Degrees without Freedom: The Impact of Formal Education on Dalit Young Men in North India


  • Craig Jeffrey,

    1. Lecturer in Geography at the University of Edinburgh (Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK). His research interests include state/society relations and the politics of agrarian change in contemporary India. His forthcoming publications include ‘Karate, Computers and the Qu’ran: Zamir’(with Patricia Jeffery and Roger Jeffery, to appear in Mukulika Bannerjee (ed.)Muslim Portraits, Penguin forthcoming).
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  • Roger Jeffery,

    1. Professor of Sociology of South Asia at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include social demography, agrarian change and education in post-liberalization India. Forthcoming publications include Confronting Saffron Demography: Religion, Fertility and Women's Status in India, Three Essays Collective (with Patricia Jeffery).
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  • Patricia Jeffery

    1. Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests focus on the interconnections between gender and communal politics among Hindus and Muslims in South Asia. Her latest publications include: ‘Islamisation, Gentrification and Domestication’(with Roger Jeffery and Craig Jeffrey, in Modern Asian Studies 2004) and Educational Regimes in Contemporary India(co-edited with Radhika Chopra, Sage forthcoming).
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  • This article is based on research focusing on household strategies, schooling regimes and social exclusion. We are grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number R000238495), Ford Foundation and Royal Geographical Society for funding aspects of this research, and to the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, for our attachment there in 2000–2002. We are also grateful to our research assistants, Swaleha Begum, Shaila Rais, Chhaya Sharma and Manjula Sharma; and to the people of Nangal for their friendship, hospitality and time. We would also like to thank Jane Dyson, Jens Lerche, Linda McDowell, Jonathan Parry and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. None bear any responsibility for the content of this article.


This article considers the capacity of formal education to undermine established processes of caste and class reproduction in an area of north India, with particular reference to the views and strategies of educated Dalit young men. It draws on quantitative and qualitative research conducted by the authors in a village in Bijnor district, western Uttar Pradesh (UP). We discuss how educated Dalit young men perceive education, how they seek to use educational credentials to obtain ‘respectable’ jobs, and how they react when this strategy fails. Increased formal education has given Dalit young men a sense of dignity and confidence at the village level. However, these men are increasingly unable to convert this ‘cultural capital’ into secure employment. This has created a reproductive crisis which is manifest in an emerging culture of masculine Dalit resentment. In response to this culture, Dalit parents are beginning to withdraw from investing money in young mens’ higher secondary and tertiary-level education. Without a substantial redistribution in material assets within society, development initiatives focused on formal education are likely to be only partially successful in raising the social standing and economic position of subordinate groups.