Look inside any college classroom in the United States and you may very well find a student from India. The second most populous country in the world ranks number one in the number of international students in the United States. The most recent study by the International Institute of Education found that India sends nearly 95,000 students to the U.S. to study.
In America, the opportunity to pursue a college degree cuts across all boundaries—racial, social, and cultural. Community colleges are open access, allowing anyone who wants to learn to have the opportunity to earn a college degree. Federal financial aid helps put college within reach of the most needy. Historically black colleges and universities offer greater opportunities for African American students.
Despite India’s great strides in technology and innovation, a college education is not a given. The separation between the haves and the have-nots often times comes down to a person’s caste. For Americans, the caste system is complicated and confusing. I personally have quizzed my Indian friends to try and understand the system, but I still can’t fathom why this seemingly outdated classification continues to persist even in these modern times.
The statistics are startling. As recent as 2000, the fifth class known as the Dalits (or “untouchables”) had only 5 percent of its male population as college graduates. For women, the percentage of college graduates was 1.67.
Hope may be on the horizon for social media and technology to become the “great equalizer.” Cell phones are becoming commonplace in India with tens of millions of people from all classes paying hard earned money for the chance to communicate. While Internet use is strongest in the cities, the country’s overall usage continues to grow and the cell phones provide an affordable tool for accessing social media.
Blogger and writer Gadi Amit sees mobile phones (don’t call them cell phones, he says) as the tool that could literally connect the entire world. As he sees it,
“for roughly $100-200B, we could guarantee that all of humanity is connected, accounted for, and enjoying digital life, regardless of gender, race or national origin.”
By giving everyone a mobile phone, regardless of their caste or their income, Amit believes seven areas would greatly benefit:
• Social policy
• Global economic recovery
But before you get out your checkbook to buy the world mobile phones, blogger
Gaurav Mishra gives some thoughtful considerations about the caste system inside of social media. Orkut, the top social media site in India and conveniently available on a mobile phone, has a large number of caste-based groups, allowing Indians to perpetuate their caste society and stratification.
I went into my research on India believing that social media could provide the country’s citizens with an opportunity to develop friendships beyond societal boundaries, but it seems that social media will only go so far. It will take each citizen’s own actions online and in-person to truly dissolve the centuries-old system and build a caste-less society. For any company headed to India, romantic notions of their brand crossing caste lines must be tempered with reality. It can be done… just look at the mobile phones… but there is no guarantee.