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What We Know About Diversity at Ashoka: A Look at the YIF Programme

Survey data from the Young Indian Fellowship, Class of 2018 confirms some intuitive beliefs about the level of diversity in student populations at Ashoka University.

From the Editor-in-Chief’s Desk

The following is an article written by alums of the Young India Fellowship batch of 2018, Aryaman Jain and Kartikeya Bhatotia. While at Ashoka University, they conducted a survey on diversity, the respondents to which were their fellow students in the programme. The survey, which got 228 responses, inquired about students’ socio-economic backgrounds. Parts of the survey requested information on religion, caste, languages spoken, while others focused on family income per annum and the amount of financial aid respondents have received. Although, this survey is limited to responses of Indian students, leaving out numbers and information from international Fellows. Further, the survey does not investigate the jati of respondents to whom it may apply, which may have implications for the reported caste composition of students at Ashoka.

The writers have requested The Edict to share their findings with the Ashoka community. To be sure, this survey only focused on the demographics of the 2018 YIF batch and cannot speak for the same in other batches or for the undergraduate student body. But the motivation for publishing is that we, at The Edict, believe this is important since it will be contributing to a more structured and well-informed conversation on student diversity at Ashoka.

Diversity at Ashoka

For the flagship Young India Fellowship programme, diversity has perhaps been one of its biggest selling points. Moreover, there are multiple testimonials available where YIF Alumni have expressed the sheer importance of the cohort diversity that made their academic year more enriching. This includes various discussions via email, as well as sessions on inclusivity at the Alumni Weekender events of 2017 and 2018.

Beyond the adulation, there have been audible voices from within the Ashoka community questioning this celebrated diversity; voices which have further sought to question what this diversity means in the context of Ashoka.

Although the fellows may come from a variety of educational backgrounds, we believe that the student body continues to represent a very narrow section of Indian society- from both current and past surveys, it can be observed, without inconsistencies, that each year the YIF students belong to a fairly upper class, upper caste and urban background. The question that thus arises is whether these cohorts truly represent a brave new ‘Young India’, which is often publicised. Moreover, we have a fear that the programme might be excluding already marginalised communities.

At an open house held during the Alumni Weekender in June 2018, several members of the administration were asked more than once about diversity and affirmative action. In response to these questions, Vice Chancellor Pratap Bhanu Mehta did not confirm demands for reservations, but did admit that some form of affirmative action may be required to make the student population more inclusive. Professor Mehta stressed the need to be more creative in developing affirmative action policies; referring to JNU’s points-based policy (a unique system points that gives weightage to students from disadvantaged social backgrounds and regions), he claimed that, “The management is working on formulating one, that should be in place within the next five years”. However, there seems to be a lack of consensus on the kind of affirmative action, amongst the students and the alumni. A task force on diversity and inclusivity was set up by the Alumni Council following a proposal given on the Alumni Weekender in 2017; although it has been brought to our notice that Sudhamshu Mitra, who was selected as the director of the said task force has since resigned.

Given the strong implications that these questions have for a still young Ashoka community, it is necessary to evolve, at least, toward some form of consensus. However, before any consensus can be brought about, it is vital to first establish the facts facing us.

Therefore, we conducted a survey to find out how diverse our batch appears to be in socio-economic terms. The survey took the form of a questionnaire facilitated through Google Forms. We approached all 279 Young India Fellows, either in person, on text or over mail. We received 228 responses (81.72%). Each response was anonymous, and every respondent was asked for consent to record their personal information. We identified a broad range of socio-economic indicators for our survey, including family income and caste. 56% of the respondents were female, 43% were male, while 0.8% identified as ‘others’ and transgenders.

This is the third consecutive year in which a social and economic background survey was conducted in the YIF programme by students. Discussing the implications of our findings goes beyond the task of this summary report. Our purpose is to spark a more well-informed conversation about diversity, something we hope our findings shall do.

1. Urban/Rural divide: Four out of five fellows hail from an ‘urban’ (specified in the graph) background. On the basis on their state of origin, the YIF Cohort of 2018 represented 20 out of 28 states, and 3 out of 7 Union Territories of the country.

2. Median Family income: 63.16% Fellows reported their family income to be above ₹10 lakhs per annum, while the second highest income bracket was income groups above ₹30 lakhs per annum. The median family income of the respondents lay between ₹10–15 lakhs per annum. 84.65% of fellows come from a family owning at least one four-wheeler vehicle.

3. Caste indicators: 88.7% of respondents reported being a part of the General Category, while, an additional 4.98% Fellows reported belonging to Creamy Layer of OBCs, who are legally recognised as a part of the General Category. This leaves 4.98% of respondents from the ‘Non-Creamy’ layer of Other Backward Castes and 1.4% of fellows from Scheduled Castes. None of the respondents belong to the Scheduled Tribes Category. Among fellows who could identify their caste and bore knowledge of it (71.62%), 28.04% were Brahmin.

4. Religion: With 81.25% of respondents reporting that they were born into a Hindu household, there seems to be an overrepresentation of Hindu students in the batch, when contrasted with the community’s national proportion of 79.80%. Jains and Christians are also overrepresented at 3.57% and 6.70%, since their national proportions stand at 0.37% and 2.30% respectively. Sikhs are slightly under-represented at 1.34%, in comparison to their national share of 1.76%. Lastly, Muslims are severely underrepresented with only 5.80% of respondents hailing from an Islamic background, in contrast to their national share of 14.23%. (All National Data has been derived from Population by Religious Communities of Census 2011).

5. School education: 79% of respondents have exclusively received their education at private schools, and 8.3% have been only educated at government schools. At least one respondent has studied at a madrasa, and another at an ashram. With regard to co-curricular activities, respondents have received a total of 529 years of formal training in art forms or sports.

6. Persons with Disabilities and/or Mental Health Conditions : 1.32% of respondents reported having a physical disability, and 4.82% reported having mental health conditions.

7. Scholarship awarded by the University: One in two respondents received a scholarship ranging from ₹1- 1.5 lakhs. 4.39% of respondents received a full scholarship under which they were obligated to pay just for the food — a sum of Rs. 80,000. Formally, there exists no scholarship at the YIF which covers the entire cost of tuition, stay and food.

8. Universities: One in three respondents attended the University of Delhi for their undergraduate education.

9. Formal education of parents: All respondents, barring one, have parents who have received some formal education. 86.40% of respondents’ mothers have completed at least a college degree, while 84.21% of respondents’ fathers have completed at least a college degree.

Note from the Writers:

We hope that this survey acts as a facilitator for sound and informed discussions related to diversity, inclusivity and representation for the Young India Fellowship programme and the University. In this survey, we tried to be as meticulous as possible; by referring to surveys taken in previous batches, we tried to fill in gaps and looked at ‘diversity’ from as many vantage points as possible. The objective of such an exercise is to reach an informed position regarding the sociological makeup of the Young India Fellowship batches and to initiate conversation henceforth. We welcome the criticism of methodology used so that the process can be improved upon for the batches hereafter at Ashoka University. Further, we urge the current batch to attempt similar surveys and initiate discussions regarding diversity.

Kartikeya Bhatotia and Aryaman Jain (YIF’18) The authors would like to thank: Parth Shrimali (YIF ’17), Sabah Azad (YIF ’17), Prof. Bittu (Ashoka University), Ashish Ranjan (Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University) and Rahul Maganti (YIF ’16)

Data Collection by Aryaman Jain, Kartikeya Bhatotia, Fatima Khan, Ishan Mehandru, Ankur Naik, Kavya Bhola, Kartikay Khetarpal, Prashasti Singh, Naman Bansal, Siddharth SP, Zara Bakshi, Jince George, Saahil Arvind Kejriwal, Akansha Naredy, Samia Mehraj, Krishna Shekhawat and Raashi Raghunath (YIF’18).

The full report compiled by the writers can be found at this link.

The Edict did not participate in the creation and implementation of this survey, all findings belong to the survey conductors; all reported events/incidents are the writers’ own, the newspaper has tried to verify this to the best of its ability.

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