Caste Identities and Structures of Threats: Stigma, Prejudice and Social Representation in Indian universities

Main Article Content

Gaurav J. Pathania
Sushrut Jadhav
Amit Thorat
David Mosse
Sumeet Jain


Caste is a complex ontological construction. Despite several anti-caste movements and constitutional provisions, caste exists in the Indian psyche as part of everyday life. Even in the advent of globalization, caste continues to foster social and economic inequalities and exclusion in newer forms and perpetuates violence. The available research on caste-based stigma and humiliation provides a limited understanding as it deals with Dalits only; and ignores caste-Hindus (upper-caste) agency. Based largely on qualitative data collected at an intense three-day workshop, including two Focus Group Discussions and a year-long ethnography, this article illustrates the micro processes of everyday life experiences of caste-based stigma and humiliation among university students, academic staff and administrative staff. It explores subtle and overt caste discrimination, prejudices and stereotypes existing in the spatial morphologies of Indian higher education, its perpetuation on campuses and its impact on students’ psyche. It highlights the dearth of scholarship in this area of caste identity and stigma; and proposes nuanced questions for future research to understand why universities in India are turning into places of social defeat for Dalit and OBC students. The article argues the basis of caste discrimination and humiliation in universities is not the same as it exists in other social institutions. Instead of asserting conclusions on this matter we set out justifiable lines of inquiry. There are two issues that this article examines: first, how students in Indian higher education evolve strategies for coping with threatened identities. Second, what structural repair in higher education is required to heal the wounded (caste) psyche?

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How to Cite
Pathania, G. J., Jadhav, S., Thorat, A., Mosse, D., & Jain, S. (2023). Caste Identities and Structures of Threats: Stigma, Prejudice and Social Representation in Indian universities. CASTE A Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 4(1), 03–23.
Research Articles
Author Biographies

Gaurav J. Pathania, Eastern Mennonite University

Gaurav J. Pathania is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Peacebuilding at the Eastern Mennonite University. Virginia, USA. His first book “The University as a Site of Resistance: Identity and Student Politics (Oxford University Press, 2018) conceptualizes student politics and higher education in India. His current research examines socio-political activism of the South Asian diaspora in North America. Dr. Pathania serves as an Assistant Editor to the South Asia Research Journal published by SOAS, University of London. He is also an anti-caste activist and published poet.

Sushrut Jadhav, University College London

Sushrut Jadhav is a street psychiatrist and clinician anthropologist in London, UK. He works as a Professor of Cultural Psychiatry, at University College London, & a Consultant Psychiatrist, at Camden Homeless Outreach Services & Islington Mental Health Rehabilitation Services. He is also a Lead Clinician at, Cultural Consultation Service, Camden and Islington Community Health and Social Care Trust. Dr Jadhav is the Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, of Anthropology and Medicine journal (Taylor & Francis, UK); Fellow of The Royal Anthropology Institute UK (RAI); and Member of the RAI Medical Anthropology committee. His current interests include mental health dimensions of marginal groups with a focus on Caste in India. He has taught extensively on medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry programmes, at several national and international Universities, and was an advisor to DSM 5 Task Force for Cultural Formulation. Dr Jadhav currently supervises UCL doctoral and post-doctoral scholars conducting research on the cultural appropriateness of mental health theory and practice in low-income nations with a specific focus on India. More recently, he has been engaged in field testing cultural psychological therapy for social defeat amongst Dalits (former ‘untouchables’), identity distress among 'upper-ed' and 'forward-ed' Castes in India, mental health dimensions of human-animal relationship, and addressing digital oppression in Human-Artificial Intelligence relationship. 

Amit Thorat, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Amit Thorat ( is an Assistant Professor in Economics at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His research includes issues of poverty, inequality, health and nutrition in general and of minority communities in India in particular. He has co-edited a book entitled Undernutrition and Public Policy in India, and contributed to research journals including World Development, Economic and Cultural Change, Canadian Journal of Agriculture Economics & Economic and Political Weekly. The India Infrastructure Report includes his research findings on Social Inequalities in Education. He has also worked on  Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) during his long association with the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Currently he is working on issues of social identity, behavior and perception and is part of a telephonic perceptions survey, Social Attitudes Survey for India (SARI), that asks people their perceptions about caste, gender, religion, inter group marriages and affirmative action amongst others.

David Mosse, SOAS, University of London

David Mosse ( is a Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS University of London. He has published extensively on the anthropology of religion, environment and development. His research combines interests in the anthropology of development and activism, environmental history and natural resources management, in the anthropology of Christianity, South Asian society and popular religion. He is currently involved in a collaborative ESRC research project titled ‘Caste Out of Development: Civil Society Activism and Transnational Advocacy on Dalit Rights and Development’ examining the continuing significance of caste in contemporary development encounters and contentions in India. Professor Mosse is a Fellow of the British Academy, and serves on the editorial boards of World Development, American Ethnologist and Journal of Development Studies, and on mental health-related voluntary and statutory bodies in the UK. He is author of The Saint in the Banyan Tree: Christianity and Caste Society in India (2012), Cultivating Development (2005), and The Rule of Water (2003).  Most recently, he has combined research on international development, Indian society and Dalit studies with interests in mental health and suicide prevention in India and the UK, interlinking research, local action and the shaping of policy. 

Sumeet Jain, University of Edinburgh

Sumeet Jain ( is Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Ph.D. in cultural psychiatry from University College London and degrees in social work and international development from McGill University and The University of Toronto, respectively. Current research examines the nature of local ‘innovations’ in community mental health; development of contextually grounded approaches to ‘recovery’ in north India; and the relationships between mental health, marginality and social exclusion. Sumeet is conducting long-term ethnographic research on community mental health services and policies in Uttar Pradesh state, India. He is associate editor of the journal, Anthropology and Medicine.