There are more than 50 such hostels in Bangalore
Bangalore: The aspiration for modern education in colonial times did not automatically come with an aspiration to break from traditional caste and kinship ties. On the contrary, educational opportunities often came canalised through these old networks.
This linkage is most striking in the setting up of students’ hostels in the late colonial period by philanthropists to aid young men in their communities access higher education in cities. Many of them have survived until today.
Since a large number of these hostels are run by trusts and do not receive government aid, it is difficult to say exactly how many caste-based hostels exist in Bangalore.
There are more than 50 such hostels by a conservative estimate, including those run by Lingayats, Vokkaligas, various sub-sects of Brahmins and castes within the backward classes bracket.
“Many were started in colonial times by rich patrons of the community. Whether they eventually flourished or did not was linked to the community’s access to political power,” says J. Sreenivasan, president of the Karnataka State Backward Castes Federation.
The historical and social contexts in which these hostels emerged are varied. Hostels of Brahmin sub-sects, for example, could be linked to the concept of “varanna”, whereby a family took on the responsibility of providing free food to a student on a designated day in a week.
“Lingayats have a 120-year history of hostels, while Vokkaliga hostels emerged 60 to 70 years ago,” says Ramesh Bairy T.S., Assistant Professor of Sociology at IIT, Bombay, whose doctoral thesis is on caste organisations. Many of the upper caste hostels, he adds, were off-shoots of the existing math structures.
These hostels, without ambiguity, prioritised students of their own communities. They were seen as the next best thing to staying with a relative, keeping them within the definition of a caste despite their distance from the families. “They provided not merely shelter, but were spaces where a kind of community-making happened,” says Prof. Bairy. But this was not always to the complete exclusion of others. “A number of public figures in Karnataka today have had some association with one or the other of the Lingayat maths, the hostels they ran and the ‘dasoha’ they provided,” he adds.
Interestingly, very few of the caste-based hostels provided space to women, born as they were at a time few women entered higher education. Even today most of them cater to boys, though there are some stray efforts at redefining them. An instance is the recent opening of Hoysala Karnataka Sangha’s working women’s hostel.