Caste in law schools?

by Paul Maharg on 21/06/2015

Caste, it appears, doesn’t exist in law schools.  But Sameena argues the opposite — it’s very much there.  Cf World Report 2008 – ‘Dalits and indigenous peoples … continue to face discrimination, exclusion and acts of violence.’  In law and caste, what happens to these cases?  Very little data — eg number of cases.  And there are regressive judgments in the most notorious cases, eg Bhanvari devi, Rajasthan, or Khairlanjee, Maharashtra.  Very often motive is attributed to behaviour other than caste (eg latter case — called a property dispute rather than a caste atrocity).  Caste is recognised by everyone but the judges — why?  prejudiced judges?  bias in the legal process?  caste blind positive law?  no knowledge of caste?  Sameena’s research question: how much caste is taught, learnt in law school?

The lessons from other jurisdictions are there, ie critical race theory and feminist theory.  The literature states the problem – student experience of alienation – lower grades, participation, career opportunities of women and non-white law students.  For Sameena, the remedies include inclusion into legal education — content and pedagogy.

In critical race theory, there is an understanding that what is taken as objective or neutral POV is actually often the embodiment of a white middle-class world view.  Law students are expected to learn ‘perspectivelessness’.  They must become colourless.  Sameena gave two examples.  Eg in property law – slave owner’s suit for damages for a dead slave against the lessee who supervised the slave when he was killed — was slave human chattel or human agent (and of course the arguments stemming from Roman law on the issue).  Eg the reasonable man in law: take provocation — not amounting to murder, a defense used in spouse murder — and by husband, coming up on wife with her lover?  By wife, after years of domestic violence, not on sudden provocation.

How can we find out how much caste is taught, learnt in law school?  Sameena advocated content analysis: subject list, faculty expertise.  She carried out a survey:

  • Respondents: graduating batch of students
  • N= 115
  • location – New Delhi
  • Law schools — public, private, semi-private

The caste composition is stated as follows:


Sameena gave other details: state of origin, income of respondents, and lots more data from respondents.  The results were complex and interesting, can’t present it here.  In conclusion, if we were to form a pedagogy of inclusion, what would it mean for caste?  Sameena argued it would involve:

  • Classroom strategies for including different caste groups into class discussion
  • centralising the experience of the lower castes into the curriculum, cases, etc.

Very interesting paper and approach. I’d like to hear a lot more about the survey and project.

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