Intro : After Independence, the Constitution makers gave a provision for reservations to certain sections of society to enable them to regain social status in society. However, the implementation of affirmative action seems to be flawed and instead of the number of reserved castes reducing over time, it has only increased. The recent movement by the Patel’s of Gujarat also falls in the same category.

In every decade, the discussion about caste based reservation becomes hot for few years. Sometimes it takes anti-upper caste colour; occasionally it becomes anti-reservation movement while it turns into the movement of OBCs. This decade is not an exception. However, the tragedy is that the stakeholders do not progress towards a solution and positions become more rigid. What are the reasons? Of course there are issues of clouded prejudices and localised personal experiences that make the positions strong. However, considering that the discussions are now rampant especially on Social media platforms, it may be worthwhile to deconstruct the issue in constructive manner.

Those who oppose Reservations say

  • The constitution makers envisaged only 10 years for reservations. Why is it continuing till date?
  • Why should merit suffer? It leads to mediocrity.
  • Is this not reverse discrimination?
  • Reservation should be based on economic criteria. Those who support Reservations say
  • The lower castes were subjected to discrimination for centuries by Hindu society and hence seek redressal.
  • Discrimination is still rampant and large sections are still under-privileged.

Undoubtedly, both the arguments have their own merit. However, instead of engaging each other in dialogue, the groups have transferred their power of attorney to politicians who make good use of the issue to further their interests. Based on electoral considerations, even personal rivalries or land disputes get caste colours. Let us try and address the issues one by one:

Discrimination

The standard terminology that is used is “Discrimination of centuries by upper castes”. The character of a society is revealed during times of crisis. History bears testimony that for centuries that all castes stood by each other to fight the invaders. In fact, there are no instances in history which show inter-caste conflict as the reason for a loss. So-called lower castes like Jat, Mina, Meo, Bachgoti, Baghela, Tomar, Barwaris, Gonds, Bhils, Satnamis, Marathas, Oraons, Gujars, Kunbis, put up a heroic and determined resistance to the invaders.

Battles that we lost were either due to personal ambition, treachery, excessive chivalry or under-preparedness. The subsequent treatment of all Hindu jaatis (castes) by the invaders was the same – oppression. In fact, some of the so-called upper castes were later made to menial jobs like manual scavenging and it lead to an increase in castes which were later enumerated as Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes. The book Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Medieval Bharat throws great light on the same.

Unfortunately over a period of time, leadership of the rest of the so-called upper castes of society became rigid, forgot its moorings & intrinsic spirit of our scriptures of Atmavat Sarva Bhuteshu. As Vivekananda puts it, “Touch me not ism” became prevalent.

British Rule

During the British period, many artisan jaatis (castes) were destroyed effectively making them backward. Some castes which revolted were marked as criminal castes. When the British introduced their education system, many of the then upper castes took to it (or motivated to take to it) and were given jobs in administration positions. This was the period when the systematic discrimination was brought in. Pre-British rule surveys by British surveryors show that all sections of society received education in large numbers. This was later documented in the Beautiful Tree by Sri Dharampal. The British education system made it difficult for lower castes to get educated. The caste system became legally rigid during the British Raj, with the introduction of census. A system which was self-managed was made dependent on government for grants.

Reverse Discrimination

The argument by the anti-reservation groups is that what is being practised today is reverse discrimination.  “Why should we suffer” they say?

At the face of it, yes it does seem unfair that those who had nothing to do with the “wrongs” of the past are facing the brunt of a policy in which they feel wronged.  However, in a nation’s life, especially when one considers the society as an extended family, it is inevitable that some sections of society sacrifice some of their comforts for the sake of the less privileged. The term less privileged in this case is not from the economic point of view but from a social perspective. Community leaders from all sections have to come forward to discuss these issues and create greater understanding. This leads to competition for backwardness, over dependence on government, lack of self-respect, vote-bank politics and ultimately further degradation of society on caste lines.

Due to such flawed implementation of the reservation policy, number of SCs castes has increased from 1208 in 1950 to 1241 in 2011; number of Scheduled Tribes has gone up from 664 to 705 and Backward classes which later termed as OBCs have increased from 1257 to 5013. It effectively shows that instead we now have more and more castes aspiring to become part of the SC, ST and OBC community lists. It either shows that communities are being further impoverished by government policies or that there is a rush to fall backwards.

What is the way out?

This problem cannot have political solution because it requires political parties to have a view bigger than electoral politics. It can be solved by 3 stakeholders–Individuals, Community leaders (non-politicians) and Sadhus. We cannot wash away the fact that some of the castes were subjected to inhuman social discrimination, lack of temple entry during a period of time as stated above.

We need to instil the fact that Hindus always aspired to be of higher in virtues and never believed in living at the mercy of others. In 1921, jaati (caste) sabhas put up representations to be called as higher castes. The representations included—Ahirs as Yadavas, Yadava as kshatriya, Aheria as Hara Rajput, Ahir as Kshatriya, Banjaras as Chauhans and Rajputs, Barhai as Dhiman Brahman, Chamar as Jatav Rajput, Gadaria as Pali Rajput, Gujar as kshatriya, Jat as Jaduvanshi Thakur, Nai as Nai Brahman, Patwa as Brahman and so on. Each of this caste demanded a higher place in the social hierarchy, in contrast to the post-independent movement.

n As the 3rd RSS Sarsanghchalak, Shri Balasaheb Deoras put it,” In this task of bringing about social equality, we should be able to win over the support and cooperation of various types of people. We should, for that purpose, conduct ourselves with restraint and grace. Then only we will be successful. There are our religious leaders, saints, sages and scholars.
Though this appears as an uphill task, actually it is not so. Fortunately there are already auspicious indications that our Dharma Gurus have started working in this direction.”

Invoking Self- Respect

The above examples show that the so-called “backward” communities also did not ask for the mercy of anybody. They only desired an equal status and respect The Dalit Chamber of commerce is one such initiative in instilling a feeling of self-confidence and aspiration among the scheduled castes. We are individual examples where people have given up benefits of reservations in the second and third generation as Dr Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar, did. It is for the communities getting reservations to think and strive and chalk out a time-bound plan of rising themselves up. It is for them to decide how long these privileges should continue.

It is important that the socially upwardly mobile communities share a emphatic view on the situation of communities who are socially deprived and as a society must invest in educating the more underprivileged communities.

We must show ourselves, the world and our generation next that we are worthy descendants of ancestors who wanted to ennoble the World by Krunvanto Vishwam Aryam. This is possible through social leadership and not political.

(The article was originally published at Organizer – Caste Reservation: Deconstructing Reservations)

Caste Reservation : Deconstructing Reservations
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