Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reservations VII: Are we dividing our nation along caste lines?

Isn’t reservations-based-on-caste actually perpetuating casteism in India instead of eliminating it? Isn’t it dividing the nation along the caste lines?

I too would like to live in an ideal world where I am not judged by my color of the skin, my religion, my caste or my nationality but only by my character and personality (#). But unfortunately, I don’t live in that ideal world. Ideally I would love to know that I am not judged by my caste, but I am, whether I like it or not. And more so in rural India, where ‘What is your caste?’ is the second question following ‘What is your name?’ Decisions and judgments are made as soon you answer that second question. What follows next is seen through a filter that was brought in after this second answer.

I cannot close my eyes and believe that everyone is blind. Just because certain elite believe it, casteism doesn’t get shooed away. Casteism is a fundamental identity in Hindu society, whether one likes it or not. Even today the marriage happens only within one’s caste- just look at millions of matrimonial ads on Internet. The people even go the sub-caste and sub-sub-caste to emphasize their preference. The statistics are very lopsided. Of the 400 faculty members at IIT Chennai 285 are Brahmins and 3 are SCs. The minute the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh is a Reddy, every Vice-Chancellor invariably is a Reddy. Once that is done, the upper caste members sit down to share the Head of Departments and other important positions between themselves. According to Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD, enrolment of SCs in higher educations was 8.6 % during 1990-91 and is 11.3% in 2002-03, while that of STs is 2.1% and 3.6%. According the Committee, the participation of SC/STs is “abysmally low”.

To remove poverty one has to admit that poverty exists and then go about identifying who are poor and then actually implement plans and programs to people who are poor. To remove AIDS in India, one has to admit that AIDS exists and recognize that it is spreading like wildfire, unchecked and unrelenting, and then go about identifying the AIDS patients, provide care to contain it. In the same vein, to remove problems associated with casteism, one has to admit that discrimination-based-on-caste exists, and then go about identifying the sections that are affected, and implement plans and programs to help them.

There is another way to deal with the problem- believing that poverty does not exist, and somehow expect it go away, or believing that AIDS does not exist, and somehow expect it vanish away. As long as poverty and AIDS do not come into my home, I would like to believe it does not exist, and that way I can go about leading my ordinary life without getting affected. The signs of such apathy are clearly seen in India in many episodes. Any attempt to determine the poverty levels of India are fought by various groups to ensure that more and more people fall above the poverty line, and when Bill Gates donated $400 million or odd to AIDS campaign, many Indians shouted against him for unnecessarily highlighting a problem ‘which doesn’t exist’. Any attempt to legalize prostitution so that AIDS can be brought under check is fought against. We want to believe that there are not many poor people out there. We want to believe that there are not many AIDS patients out there. In the similar vein, most of us want to believe that discrimination-based-on-caste does not exist. If any attempt to rectify these ills is proposed, the people go about fighting it, because it only highlights certain uncomfortable truths which one is not ready to deal with.

Casteism has been made an integral part of Hinduism slowly and systematically. When I use the word ‘systematically’ I use it with great care. I know exactly what I want to convey. It is an extremely rigorous and fool-proof process that has come into existence where in many rules, by-rules, laws and by-laws have been made part of Hinduism so as to maintain dominance of certain castes making sure that certain other castes are always kept out of all those key areas which could empower people. The rules include how to treat a Dalit when you cross him in a street, how to deal with a Shudra when you take work from him. Rules on whether you can invite him inside your home or not. Whom you can marry and whom you cannot. Who you can associate with and make friendship and whom you cannot. And when you transgress, like, associating yourself with a lower caste person, there are certain rituals that you can perform to cleanse yourself of contamination.

Most of us have a myopic view of India. One starts to believe that India is what you see in your daily life. When an American co-worker in US asked- “Do Indians girls wear Jeans and Skirts in India?” an Indian friend quickly replied- “Yes, most of them do!” Upon my prodding, he added, “Yeah! Where I live they all do”. Just because some of the upper caste students have never known each others caste because it has become a non-issue, it does not mean the rest of the India (which happens to be 80% of India) is the same. Just because none of your friends is an AIDS patient does not mean AIDS does not exist in India. Just because urban Indians do not know or pretend they don't know anything about caste does not make it disappear. I wish the world was that simple. When such a large scale discrimination happens for centuries, the first step one has to do is actually recognize it and admit it, instead of ignoring it. A great care is taken in the western world to teach the kids the evils of Holocaust. Nobody goes about saying- ‘why are you bringing this subject, it will only cause further divide’. A great care is taken in US to teach its kids the mistakes of discrimination, positives of civil rights movement, and these topics are actually debated in schools. Nobody goes about saying- ‘Hey, why are we unnecessarily discussing these topics, it will only increase the racial divide’.

But in India, when any topic of discrimination-based-on-caste is raised, it is hush-hushed by everyone- parents, school teachers, and now even by media. They all say- ‘Let’s not talk about it; let’s not implement programs based on caste. It will only divide India further’. What is there to divide further? Whatever has to be divided and exploited, it has already been done slowly and systematically for over two thousands years. What can a SC/ST/OBC person lose more? He has already lost his self-respect thousands of years ago. He has no possessions. He is a bonded labor to a rich land lord. What more can he lose by this divide? What further discrimination can one mete out to him?

One of the first things a mature civilization can do is admit its mistakes. That never happens in India. No group or body representing forward castes comes out in the open to say- ‘I apologize for what we have done to you in the past’. Instead, what everyone wants to say is- “Look, I am closing my eyes. I don’t see evil anymore. It has just vanished. Now don’t even talk about it because it will bring back the evil”.

Go to Germany and make a Nazi salute and see everyone’s reaction. Talk about the glory days of Nazi era and see everyone’s reaction. That nation has grown to completely abandon everything Nazi and have learnt to abhor and hate what they have done as a nation. They are taught the evils of Holocaust again and again. Those lessons are mandatory. They are not shunned from their books. They tell themselves- ‘Let’s learn history so that we do not repeat such evils once again.’ They paid for the damages amounting into billions of dollars. For ever, they have taken up an apologetic stance.

Look at India now. The same upper castes that have carefully coordinated and orchestrated the whole discrimination are now fighting tooth and nail to preserve their monopoly on education and employment. Why education and employment, one may ask. That’s because, they are basic means of empowerment that provides one with self-respect and self-dignity. Without that one can rule the other forever, making them slaves and bonded labor. One who is educated and employed can aspire to become what he wants, unshackling the bonded labor and slavery, and they may go onto become a businessman, an artist, a musician or a sports player.

It is disgusting and downright ugly to see some of the jokes being propagated these days- which talk about quotas in cricket and at lavatories. One joke suggests an expedition to moon to have so many SC/ST, so many OBC, and only two would be actual astronauts. The innate belief in making these jokes is that only the forward caste are actually qualified to drive the mission to moon.

Those who fear that this new set of reservations-based-on-caste will bring further divide have the following opinion- “I didn’t know who was OBC/SC/ST till yesterday and hence I did not feel any different from them. But now this labeling is making me know them. And from now on, I will feel different towards them”. Few others have a similar opinion- “SC/ST/OBC were just idling away in the fields working on bonded labor for a rich landlord. That didn’t bother me because I didn’t know about them. But now, you are bringing them into our midst, our institute, our ‘islands of excellence amongst sea of mediocrity’ and that bothers me. As long as they are out there, I don’t mind. Putting them in our midst causes me to label them and hence that divides us.”

My argument to them is simple. If knowing who they are or having them in your midst causes your mindset to change, I am not sure how does that make you any less discriminatory. What you are conveying is this- “I am discriminatory. But, don’t make me do it. So, keep them away or let me not know them. That way I don’t have to feel guilty about it”.

(#) I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character- Martin Luther King.


  1. Best article that I have ever read on reservations. Very revealing.

  2. SC/ST/OBC were just idling away in the fields working on bonded labor for a rich landlord.

    Uh! Nice try, the reality however is more like this "SC/ST were just idling away in the fields working on bonded labor for a rich OBC landlord"

    The problem is most people who are aware of social realities see through this. SC/ST are just not the same as the OBCs. Neither Ambedkar nor the constitution spoke about OBCs. This grouping is artificial and includes many of your so-called landlord communities.

    If you want examples, the dominant landlords of south india including Vokkaligas, Lingayats, Gounders, Mudaliars, Ezhavas, are all classified as OBCs. So, I guess your opening sentence itself falls flat.

    On the other hand, if we had a carefully monitored system in place. A system that identified the beneficiars of the quota system and periodically reviewed the castes on the OBC list. A system that was actually reclassfied some dominant OBCs if they were found to be ahead of the so called mainstream. Now, that would be a fair system. I dont think anyone would complain if we had such a system.

    Unfortunately, what we have is a total lemon. In your state and all your neighbouring states most OBC seats are cornered by two/three powerful communities with no history of social oppression.

    And let us leave the SC/STs out of this. Let us also not talk about sweepers, night soil cleaners, graveyard workers, and bonded laborers. We are talking about OBCs here.

  3. To club OBCs with STs and SCs is
    totally wrong.Some castes in OBC
    are well off and are socially advanced.Why they need reservation.

  4. Reservatons can't divide an already divided society!

  5. Reservations are seems to be regrouping society on caste basis , not a worse thing to happen.

  6. The same upper castes that have carefully coordinated and orchestrated the whole discrimination are now fighting tooth and nail to preserve their monopoly on education and employment.

    Not true. You cannot make people answer for what their ancestors did. What you can hold them responsible for is what is happening today.

    And it is true that many in the upper castes are still trying to preserve that hegemony, but why should all the people be punished on account of these? Its no different from the idea that because some Muslims are terrorists, all are.

    The innate belief in making these jokes is that only the forward caste are actually qualified to drive the mission to moon.

    No, what they are trying to do is to show their disagreement to reservations.

    No doubt, people of any caste can become astronauts or anything else. But they should not become astronauts or whatever because they are from a particular caste.

  7. RC has raised a very valid point that more often it is an SC/ST labouring at a rich OBC land lord. At least, it is so in UP. I do not understand why people can't go to an actual village and ask SC/STs about who is oppressing them before running their imagination loose.

    Do not expect Sujai & Inc. to understand this. They have lived their life in the US and know about Indian society only through books.

  8. Sujai, I find this whole "apologizing" business ridiculous. If you or your forefathers have done something in the past that you feel ashamed of, please go ahead and apologize. As far as I know of my history, I do not know of anything that I feel guilty about.

    On a slightly different note, I am reading nowadays Abraham Eraly's "The Mughal Throne". Eraly is no right wing apologist. However, even there I find accounts of religious persecution policies of shahjahan and aurangzeb that I find truly disgusting. Do you think muslims should now apologize to hindus for those excesses?

    Let me know what you think.

    - Vivek

  9. Vivek:

    I don't think this 'apologizing' business is ridiculous. Otherwise, I would not have resorted to that in one of the articles (titled 'I Apologize').

    I think apologizing helps to certain extent. Japanese apologizing to Chinese for rape of Manchuria, Whites apologizing to Native Americans, Germans apologizing for the Holocaust, etc.

    I believe that mature societies and individuals apologize. It a good character to build in oneself.

    On whether Muslims should apologize for excesses committed during Mughal Period, I think you should ask them.

    I, for one, will not impose onto others whether they should apologize or not. Its for each of us to decide whether we want to do or not.

  10. Vivek:
    We inherit glories of our ancestors, the way we feel proud of our Vedas, invention of zero, etc, and we also inherit some of their sins.

    Its up to each of us to selectively choose what we want to be proud of and what we want to feel guilty of.

    I, for one, would rather inherit the sins than their glories. It makes me work for better things in this life instead of basking in the glories of the past.

    We are all different kinds of people.

  11. If you want to promote social mobility, it is possible to do so without linking it to caste or religion.

    Why not link it to Income?

  12. Sriram:
    Why not link it to Income?

    I would love to. But Income of a person in India is not known. But the caste of a person is known - and is used for all kinds of discrimination (unfortunately).

  13. Do you think the Americans should pay war reparations to the Japanese for dropping two nuclear bombs on them in WWII?

  14. Sriram:

    Do you think the Americans should pay war reparations to the Japanese for dropping two nuclear bombs on them in WWII?

    I am not sure.

    Should Japan pay war reparations to USA for bombing Pearl Harbor?

    Having said that, Germany has been paying war reparations for quite long.

  15. Americans should atleast acknowledge the fact that they were responsible for the most hideous war crimes in history instead of trying to rationalize them and making a stupid excuse of a movie like Pearl Harbour.
    Germans feel a great sense of shame for Holocaust but Americans dont seem to feel any sense of sorrow or shame for their war crimes which is clearly reflected in their foreign policy.

  16. Sujai: What do you think of Malaysia's Bhumiputra programme.

    Isn't that a logical extension of your pro-reservation argument?

  17. Sriram:
    I do not know much about Bhumiputra program. I will have to read up on it.

  18. Regd: The War Reparations thread of thought:
    The only difference between Germany and America was that the latter won.

    America pays no reparations to the Native Americans for the genocide on them, the British made no apologies for allowing a million to starve to death in the Bengal famine that was their creation, or the junkies that they hooked in China.

    This kind of politics is about the will to power, and what you're in support of another kind of hegemony, the where you can lump a bunch of people, systematically hold them hostage for the alleged sins of their forefathers.

    How far back do you want to go?

    It is fairly evident by the kind of leaders we have in power today and their caste based politics that a new power structure has risen.
    That we allow once bunch of people to rise at the expense of another smacks of retribution, especially when you think of education (or life) as a glorious sport.

    West Africans have a natural superiority over others in this regard. Should we introduce a reservation system for gold medals?

    Besides, retributive punishment is unequal because two wrongs do not make a right.

  19. Sriram:

    Should we introduce a reservation system for gold medals?

    I wrote nearly 18 articles on this topic and most of them in 2006.

    I have covered such questions as above in some of these articles or as comments.

    Hope you will excuse me if I do not answer all of your questions (since many of them are already covered).

    Before I leave, let me answer this one.

    reservations are confined to areas of education and opportunity (mostly defined as employment) - which are broadly defined as areas of empowerment.

    Winning gold medals, etc, are not those basic empowerment areas.

  20. Sriram said:
    This kind of politics is about the will to power, and what you're in support of another kind of hegemony, the where you can lump a bunch of people, systematically hold them hostage for the alleged sins of their forefathers.

    The past cannot be divorced from the present. If 2000 years of systematic discrimination has resulted in gross inequalities today they can only be rectified by empowering those people in the fields in which they have been discriminated like education. Reservations have worked splendidly in Tamilnadu. Don't know why they shouldn't work well in other parts of the country too.

  21. Sujai:

    I have read several posts in your blog and agree with almost all your points of view. The one area of disagreement is with regard to reservations. When you get a few moments free, can you please let me know your views on the following:

    1) Consider a scenario wherein a certain individual is an SC. He has been working in a Public Sector Bank for several years, and is now on the verge of retirement. He now has a plot of land and a flat. His daughter is married and his son has just gained admission into an elite institute based on his OBC status.

    In your opinion, is this the right way forward? In other words, must the concept of reservations transcend generations?

    2) Have you, in your personal experience, ever come across discrimination on the basis of caste in any of the new-age private sector companies (A company like Infosys/IBM/Citibank)?

    3) Consider a scenario wherein a young boy gets admission into a primary school on the basis of his OBC status. He then proceeds to get admission into an undergraduate course, again based on his SC status. He then joins the PWD, again based on his SC status.

    Do you think it is proper that the above-mentioned person, after having been given not one, but two opportunities, should be given yet another opportunity on the basis of caste, this time for a secure "lifetime" job?

    I would like to know your views on this because to me, the concept of reservations seems grossly unfair in its present form.


  22. @vinay
    If a Brahmin and only a BRAHMIN ALONE can be priest in a elite temple and by virtue of his caste his son also becomes a priest in the same temple or chose another elite temple and then his grandson and so on and on till date and will continue forever and mind you these people are enjoying free food ,lodging and even sex( devdasis)
    if VAISHYA AND ONLY A VAISHYA ALONE -a baniya,chettiar,gupta-vaishyas father starts a business then his son inherits it and gets it and the social sanction permissions and exclusive rights to any other lucrative commercial enterprise available and gains wealth as a result and then his son,grandson,great grandsons etc till date and counting only because of CASTE
    and then there are THE KSHATRIYAS- choudharys,thakurs etc the rulers and currently landowners of thousands of hectares of lands again same stories of son grandsons etc by virtue of their CASTE ALONE and not any other virtue,
    Now all of this was not done in an atmosphere of fairplay or justice or based on MERIT or any such virtue
    Rather it was done at the expense of denying other castes in any and all of these fields.Not just this
    they are oppressed,demoralised,stripped paraded naked raped and subject to
    unmentionable sub human treatment (that would put any nazi SS torturer to shame) TRULY BROKEN in every sense of the word.
    dont tell me this is PAST.It is not it is ONGOING.Only it is not visible in cities.And what happens in villages is given an obscure corner space in the middle pages in the newspapers and the investigations are coolly covered up.
    None of you think it fit to condemn it instead you all are in denial.
    you beat the pakistanis at the denial game by miles.

  23. coming to companies like Infosys,IBM,etc it is not the companies or the company policy but the Hiring Managers who, when they are uppercaste hindus,which more often than not they are, do the damage and I have come across instances of people who were not even called for interviews,let alone hired, on account of their lower caste names like 'chamar' etc.


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