The world's a stage of contrasts. On one side are people who parade their caste-pride while on the other side are people who do their bit to de-root caste from the minds of the younger generation. Two such teachers in Tamil Nadu are being awarded for their work to create a caste-sensitive classroom in their respective educational institutions. Ansar Ali, a government school teacher and V Senthamil Selvi, Principal of Raja Serfoji Government College, Thanjavur, have been selected for the ‘Nikari Award 2019’ by Manarkeni Research Journal for promoting equality in the classroom.
For Ansar Ali, a teacher at the Government High School in Udayalur, Thanjavur district, caste is something that needs to be addressed very often and in a casual manner in classrooms.
“I taught history for middle school before I was promoted as a maths teacher for high school classes. So I got a lot more chance to talk about caste and social inequality earlier,” he says adding that his new role as maths teacher has definitely reduced the chances for him to talk about caste. “I still do that in a casual manner,” he points out.
When asked to explain more about how he goes about removing caste biases among students, he says, “I set an example for disregarding caste-differences inside school campus by talking to students without biases. I also sometimes butt in among students when they are playing as teams and reorganise the teams to mix the students demographic a little. I am very particular about it.”
Born and brought up in a village named Avaniyapuram near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district, Ansar Ali’s father was a school teacher as well and his mother, a home-maker. “I sense that many times students feel superior by caste among themselves. I keep saying that all of us are equal casually so that it becomes ingrained in them from an early age,” he says.
Teacher’s primary duty
For professor V Senthamil Selvi, the Principal of Raja Serfoji Government College in Thanjavur, looking and working beyond caste is a part of her normal duty as a teacher.
“According to me, I have been helping out marginalised students since the day I started teaching. To me, I consider it a duty of a teacher to help students from marginalised backgrounds to come up in life,” she explains.
Senthamil Selvi was born in a village near Orathanadu in Thanjavur district and finished her education in government schools and colleges. All through her career as a professor, she has been working to set up extra tutorial facilities for students from the SC/ST communities who require extra support in getting through their academics. “I was just doing what I am supposed to do as a teacher. Over and above that, I haven’t done anything special,” she reiterates.
Speaking to TNM about the award, D Ravikumar, the Editor of Manarkeni Research Journal and the MP from Villupuram constituency, says that the suicide of a Dalit student named Senthil Kumar in Hyderabad Central University in 2008 prompted him to analyse the role of teachers in removing caste-based discrimination among the students.
“Every year since 2013, an independent jury peruses through the applications and chooses two candidates who fit the criteria – one from a school and one from a college. After selecting, our team also conduct background verification for the selected teachers to confirm their credentials. The only criterion to apply was that the teachers must be non-Dalits. We wanted to recognise teachers from dominant castes who encourage caste equality inside educational institutions,” he says. The award consists of a memento, a citation and Rs 10,000 cash.