Eklavya and Karna: An Understanding of Discrimination of Marginalised in Indian Education System

by Ritu


Mahabharata and Ramayana are considered as biggest epics (Mahakavya) of India are again in popular discussion with the repeat telecast of serials on Doordarshan amid Covid-19 crisis. Those who have access of television are watching the serial with great interest and rising TRPs of Doordarshan are proof of it. Coming to Mahabharata, the authorship of the great epic is accredited to Ved-Vyasa. Mahabharata is present in written and oral forms and its version changes according to different regions, caste and gender. It is popularly said that the Mahabharata touches every aspect of human life, it has thrown light on every kind of possible human relationship including teacher-pupil relationship. Though, the most popular characters of Mahabharata were Pandavas, Kauravas, Bhisma, Shakuni, Kunti, and Drona but the characters like Eklavya and Karna had created huge impact by their cameos. There are multiple anecdotes present on Arjuna’s bravery, Bhisma’s sacrifice, Drona’s knowledge but Karna’s archery skills and Eklavya’s devotion towards his teacher was sidelined.

Eklavya was son of Hirnadhanu who was King of Jungle belonging from Nishada (low-caste) community, Guru Drona denied giving education to Eklavya because he was not Kshatriya, belongs to low-caste and asked for his thumb as Guru Dakshina (fee) making him disable for future use of Dhanush-teer. When Arjuna asked Guru Drona that why he did so? Drona said that he can’t train Eklavya because he will fight against enemy of Hastinapur. Does this reason sound apt to this question? Drona didn’t train Eklavya because he belongs to Nishad community on the other side he wants Arjuna (Kshatriya) to become greatest warrior. It is totally understandable that why Drona denied giving him education but did he had right to take his thumb? If Drona didn’t want to give education then he has no right to disable a boy, prohibiting him for taking further education. The incidence reflects the present Brahmanical structure of the society and highlights the caste-based occupation where only Kshatriyas are allowed to become archer.

The story of Karna is another example of caste-ridden society who was adopted by Adhiratha (sarathi) who belongs to sutta (low-caste) community. The suttas are allowed to run Rathas of kings not to become Archer like kings. Karna desperately wanted to become archer being son of Surya(Sun) he was given kavach and kundal by birth, When Bishma saw the archery skills of Karna he was amazed but told to his father(Adhirath) that “indeed your son has great quality like kshatriyas but he can’t practice weaponry as this is reserved for kshatriyas only, If a son of sutta will become archer it will go against Prampara(Tradition) which is violation of Dharma(duty).”  In the veil of Parampara and Dharma a sutta-putra was not allowed to learn archery. In one incidence when Karna wanted to show his skills challenging Arjuna then he was not allowed to do so as only Kshatriya can challenge a Kshatriya. Iravati Karve in his book Yuganta: The End of an Epoch writes that despite of becoming friend of Duryodhana, Karna was never accorded equal status, he married to sutta-kanya even his sons were married in sutta family.

The stories of these two are genuine example of caste-ridden society where opportunity was given to upper castes and dreams of low-castes were suppressed. The discrimination in education was present in colonial India too. The caste-associations were formed for the welfare of particular castes and surprisingly it was not just upper-castes who formed organisations, the backward and lower castes also formed caste associations for the emancipation of their caste groups. When upper caste groups became aware of getting education to get government jobs, it was upper-caste people who have opened schools for upper-caste students where, lower caste students were not allowed to take admission. Prasanna Kumar Chaudhury writes in his book Svarg Par dhava: Bihar me Dalit Aandolan-1912-2000 that backwards and untouchables didn’t have money and power to open colleges and schools for their castes thus, they were dependent on government schools and colleges where, they were discriminated in many ways the upper-castes teachers refused to teach them, many upper-caste students didn’t want to sit beside them, instead of study they were made involve in cleanliness and guarding of the schools. In the book The Untouchables Ambedkar has highlighted that Brahmin wanted to maintain monopoly over education system as a reason they firmly tried to maintain varna system so that they could enjoy the status of priestly and educationist class.

Connecting the stories of Eklavya and Karna and experiences of Colonial India to the present context, in today’s world also we are witnessing the example of caste-discrimination in educational arena, and favouritism by upper-caste teachers to upper-caste students.

Today, the situation has little changed and we see Dalit students in our schools and colleges but when we compare the progress of education between forward and backward castes the backward castes are still low. The literacy rate among scheduled castes are 66 percent which is 8 per cent low than Average literacy rate 74 percent and amongst scheduled tribes the rate is just 59 per cent which is 15 per cent low than the total average. Tulsiram in his autobiography- Murdahiya has explained the hard struggle of his educational journey, when he was born no member from Dalit community was literate in his village, they have to visit educated Brahmins to read their letters, he was first member from his community who went to school and in school also he was abused by his upper-caste teachers, the teacher calls him “chamarkit”(derogatory word) he had to face taunts, mockery by Brahmins of his village. He says that it was difficult for Brahmins to digest the progress of a Dalit boy.

The presence of Dalit and Adivasi IAS officers, professors, scientists, engineers and doctors show that the literacy rate amongst Bahujans have been improved. But this does not mean that discrimination has been stopped, there are many eklavyas, and karnas who are deprived of getting education, unfortunately we still have example of Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, Muttu Krishnan, Fathima Lateef who ended their life due to caste and religious discrimination. Many upper caste teachers are teaching lessons on Ambedkar and Phule but they themselves are unable to take lessons from these personalities. Many professors are researching on Dalit issues but they discriminate with Dalit researchers by failing them, not passing their thesis, giving low scores in viva, and mocking their English.


The world needs to take lessons from the stories of Karna and Eklavya that they both are marginalised but they are empowered they had expressed their wishes and attempted to fulfil it. The teachers should not become like Drona who commits to teach students from a certain group, the mentality towards Bahujan students should be changed and their merit should not be questioned. Overall equal opportunity should be provided to everyone where one must not deprive of getting education because of their caste, colour and gender. Lastly for all marginalised!  Don’t afraid of fulfilling your dreams in the journey you may meet Drona but don’t give your thumb to them.


TV Serials

  • Chopra, B.R. Mahabharata, Released on DD National (2nd October1988- 24 June 1990)
  • Tewari, Siddhartha Kumar, Mahabharata, Released on Starplus (16th September 2013-16th August 2014)


  • Census of India, 2011 Government of India


  • Das, Bhagwan, Mai Bhangi hu, Gautam book Centre, Delhi, 2007
  • Tulsiram, Murdahiya, Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2010
  • Tulsiram, Manikarnika, Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2014


  • Ambedkar, B.R. The Untouchables: Who were they and why they became untouchables?, Amrit Book and Co. New Delhi, 1948
  • Karve, Iravati Yuganta: The End of an Epoch, Orient Longman, October, 1995
  • Chaudhury, Prasanna Kumar, Svarg Par Dhava: Bihar me Dalit Aandolan, Vani Prakashan, New Delhi 2005
  • Caroll, Lucy, Caste, Social Change, and the Social Scientist: A note on Ahistorical Approach to Indian Social History, Association of Asian Studies, Vol.35, (Nov. 1975), pp.63-84
  • Verma, Ramkumar, Eklavya, Bharati Bhandar, Leader Press, Allahabad, 2015

Ritu is Research Scholar, researching on Dom (scheduled caste) of Bihar University of Delhi




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