Finding One's Place at University: The Case of Dalit Students in South Asia

Contemporary universities are full of modern ambivalences: while universities impose pressures and regulations on teachers and students, they simultaneously are and provide spaces of possibilities and freedoms for those working and studying there. South Asian universities – as is the case with universities all around Asia and beyond – are characterized by an increasing heterogeneity of students and the disparity in resources shaping the pathways to and pathways through academia. Their experience is significantly molded by class, gender, race, ethnicity, and other differentiating markers that are decisive for their sense of non/belonging and the modalities of inclusion and exclusion. These affect significantly how constellations within university social spaces contribute to, or counter-balance students’ disparities in life-chances. How such complexities are experienced and how they shape the socio-spatial constellations inside and outside of university ‘classrooms’ can only be captured by grasping how embodied, emotional and sensorial knowledge shapes students’ experiences of non/belonging. Especially class and power differentials have not yet been adequately discussed from the venture point of sensorial experience and knowledge. These will be analyzed by observing personal trajectories of Dalit students in India and Nepal through their educational pathways against the backdrop of socio-spatial constellations that are made and unmade on university premises. Different forms of ‘sentimental education’ will be of importance: constellations within classrooms as well as social encounters in leisure times when food, rituals, consumption may reproduce marks of distinction and enhance or mitigate the sense of non/belonging.