The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Social Life of Caste
The politics of meritocracy at the Indian Institutes of Technology illuminates the social life of caste in contemporary India. This chapter argues that an IIT graduate’s status depends on the transformation of privilege into merit, or of caste capital into modern capital. It also calls for a relational approach to merit as a response to subaltern assertion. Analysing claims to merit in relation to subaltern politics allows us to see how they shift between disavowing and affirming caste affiliation. In this marking and unmarking of caste, we see that claims to collective belonging and to merit are eminently commensurable, and become more so when subaltern assertion forces privilege into the foreground. Rather than the progressive erasure of ascribed identities in favour of putatively universal ones, we are witnessing the re-articulation of caste as an explicit basis for merit and the generation of newly consolidated forms of upper casteness.
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