Dismantling caste in education: Tamil Nadu’s attempt at tackling discrimination

Report calls for administrative reforms, teacher training, and combating caste violence to ensure equal opportunity for all students.

Caste-based discrimination, a persistent issue in India, is particularly troubling in Tamil Nadu’s schools. This environment, meant to foster learning and growth, is marred by prejudice and social hierarchy. The formation of the One-Man Committee headed by Justice K. Chandru signifies a critical step towards addressing this challenge and creating a more inclusive educational system.

This committee’s recommendations target various aspects, from administrative reforms and teacher training to curriculum changes and student conduct regulations. The ultimate goal is to dismantle caste-based biases and establish social justice, aligning with Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s vision of a progressive society.

This piece delves deeper into the reasons behind the committee’s establishment, the dangers of caste markers in schools, and the proposed solutions for a more equitable educational environment.

The one-man committee: Justice K. Chandru

Justice K. Chandru, a retired judge of the Madras High Court, was appointed to head a One-Man Committee to investigate and address caste-based discrimination and violence in Tamil Nadu’s schools. The committee was tasked with providing recommendations to create an inclusive, equitable, and non-discriminatory environment in educational institutions. Mr. Chandru submitted his report to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at the Secretariat in Chennai on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in the presence of School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena and others.

Caste names and markers: their role and significance

Caste names and markers are symbols that denote an individual’s caste identity. These markers can be explicit, such as the wearing of specific colours, symbols, or accessories, or implicit, such as behaviours and practices that indicate caste affiliation. In Tamil Nadu, students often use these markers to signify their caste pride and identity, leading to division and discrimination within educational settings.

Examples of such markers include coloured wristbands, hair ribbons, bindis (vermillion marks), and specific types of clothing. Each colour combination or accessory is associated with a particular caste. For instance, red and yellow wristbands might be worn by members of the Thevar caste, while blue and green might be indicative of the Nadar caste. These markers serve as a visual representation of caste identity and are often used to assert dominance or superiority over other castes.

Caste names and markers perpetuate the social hierarchy by constantly reminding individuals of their position within the caste system. This reinforcement leads to the normalization of discrimination and inequality.

When students use caste markers such as coloured wristbands, hair ribbons, or specific types of clothing, it visibly segregates them into different groups. This visual division can foster an environment of “us vs. them,” promoting inter-caste rivalry. The use of caste markers often goes hand-in-hand with behaviours that assert dominance or superiority of one caste over another. This in turn manifests in bullying, physical violence, and other forms of social exclusion. Caste markers hinder the development of a cohesive and inclusive community within schools.

Recommendations to eliminate caste names and markers

The recommendations provided aim to address and mitigate caste-based discrimination and foster an inclusive, equitable, and non-discriminatory environment in educational institutions. The proposed measures span various aspects of the educational system, from administrative reforms and teacher training to curriculum changes and student conduct regulations. The ultimate goal is to eradicate caste-based prejudices and promote social justice, aligning with Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s vision of a constantly evolving society that embraces change and revises old standards for the greater good.

Given the dangers posed by caste names and markers, the One-Man Committee headed by Justice K. Chandru recommended their elimination to foster a more inclusive and equitable educational environment. The key recommendations include:

1. Administrative orders to remove caste identifiers:
Government and private schools should be directed to remove caste prefixes or suffixes from their names. This step aims to eliminate any formal recognition of caste within the school’s identity, setting a precedent for inclusivity.

2. Prohibition of caste markers among students:
Schools should implement strict regulations prohibiting students from wearing or displaying caste-related symbols, such as specific colours of wristbands, hair ribbons, or bindis. This measure seeks to reduce visible indicators of caste that can lead to division and discrimination.

3. Confidentiality of caste information:
Policies should be put in place to maintain the confidentiality of students’ caste backgrounds. By doing so, schools can prevent caste-based segregation and ensure that all students are treated equally regardless of their caste.

4. Promoting social justice and equality:
Educational curricula should be revised to include lessons on social justice, equality, and non-discrimination. This education can help students understand the negative impacts of caste discrimination and foster a culture of mutual respect and inclusion.

5. Implementation of a code of conduct:
Establishing a Code of Conduct for both students and teachers that explicitly prohibits caste-based discrimination and behaviours is crucial. This code should include consequences for violations to ensure compliance and accountability.

Other recommendations given by the committee

1. Teacher and officer regulations
Periodic transfers of teachers and officers were recommended to prevent dominance by any single caste in specific areas. Guidelines should ensure that high-ranking education officers do not belong to the dominant caste of their area. The Teachers Recruitment Board (TRB) should consider candidates’ attitudes toward social justice during recruitment, and a statutorily prescribed Code of Conduct for teachers and staff should be introduced. Annual orientation programs on social issues and laws pertaining to discrimination should also be mandatory.

2. Unified control of schools
Bringing all types of schools under the unified control of the School Education Department was another key recommendation. This policy seeks to streamline administration and ensure uniform standards across all schools. A committee of high-level officers may be necessary to oversee this transition and resolve issues related to the service conditions of teachers.

3. Teacher training and curriculum changes
Revising the B.Ed. syllabus and the Diploma in Elementary Education to focus on inclusivity was recommended. An expert committee should review school syllabi to eliminate incorrect views and promote social justice values. Establishing a Social Justice Monitoring Committee to oversee curriculum changes related to social justice issues is also suggested. 

4. Mobile phone restrictions and Ara Neri classes
Prohibiting the use of mobile phones by students in school campuses to minimize distractions and introducing compulsory Ara Neri classes from Class 6 to Class 12, focusing on social justice, equality, and non-discrimination, were suggested. A guide should be prepared to ensure the effective delivery of these concepts. 

5. Appointment of counsellors and school welfare officers
Appointing trained counsellors for each Block and School Welfare Officers (SWOs) for larger schools was proposed to address issues such as ragging, drug abuse, and caste discrimination. These officers should monitor school activities, conduct orientation programs, and report directly to a State-level Monitoring Committee.

6. Grievance mechanisms and reservation policies
Establishing a dedicated grievance box managed by the SWO, with strict confidentiality, was recommended. Ensuring reservation of seats in higher secondary classes for Scheduled Caste students to pursue science subjects was also proposed. Expanding the National Service Scheme (NSS) to include students from 9th to 12th grade and establishing a Social Justice Students Force (SJSF) are additional measures aimed at promoting social justice. 

7. Centralized kitchens and use of school properties
Creating Block-level central kitchens for school meal programs, with proper staffing and distribution networks, was recommended to improve efficiency and support disaster relief efforts. Regulations should be introduced to prevent the use of school properties for non-educational purposes, particularly for activities that propagate communal or caste-related messages. 

8. Addressing caste atrocities and promoting communal harmony
The state government should assess areas prone to caste atrocities and take preventive measures. A Special Intelligence Unit should be constituted to gather information on caste violence. An expert body should investigate allegations of saffronisation of education. Finally, the government should take appropriate steps at the societal level to eradicate caste discrimination and promote communal harmony.

The need for the committee: context and background

The One-Man Committee was established following a series of disturbing incidents that highlighted the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to caste-based discrimination in schools. In August 2023, the brutal attack on two Dalit children in Nanguneri by a group of six minors brought to light the severity of caste-based violence in educational settings.

The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) conducted a study across 441 schools, revealing widespread caste-based violence and discrimination. The study, which covered government, government-aided, and private schools, found that caste-based discrimination was prevalent among students and, alarmingly, propagated by some teachers.

Findings of the study conducted by Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF)

In 25 schools across various districts, caste violence among students was reported. Students openly expressed casteist sentiments, formed groups based on their caste, and used specific colours of kerchiefs, bindis, threads, and stickers to indicate their caste. The study identified 34 types of caste-symbolic indications used by students.

Dalit students were made to wash the school’s toilets, a task not assigned to students of other castes, in 15 schools. In six schools, students were segregated into separate lines based on caste to receive their mid-day meals, and in four schools, dining rooms were segregated by caste. Such practices humiliate Dalit students and reinforce caste hierarchies among young minds.

The study found that caste-based discrimination extended to teachers in at least three schools. Teacher’s actively propagated caste-based discrimination in classrooms, refused to touch Dalit students, and subjected them to excessive punishment. In Madurai, a school cancelled the felicitation function for Class 12 toppers because the top two rank holders were Dalits, further illustrating deep-seated prejudices among educators.

A case in Nanguneri town involved a 17-year-old Dalit boy from the Paraiyar caste who was nearly hacked to death by three of his Thevar caste classmates. This attack followed years of bullying and was triggered by a complaint the victim had lodged about the harassment he faced. The attackers, showing no remorse, took turns assaulting the boy with a billhook in a planned and brutal manner. Despite the victim’s and his mother’s efforts to seek help from the school administration, no action was taken, leading to the brutal attack. This incident is a stark example of how caste-based bullying can escalate into life-threatening violence.

These harrowing examples expose the urgency of implementing the One-Man Committee’s recommendations. The brutal attack in Nanguneri and the pervasiveness of caste discrimination documented by the TNUEF study demonstrate the devastating impact on students’ well-being and educational opportunities. Ignoring these issues allows a culture of fear and prejudice to fester, jeopardizing the safety and hindering the potential of Dalit students. Implementing the Committee’s recommendations – from eliminating caste markers to fostering social justice through education – is not just about fostering a more inclusive environment, it’s about safeguarding the fundamental right to education and preventing violence. It’s a critical step towards a future where Tamil Nadu’s schools empower all students, regardless of caste, to reach their full potential.

Long term goals of the one-man committee

There are three long term goals that have been outlined in the report submitted.

First, is the enactment of special legislation in Tamil Nadu to enforce a policy of social inclusion and eradicate caste discrimination across all educational levels? This legislation should impose duties and responsibilities on students, teaching and non-teaching staff, and management. It should include mechanisms for supervision, control, and sanctions for non-compliance.

Second, is to enhance the control of local bodies over primary education. This involves granting full authority to block-level administrations (Panchayat Unions) over the management of primary schools, including appointing, posting, and removing staff. To facilitate this transition, the government should formulate new legislation granting true autonomous powers to local bodies. This may require amending the existing Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act of 1994. By providing local bodies with full control over primary education, the government can create a more people-oriented education system that is better aligned with the needs and aspirations of local communities.

Third, is to amend the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, 1975, to prevent caste appellations in the names of educational institutions. This amendment would ensure that societies intending to start educational institutions do not include caste-based identifiers in their names.


The One-Man Committee’s recommendations offer a roadmap for dismantling caste-based discrimination in Tamil Nadu’s schools. By eliminating caste markers, revising curriculums, and fostering social justice principles, the proposed measures aim to create a truly inclusive educational environment.

The success of these recommendations’ hinges on effective implementation and a societal shift towards recognizing the inherent equality of all individuals. Eradicating caste-based discrimination requires a multi-pronged approach addressing educational practices, teacher mind-sets, and broader social norms.

If implemented effectively, the One-Man Committee’s vision can pave the way for a future where Tamil Nadu’s schools become bastions of learning, opportunity, and social justice for all students, regardless of caste.

The report of the committee can be read below:


Tamil Nadu: Abuses, segregated meals, forced to clean toilets, systemic discrimination faced by Dalit students

Caste Discrimination and Related Laws in India

Widespread residential segregation & discrimination of Muslims & Dalits: Study

Higher education: Caste discrimination runs deep 

UP: Dalit School Teacher Alleges Discrimination by Principal & Upper-caste Teachers

Caste Struggle and Colonialism dropped from NCERT school textbooks



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