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Social Exclusion and Educational Institutions in Contemporary India

Meenakshi Thapan

By Andre Beteille
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 205, Rs. 550.00


Andre Bteille is a prolific writer who has addressed questions of inequality, power, social class, the family, the disciplines of sociology and social anthro-pology, and a whole range of issues, too vast to enumerate here. The array of problems he has sought to understand and his commitment as a writer stem from his unfailing dedication to his profession as a sociologist, teacher and writer. His new book on the university is therefore a welcome addition to the existing corpus of his work as, apart from articles in different journals, he has not explicitly addressed the problematic of education in any single place. The book is a collection of convocation addresses and lectures that he has delivered on the broad theme of education, and the university in particular, at different fora in India. Bteille deftly plots the emergence of the university in India, the colonial overtones, the significant role of the middle classes, the overarching aims and the more specific goals of such universities as well as examines the outcome for different categories of individuals. His essays contain the right mix of history, policy perspectives, educational practice, and of course sociology. Shorn of unnecessary theorizing and jargon, they make refreshing and very interesting reading for both the scholar and the lay reader. The single most important point that Bteille seeks to make and continuously reiterate pertains to the increasing demand for social inclusion in higher education. This is no doubt essential to a democratic society but in the interest of teaching and research Beteille is concerned about the need for a university to simultaneously be academically discriminating. This is the most striking argument Bteille makes throughout the book. He is careful to point out that there is a need to distinguish between, as he puts it, unwarranted exclusion on social grounds and justifiable discrimination on academic grounds (p.28). The middle class is in expansion mode and seeks greater and higher education that will provide certification for a variety of occupational forms. As a consequence, state universities are compelled to expand and new, private universities have mushroomed offering a plethora of degrees to aspirants in different parts of India. While Bteille supports all forms of social inclusion in higher education, his plea is to keep merit, ability and performance uppermost in all academic decisions that must not be overtaken by ideology or other values that serve to undermine academic excellence. As Bteille ...

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