the project. The survey was disseminated across ten participating higher education institutions in the research study in five states of India -Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. Although the sample is not representative of the state enrolment numbers and overall population, it gives us a clue to understand the present scenario. As John explains while discussing deliberations with the task force, 56% of women marry before the age of 21 years, and the trend seems to be less likely to subside with change in the law. Thus, reading the survey data with the proposed bill would help in understanding the present trends in age at marriage of women on the site of higher education. Why does the age at marriage debate get linked to higher education in the present context, when in the past it was strongly limited to the rate of maternal mortality and population control? Does attaining higher education mean women become empowered? Does higher age at marriage translate to employability and lesser dependence on ‘men’ as cited as one of the aims and objectives in the bill?

What I want to point out here is that for the marginalized and minorities, the question is not so much therefore about salvaging their culture and fighting against patriarchy, but about survival and dignity. The gender question cannot be delinked from the kind of challenges that the institute and community at large face in India today. Amidst the pushback for cultural identity, women students are fighting for survival, survival of their families and communities. Our questions need to go beyond patriarchy, and we need to ask what does it mean for minorities to continue learning and surviving in today’s contemporary socio-political landscape.

I want to link this to the neo liberal, modernized and privatized model of higher education in India which is structured to de-politicize, and therefore by default to exceptionalise state public universities where dissent and anarchy are everyday practices. It will be dangerous to analyze the glaring spatial, gendered discrimination at public universities in isolation from the inconspicuous, disciplinary and pedagogical ghettoization and illusive sexism at private universities in India. What marks these state public universities as anarchic and patriarchal is the bodies on which these battles are fought. Women students continue to stand tall against state repression, institutional authorities, and unfair policies. For years, they have fought against a number of issues like unjust hostel timings, access to libraries, questions of safety, etc. Along with that, they have also been at the forefront of anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests across the country in the recent past. If the dissent and resistance demonstrated by women students has taught us anything, it is that they hold the potential to liberate all women in higher education. What they are demanding is everyone’s fundamental, constitutional right - the right to education, representation, equality, and dignity. Spaces of higher education do not operate in vacuum. It is constantly being reimagined through its people. Students have the potential to not just become conscious about their rights, they hold the potential to make everyone conscious. The students and teachers need to come together to discuss the possibilities of emancipation on the site of and through higher education.

I want to conclude with what Bell Hooks argues about transformative pedagogy. She says, “In an engaged pedagogy, teachers grow, become more vulnerable. When professors bring narratives of their experiences into classroom discussions it eliminates the possibility that we can function as all-knowing, silent interrogators.”

05 May 2022

A closer look at Higher Education’s state of affairs in Kerala .
Author: Sinu Sugathan.

As part of the project on Gender Equality in Higher Education I travelled to Kerala twice in December 2021 and March 2022. I am a native of Kerala my field work was also a personal experience for me on various level as I was travelling alone first time as a researcher as a mother which means I had to plan well in advance, this not only included everyday logistics management but also mental preparedness of grandparents, mother and daughter. Little did I know I would travel to Kerala for work meet students, know about their life and trajectories and get a glimpse of Higher Education’s state of affairs in Kerala. This article looks at the role of women in Higher Education, everyday struggles of women in the space of education and an overall paradoxical status of women in Kerala.

Kerala is the first state in India to achieve universal literacy with current literacy rate of 93.91% when the overall literacy rate of India is 74.04% (Census 2021). Kerala occupies the highest female literacy rate at 92.1%. The status of women in Kerala is considered at par in an otherwise patriarchal region of the world. With good HDI numbers, it is noted Kerala has high female literacy, life expectancy, and a favorable sex ratio but female labor force participation rates are among the lowest in India depicting the intricacies of education and women’s’ labour.


In Kerala there are 14 State universities of which four – Kerala University, Mahatma Gandhi University, Calicut University and Kannur University are general in nature and others offer more specialized courses in specified subject areas. The statistical data published about the state of higher education in Kerala notes that the total number of students enrolled in arts and science colleges in the four general universities in Kerala in 2019-20 is 3.32 lakh of this 2.25 lakh (67.7%) are women students. The number of students belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC) in degree and post graduate courses in the State is 42,486 (12.79%) of all students in 2019-20. The number of students belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in degree and post graduate course in the State is 7,311 (2.2%) of all students in 2019-20 (Source: Kerala Development Report 2021). I have only taken figures of Arts and Science Colleges as this gives a larger picture of higher education in Kerala we hereby get an overall nature of SC & ST’s negligible presence in higher education so when speak of universal literacy and take pride in this achievement making sense of these figures depicts the flip side of the literacy rate. To add to this SC ST students, have reservations in claiming their identity they think they would be considered of being a certain kind and fellow students will not be as responsive to them. There are experiences when students have got admission in medical field but their parents did not allow to pursue the course further as they question their capacities into a non-ventured field of education. Thus we see preference for bank or government job in an AC rooms which is seen as safe and luxurious. These narrations help us understand low presence of SC & ST in higher education.

Girls in Higher Education:

At present the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in Kerala’s higher education sector is 37% we see girls outnumbering boys in general and professional courses. We see women continue to be in higher education scene longer than men, boys enroll for professional or diploma courses which gives them an immediate source of income as men are still considered as the primary owners of the family. Women are largely involved in taking care of the 3Cs of households – Cooking, Cleaning and Caring. Though educational attainment is encouraged, the focus is on women’s role as a wife, mother, and primary caregiver. Women’s education is seen as a selling factor for marriage propensity and in fact it seems to be pastime to delay marriage. Literacy for women in Kerala comes with notions of social development and how this is used for the good of the family and society, and the state. The respondents I spoke to during the research are focused, they are job-oriented aspiring to move out of state and pursue further education marriage is an eventual plan. What is largely observed is society puts pressure on women to be an ideal mother, daughter, daughter in law rather than being employed or independent. Differential treatment for girls and boys in seen at home and in school. Brothers accompanying sister when they step out of home to meet their friends or parents picking and dropping girls to college indicates the restrictions imposed on mobility. There is a constant imposition and pressure on women to stick to these traditionally defined roles. As I was speaking to the participants, I could sense their active political participation at university level but women are limited to non-leadership positions, lack of decision-making power and there is continued subordination to men. The human capital investments made by the women of Kerala are traditionally geared toward general liberal arts education, in which women learn about education, health, and better child care.

What comes to the notice in the quantitative and qualitative data is impressive numbers do not guarantee improved status family, community or work space. If this that the case Kerala would show impressive numbers in Female Work Participation Rate (FWPR). As per the official labour force survey, FWPR have been lower in Kerala than at the all India level particularly in rural areas indicates the lack of accountability of women’s labour. This invisibilation of women’s labour reflects the larger patriarchal structure in Kerala. Preference for government jobs and lack of entrepreneurship culture when there is such abundance of talent questions the developmental process and policies

In this research project many nuances of higher education was revealed the stark lack of research scholars and the hardships of women research scholars in Covid times there was a sense of loss as being in the space of higher education in itself is struggle being at home loosing focus and engaging in household activities the absence of a physical space for education took a toll on the mental health of students so many women researchers discontinued their research course.

Kerala Paradox:

Women in Kerala are not denied access to education however, the paths to achieving endeavors of success is obstructed by multiple road blocks. A woman’s educational status does not give her an environment to digress from the cultural norms and the liberty associated with literacy. Their mobility is curtailed by cultural practices as women with financial leverage are perceived as threat to their male counterparts to their power and status as the primary earners for their households. Moreover, when women are treated as secondary citizens men are threatened by an employed woman’s success as financial independence makes women less dependent and more aware of her potential and ability to make decisions on her own. Most common concern raised was women’s access to public space young women want to experience the freedom of college life away from home surveillance. Simple joys of hanging out with friends or seeing stars in the night as innocent as it can get but there is curb on women’s mobility from within the family and by the community at large. It is a common pattern Male migration rate is high, they migrate to earn livelihood and women take up the domestic responsibility of the household. Women engage into care giving activities of children and elders of the house of which some are working women she is then character shamed for being away from house or working late. To avoid all this woman prefer sticking to the label of an ideal Malayalee woman which becomes hard to resist in the process of avoiding such sort of complexities. High HDI numbers then becomes a mere claim to development modernity with such strong presence of patriarchal forms in multiple levels - family, society, workplace despite claims to economic development. When young women claim their agency or choice the only way of pulling them down is by name calling. Word like “Feminichi” is used for women who claim themselves as feminist under the patriarchal scheme “Feminichi” is a negative connotation.

I am essentially arguing that despite the importance of development, under¬standing the constant persistence of gender inequality in higher education and in Kerala at large requires a seri¬ous reconsideration of cultural ideologies. In short, I would like to suggest that the concept of patriarchy in the social system which varies with time and across space is a starting point for under¬standing the paradox of gender and development in Kerala. In the beginning I had mentioned about logistics management at home and support within family it is a combined effort by everyone around women that would keep her going as our society is structured this way. What motivated me to write the experiences of these young women is the abundance of talent and the sheer zest and zeal I saw in them to achieve career goals, to travel and to just live an unburden some life,

05 June 2022

Article: While reading ‘Blue Eyed Girl’.
Author: Bhagyashree Jawale.

Shilpa Kamble wrote her first novel titled ‘Blue Eyes Girl’ in 2014, published by Goda publication, Aurangabad. This novel is appreciated by critiques and masses. Her play ‘Biryani’ is also famous. Which is socio-political drama around the lives of two women, Sakina and Kurmuri. I have seen many characters like this in my life and around me. I have come across characters similar to those described in the novel. Not everyone’s struggle is the same and the nature of the struggle keeps changing. In the face of changing struggles, circumstances change and so do the ways in which we address the issue. I liked the novel because it is written in the form of books, letters, personal anecdote, stories, and diary entries. The author looks at issues from different angles. Although she was impressed by Modak Maharaj, she was not entirely convinced about following him. She has struggles daily related to shelter and accessing education. I really admire the author’s unique style of writing which includes talking about the problems of public toilets in story format. 

The letter in the novel is also different because the letter written by Ulka's mother, Vaijayanata, to her mother presents their struggle for survival as well as their social context. Through Ulka’s letter to her friends, we can see Ulka’s social struggle. The correspondence letter between Ulka and Meera reflects Ulka’s transformation which occurred through her journey. Readers become aware of the new changes that take place as an organization or group is operating in the society. Not everyone in society has financial and cultural capital. There are difficulties in learning, especially in slums, and some concrete steps have to be taken to solve these difficulties. In the novel, the youth organization 'Akrosh' draws our attention to this. Organisations such as ‘Akrosh’ make a significant contribution in empowering the new generation

The excitement around Babasaheb Ambedkar's birthday at home was a source of inspiration for me since my childhood. While in school, I realized that Dr. Ambedkar had studied many different subjects and received many degrees. His identity was different from the one popularly known in the society, which is as the architect of the constitution. I gradually came to understand his place in education and his contribution in every field. I think that is why I developed a passion for education. 

During my academic journey, I received financial support from a private organization. Further, this organisation also provided guidance on higher education and various entrance exams. In this private organisation, I met students from different disciplines, some of whom were preparing for competitive exams and some of whom were doing research. Here, I came to realize that I want to do my PhD after M.A. The scope of higher education is so vast that it is not easy for us to understand the various aspects involved in it. I received information about higher education much later. Other people are more aware earlier on about different disciplines in higher education and the opportunities available therein. I worked while pursuing my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. This was a very challenging time for me, but I feel a sense of achievement in Higher education. While working, I always fell short of time to participate in college projects, complete reading, and supplement many studies. I always thought that I should study full time and add to my knowledge by sitting in one place and reading books. It was not possible for me to leave the job because of poor financial situation at home. When I was facing difficulties in life, I was fortunate to find mentors who guided me in the right direction, which helped me in moving towards my goal. One of the challenges of my academic and private life was always meeting a good mentor who turned my life around and my academic journey was getting in the right direction and the journey towards my goal began. I have now completed my M.Phil. research degree, and I am working as a research assistant. I consider turning to research to be a milestone in my life. Reflecting on own journey, I relate with Ulka's friend, who helps her financially in her educational journey, her language barrier, and her relationship with 'Akrosh', helps her build socio-cultural capital.

After reading the novel "Blue Eyed Girl," I began to think differently about my educational journey. Many of the characters in the story were similar to the ones that I had seen or heard around. The protagonist Ulka in the Novel taught me a lot of new things. It tells the story of a Buddhist girl from school to marriage and people involved in her journey. Ulka’s mother moves to Mumbai because Ulka’s father is addicted to alcohol and Ulka. The book 'Diary of Unfrank' given to Ulka by Dhagebai inspired her to maintain a dairy. She also calls her diary 'Subi,' and in the novel, we get a glimpse of her diary. In this novel, I felt that the discrimination made by the upper caste teachers while she was studying raises many questions somewhere in her mind. She and like her classmates have been discriminated against by teachers, and this seems to have hampered their education. I also remembered my experience in English medium while studying in college because my schooling is in Marathi medium. Since the whole education was through English, I did not understand what was taught in the classroom. At this point, I see a lot of people drop out of school or learn something else. 

Each of the characters in the novel deals with different social issues. In which caste system have struggle for daily routine problems like food and shelter. Although education is as important as basic needs for everyone, not everyone can complete it. Lack of knowledge about education among family members or financial situation often leaves most people with an incomplete education. This is what we see around us but do not take it seriously.

My schooling was completed in Marathi medium in government and private schools. For a while, I dropped out of education. After some time, I started my education anew, and now I am doing research in women's studies. I am the first person in my family to complete higher education and is currently doing research. I have completed my higher education and am still studying. Many people react differently when they hear that my education is still going on. Considering these questions, I realized that I did not have the financial backing nor did I know about the opportunities for higher education in the beginning.

As a researcher, I am currently working on a project on higher education and gender. My research so far has shown that caste, gender, and geographical location play an important role. There are different difficulties in getting higher education for everyone due to caste and economic conditions. Shilpa Kamble's caste, class, gender issues have been framed in her writings. In the novel "Blue Eyed Girl", it is seen that she has discussed many things from the journey.

Shilpa Kamble's own journey is very inspiring and understandably, it also draws the grim reality of poverty. She is currently working as a writer and income tax officer. Her name is important in Marathi literature. She has also written for a series on Babasaheb Ambedkar. Although all sorts of developments took place while living in Mumbai, her experiences of racial discrimination reflect in her writings. Higher education does not cover all sections of the society in the same way, and the proportion of students from the lower castes in higher education is considered to be low. What is higher education? What opportunities are available in higher education? They often do not have the answers to this question or have partial knowledge about it. There is a lack of financial capital as well as socio-cultural capital. Although many schemes and programs are being implemented at the government and private levels for higher education, information about these is not available to everyone in society. Information on different types of scholarships, fellowships, and other related schemes should be made available to all and measures should be taken for that.