ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Does Merit Have a Caste?

The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India by Ajantha Subramanian, Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England: Harvard University Press, 2019; pp 374, 699.

Critical scholarship on the dangers of the discourse of meritocracy has flourished in the West, something that has not been explored rigorously in India. The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India by Ajantha Subramanian is therefore a welcome addition to the scholarship on caste and meritocracy in higher education. Subramanian compliments the studies on White privilege and Whiteness in the United States (US), with a focus on upper casteness and meritocracy in India. The book stages the conflict between meritocracy-upper casteness and democracy-reservations, locating Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at the centre of her analysis, more particularly IIT Madras and Tamil Brahmins as cases to present the collective selfhood and upper casteness revolving around merit. It draws on archival research and qualitative interviews, and pushes Bourdieusian ideas of reproduction to radically reflect on the accumulation of caste-based cultural capital and its histories, and argues that class and caste are inextricably linked in the social reproduction of privilege.

The book provides interesting insights into the colonial history of engineering education and associated racialisation of caste and the making of IITs in postcolonial India as a Brahminupper caste space. The anti-caste struggles in Tamil Nadu and its role in democratising engineering education, the pre-reservation IITs and continued Brahminical preference for mental over manual in engineering education are engaged with. It also provides a critical reading of Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), the merit testing entrance exam for admission to IITs. The making of upper casteness and its inherent linkages with contesting reservations along with the making of IIT as a global brand and the caste basis of institutional kinship too are explored. Barring some sweeping generalisations and radical posturing, this book is a significant contribution to historical-sociology of engineering education in India.

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Published On : 12th Jan, 2024

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