India, the world’s largest democracy is undergoing among the worst incidences of brain drain in history. Roughly 7,77,000 students leave India to pursue further studies every year, with the figure predicted to rise to 1.8 million by 2024.
Obtaining an international degree is sometimes viewed as a critical step along the path of long-term immigration in a new host nation that may offer greater career chances and a higher quality of life. Despite significant progress in eliminating discrimination, India is tethered to the past by a hierarchical system established approximately 1,500 years ago in a feudal culture. Many aspects of India’s institutional systems, including higher education, are influenced by the caste system.
Although admirable in principle, equality of opportunity to ameliorate the situations of minorities and lower-caste groups has had mixed results in terms of promoting equality and progress. The New York Times published a story in 2012 on C.V. Gayathri, an ambitious medical student who was dismayed by India’s admissions process. The case was then put forward to the Supreme Court of India by Gayathri which granted her admission to the medical school.
“When I came to know that I could not get into any medical college, I was really shocked,” she was quoted saying.
India was declared as an independent nation in 1945 and since then, affirmative action has been used to reserve seats in higher education institutions for Dalits (previously known as “untouchables”), Scheduled Tribes, and other disadvantaged groups. Its implementation has been polarising over the years: while supporters have lauded the move as a crucial tool for redressing social inequities, those who have not benefited from the quota system have denounced the policy as restricting and unmeritocratic.
Indian students feel left out and pushed out by the reservation system of India. Hence they depart to pursue their education elsewhere, either on their own or through scholarships. In 2021, 62,000 student visas were awarded to Indian students in the United States alone, while the United Kingdom admitted 26,685 Indian students in the same year.
Consequently, many who oppose affirmative action in India see it as an unfair game that ignores the accomplishments of talented students who deserve admission to elite local universities. Furthermore, this is difficult to ignore another obvious point on the other side of the debate: who benefits from the quota system, and who has the wherewithal to leave?
In India, the reality of affirmative action isn’t necessarily black and white. The issue with allocating quotas influenced by social hierarchy rather than a needs-based approach to uplift marginalized groups is that many would eventually fall between the gaps. A critical analysis of the issue in India’s admissions procedure finds that institutions consistently favor those who are more economically privileged over good students from less-favored castes. Many jurisdictions disregard rules that restrict the wealthy from taking advantage of quotas.
The problem is exacerbated by the government’s absence of international scholarships earmarked for students from Scheduled Tribes or Scheduled Castes. However, those admitted to top-tier universities such as the Australian National University and the University of Oxford have been denied a scholarship by the national selection committee. Therefore, global mobility for abroad studies continues to favor wealthier and upper-caste Indian students, who benefit from improved education and involvement in the employment landscape. Casteism follows where privilege goes. The evils of casteism extend beyond the motherland for Dalit students and immigrants who make it abroad.
Students are facing caste-based microaggressions, discriminatory university procedures, and intra-communal prejudice, all of which complicate their transition to a foreign country. The issue is so common that US institutions like Harvard and Brandeis have developed anti-discrimination laws that are particular to caste discrimination.
Although mass migration may signal talent loss for a fast industrializing country, it is critical to investigate the enabling reasons behind student migration and who is left behind in a caste system that stifles vertical mobility for the downtrodden.