Monday, July 02, 2007

Reservation XV: OBC Issue

I didn’t think that I would be writing another article on the ‘Reservations’ issue. I have already written 14 of them. But of late, I got some comments on my blog which kept referring to OBC issue. It was the only topic on reservations I had not touched upon in those 14 articles. Now, I think it’s high time I put my thoughts on this subject.

The detractors of an issue usually run from one aspect of the issue to another baiting it from different angles, not because they are interested in debating and reasoning, but because they want to point out at least one flaw so that they can undermine the whole issue using it. That flaw could be anything – it could be an irrelevant one- but identifying that flaw is important for them, because based on that single flaw they can now sit down to discredit the whole issue.

To most detractors of reservations, OBC issue is one of those flaws. By making you concede that this system of reservations-based-on-caste is not perfect when it comes to OBC issue, they want to cast a doubt on the entire reservations issue. The detractors of reservations-based-on-caste love the OBC issue the way the creationists love the supposed gaps in the fossil records of humans. This gap alone seems to make a case for creationism in spite of all the evidences which suggest otherwise. The creationists are bent on reducing the argument to these gaps, and then saying, ‘Voila! There goes your theory down the drain. Hence, creationism prevails!’ The same applies to anti-reservation proponents. OBC issue is their pet gap.

Intentionally and quite deliberately, I did not delve into the issue of OBCs in my previous articles. The reason is simple. As a big first step, I wanted us to agree or disagree on whether we need reservations-based-on-caste. Without resolving that issue first, it’s unnecessary and sometimes confusing to talk about OBC issue. Some of the core ideas I wanted to highlight through my previous articles are the following:

1. Discrimination happened in this country for centuries. It was based on caste.

2. Any correction or incentive to combat that problem has to be based on caste lines, however distasteful the concept of caste is.

3. Reservations-based-on-caste though imperfect seems to be the best possible solutions given other alternatives.

Discussing OBC issue is like opening a can of worms. And I shall open that can in this article. However, this article is not for everyone. If one does not agree on reservations-based-on-caste in the first place, then talking about reservations for OBC does not make sense anyway. Let’s take the case here where we first agree that reservations-based-on-caste do make sense for SC/STs. Then we ask, how about OBCs?

Do OBCs deserve reservations?

I wish Indian caste system was simple. Unfortunately, it is not. Most of us growing up in India fail to understand or comprehend this all-pervading system. Many of us grow up never learning it the right way. Parents refrain from discussing it, teachers pretend such a thing doesn’t exist, and therefore we end up knowing about it from streets, and it usually happens to be a bad education. First, let’s understand hierarchies of castes a little better.

The Indian caste system was systematically developed over thousands of years. Though four or five layers were originally defined (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, Outcastes), many castes came about within each layer, and over a period of time, the hierarchy of caste themselves changed to certain extent, more so in what is classified as Shudras. The stratification of Indian caste is more complicated than the simplified picture that is usually shown in the pyramid shape. Brahmins themselves had sub-castes and the same is true for Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Even SC/ST is not just one caste. There is a hierarchy within SCs too. The discrimination faced by these castes within SCs is not same in all parts of India. In some ways, STs (Scheduled Tribes) did not face the wrath of discrimination as bitterly as SCs. Scheduled Castes were closer to the village, living on its periphery, playing a role in the village life whereas STs were completely cut off from the village life, leading their own hunting and scavenging exercises. But, all of them were considered pariah, and were kept out of mainstream of Indian society.

Did Shudras get discriminated?

Shudras (defined as OBC) do not form a single entity. They consist of hundreds of castes and sub-castes. They comprise mostly the worker class. They consist of artisans like potters, weavers, blacksmith, goldsmith, etc, and also castes like fishermen, snake charmers, etc. Shudras constitute a huge section of India. The population of OBC in Indian is in between 300 million and 550 million depending on whom you talk to. Whatever may be the numbers, it’s quite huge, even bigger than population of US. A certain caste of Shudra was not treated the same across all regions. In some regions of India, certain Shudras enjoyed the same privilege or may be better privilege than some of the upper castes. For example, Maharajah of Mysore comes from a Shudra family. In some other regions of India, certain Shudras have become the landlords and eventually merged with other higher caste landlords to create a new caste itself, like Reddys of Andhra Pradesh. At the same time, some of the OBCs were treated as bad as Dalits in certain regions, like the fishermen, or dhobis, etc.

Shudras comprise a huge set of worker population in India. They were those who were carrying out crafts like: fishing, hunting, bird-snaring; agricultural labor on the lands of others; earth work, stone-breaking, salt manufacturing, lime-burning; toddy-tapping; animal rearing; butchery; hair-cutting; washing of clothes; ferrying by boat; safai (i.e. “scavenging”); knife grinding, grain roasting; entertaining through song and dance, acrobatics jugglery, snake-charming, acting; begging or mendicancy.

While the detractors usually cite examples of those Shudras who did well, many Shudras were discriminated to different degrees, including the same treatment as that of Untouchables. This discrimination was varying from region to region. I made the following picture to explain this.


Darker the shade more the discrimination! For example, the castes falling in layer E is closer to Untouchable and were practically considered untouchables while the castes falling in layer A were closer to the upper castes and must have faced negligible or minimal discrimination. Different castes were discriminated differently in different regions of India. A caste in layer B in certain region could well be in layer D in another region.

While Indians usually are ready to concede that Dalits got discriminated because of the extremity of their discrimination – such as walking with broom tied to their backs, they are not ready to accept other kinds of discrimination which include exclusion from all kinds of education, exclusion from all kinds of official positions, exclusion from practicing any kind of art, depriving of living with dignity, etc.

It is patently wrong to say that no Shudras were discriminated. At the same time, it is a grossly wrong notion that all Shudras were equally discriminated.

I have taken the following text from National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC):

Since the concept of untouchability was not practiced uniformly throughout the country, the identification of OBCs is not an easy task. What is more, the practice of segregation and untouchability prevailed more in the southern parts of India and was more diffused in Northern India. An additional complexity is that there are certain castes/communities, which are considered as untouchables in one province but not in other provinces. Some castes, based on traditional occupations, find place in both Hindu and non-Hindu communities. Listing of castes has had a long history, starting from the earliest period of our history with Manu. Medieval chronicles contain description of communities located in various parts of the country. During the British colonial period, listings were undertaken after 1806, on an extensive scale. The process gathered momentum in course of the censuses from 1881 to 1931.

I definitely encourage the readers who cast doubts on OBC issue to read this document cited above. It details how they have identified different OBCs in different regions.

Did OBCs mistreat SC/STs?

Of course yes! All through our history every higher caste badly treated the lower caste whoever they were. Even amongst Shudras one can see the hierarchy. A local landlord though OBC would ill-treat a local Blacksmith (another OBC). The local Blacksmith in turn would ill-treat a local Dalit. And so on. It is not that OBC did not take part in discrimination. They did contribute to continuation of caste system and took part it, one side suffering from it, and on the side meting suffering to others.

Just because some OBCs have mistreated SC/STs does not make a case for depriving reservations to the rest of OBCs who were also highly discriminated.

Conclusion

To answer the question- which of the OBC deserve reservation and which do not - is not easy. However, to assert that OBCs were not discriminated and hence do not need reservations is trying to run away from the problem. And to say that all OBC were equally discriminated and hence each of them needs equal reservations is like oversimplifying the problem.

The answer lies somewhere in between, where one has to identify the groups – castes and sub-castes – for each region and see their indicators- representation in the government and in the education, economic indicators, social indicators, etc, to determine which group requires what amount of reservations. And that’s where it becomes highly subjective. Each group in each region wants to push for including their group into reservation category. Even those groups which have virtually enjoyed the privilege of a higher caste have sought reservations for their communities.

But just because such flaws exist, do we rubbish the reservation system and discard it? Not really. We will try to accommodate it however flawed it is. Just like our tax system. Just because some people end up paying-more-while-earning-less while some pay-less-while-earning-more, do we discard the tax system? Not really! We keep hoping that this system gets less flawed through time and we keep working towards it.

I believe that the struggle of man is to make this imperfect world less imperfect. Reservations-based-on-caste is not a perfect system. But that does not mean we will discard it. And when it comes to OBC issue we do know that many flaws exist, but we will go ahead implement it and work towards improving it.

24 comments:

  1. Your basic premise that OBC= Shudra is incorrect. You have to spend five minutes in a village to understand that OBCs identify themselves with kshatriya-s, not shudra-s. Shudra-s are SCs, not OBCs.

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  2. Anonymous:
    Why is that people don't crosscheck their assumptions before trying to correct others?

    All you have to do is do couple of searches on Google or may be try Wikipedia.

    SCs are NOT SHUDRAS.
    OBCs are SHUDRAS.

    Please check your results!

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  3. Sorry, I do not have to depend upon Google or Wikipedia. I have lived enough in a village to know the difference. I apologize having argued with you if your research is based on Google and Wikipedia.

    -Vivek

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  4. ..And if you ever set foot in a village, don't even hint to an OBC that he is "shudra". They are not known to make any special concession to arm chair experts.

    -Vivek

    ReplyDelete
  5. Vivek:
    Don't get upset. Remember what I said-
    Its different in different regions of India. You have lived in a village in certain part of India and you believe differently, and I am associated with villages of different part of India and I have different experiences!

    Harijan, though distasteful for most educated SCs is still a very nice word for many villagers in certain parts of India. It is still used without meaning an insult.

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  6. Vivek:
    Next thing you should do is if the argument loses its meaning if OBCs are called by any another name. If it doesn't, one can continue- instead of getting stuck on one small issue.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The only other thing that you have left out from your posts is the issue of creamy layer.

    How about Reservation XVI- Creamy Layer Issue?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sujai,

    Dont misconsture my comments as if I were trying to flame you.

    >>If one does not agree on reservations-based-on-caste in the first place, then talking about reservations for OBC does not make sense anyway<<

    I do agree that reservations based on caste makes sense because that's where most of the people who need subsidies were initially. Haven't things changed in the past 60 years? Isn't there a middle ground? Your blog post did not explore any middle ground and the possible middle ground is to disallow reservations based on caste for people whose parents have used them to provide the needed stuff. We all know how many same families used the SC/ST reservations for the past 60 years of Indian independence. Those who never got them in the same downtrodden catses, will never get them. Period.

    Don't tie discrimination based on caste with reservations based on caste. I condem the former seriously and would like more strict enforcement laws. How ever, what your blog post points/recommends is discrimintation of caste can/should translate directly/indirectly into reservations based on caste. This is what our leaders have done for ages and saying yes to reservations based solely on caste and not checking whether every one in the so called castes is getting a chance sounds like ludacris to me.

    >> To answer the question- which of the OBC deserve reservation and which do not - is not easy. However, to assert that OBCs were not discriminated and hence do not need reservations is trying to run away from the problem. And to say that all OBC were equally discriminated and hence each of them needs equal reservations is like oversimplifying the problem <<

    This is exactly I find truely bizzare. You get discriminated and you get reservations, instead of requesting for tighter enforcement.

    >> I believe that the struggle of man is to make this imperfect world less imperfect. Reservations-based-on-caste is not a perfect system. But that does not mean we will discard it. And when it comes to OBC issue we do know that many flaws exist, but we will go ahead implement it and work towards improving it <<

    So you have already given up on some thing you believe(d) and arrived at this conclusion to implement OBC reservation. Again, I am not against reservation of any sort based on caste, but its high time we inculcate some other metrics as well.

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  9. nixstor:

    Haven't things changed in the past 60 years?

    Things have changed in the last 60 years – for the good. But they haven’t changed enough. Indian upper class is surging ahead faster than ever before. Indian urban class is surging ahead faster than before. We are leaving behind a great deal of Indian population behind. The gap is widening faster than before. Unless we give enable these populations to take benefits from this growth, we will end up having a great divide. All those nations where there is a great divide between the rich and poor, crumble eventually under the weight of the downtrodden who will pull all of them together down – Bangladesh and Pakistan are good examples.

    Thanks to Indian reservation system, lot more of lower castes are being represented in the mainstream. But it is just not enough. There’s lot more to do. All the recent surveys taken in the Indian industry indicate that representations of lower castes are extremely low – almost negligible in certain spheres. Their representation in education, in government offices, in private industry, is extremely low, compared to their share of population. We need to keep the reservations ON till we reach a level where their representation is at least comparable (even if lesser) to their share of the population.

    Your blog post did not explore any middle ground and the possible middle ground is to disallow reservations based on caste for people whose parents have used them to provide the needed stuff.

    I have my own thoughts on this subject from my own experiences, where I have seen few families go through reservations for its first generation followed by next, etc. I don’t believe we can bring in change in attitudes of these families in just one generation. Let me illustrate.

    In Gen 1, the family is hunting pigs and cleaning up toilets of other people and living in the periphery of the village. In Gen 2, they are now working in household as servants and as laborers in a college campus. They have still not availed reservations. In Gen 3, while mom and dad are working as servants and laborers, the kids also work in the same household helping mom and helping dad, but at the same time go to school. Of the 4 siblings, only two of them pass tenth class and not beyond. The other two continue being servants and laborers, but these two who have graduated tenth get into a university as assistants in some lab, availing reservations. In Gen 4, while the kids of the these two assistants go to school, they still work on menial jobs, such as working in a shop or a cycle store, attend school, graduate with BSc/BA/BEd and avail reservations to become a teacher or a government employee. In Gen 5, kids of this teacher or government employee become an engineer and get a government position in BHEL.

    This is just a scenario, sometimes things get sped up and sometimes they are slower than this. Even though a family avails a reservation, it does not mean their lives are better off. Their kids still get to meet other cousins and family members who are not educated, working in menial jobs, skipping schools right after third class, etc. While growing up in those environments they face more challenges than a kid who is growing up in an educated middle class family who is surrounded by cousins who are all pursuing education, where uncles are professors, aunts are engineers, etc.

    I believe that the benefits trickle down slowly to future generations. Stopping reservations right after the first use of it is not going to benefit much.

    We all know how many same families used the SC/ST reservations for the past 60 years of Indian independence. Those who never got them in the same downtrodden catses, will never get them. Period.

    Either you have not seen this in action, or you formed your opinion not knowing too many examples. It doesn’t work like this. When a family avails reservations and benefits from it, say one of them becomes an IAS officer, the other cousins, nieces and nephews are also encouraged to follow this example, and study so that they can also become something. When few members of an extended family get benefited from reservations, all those families associated to them take this as an example and work towards availing these reservations.

    In India, families are formed based on caste, hence one person becoming big is equal to one person becoming big from that caste. He will in turn encourage others around him to avail the opportunities that he got. Most of these families have roots in villages too. The cousins, the nieces, nephews from the villages learn from this example. They use this successful family which is now living in the city, move to their home before their entrance test, get education and guidance under this family, and make avail reservations to become something.

    Don't tie discrimination based on caste with reservations based on caste.

    Why not? Just because politicians use it to get votes does it become bad? Politicians also build roads and use it for winning elections, does road-making become bad?

    So you have already given up on some thing you believe(d) and arrived at this conclusion to implement OBC reservation. Again, I am not against reservation of any sort based on caste, but its high time we inculcate some other metrics as well.

    Please suggest other metrics, and make sure the loopholes in that new metrics is not used to perpetuate the discrimination.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Polite Indian:

    Creamy Layer? :-)

    I tried to understand it but for some reason, I couldn't get it into my head. So, I have to confess that I don't know what that means.

    In Indian context, this creamy layer thing will be misused more than we can imagine. How do we know someone's income?

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  11. First of all I want to say that it is very wrong to classify OBCs as Shudras. It is good to depend on wikipedia for getting the DOB of Akabar the great but social issue of a very complex society are very different, for example take the case of mighty Yadavas, are they Shudra are not they there in your epics, Talk of Jats and just have a look at them, Can you disassociate the Goojars from the gurjar-pratihars. They make the largest chunk of the BCs population and have literally ruled the society and have been classified by the Brahminical system as the upper castes. Further none of these ethnic groups were ever meant for serving the so called upper-castes. They simply changed them from pastoral tribes to the cultivator class keeping alive their Marshal traditions.

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  12. OK. If Shudras are not OBCs, then who are OBCs?

    Tell me and others if any of the following are NOT shudra:

    fishermen, blacksmith, weaver, laborers on the farm, etc.

    Are they Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Shudra, or Outcaste?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Sujai said:

    Tell me and others if any of the following are NOT shudra:

    fishermen, blacksmith, weaver, laborers on the farm, etc


    Except for farm laboreres, others are shudra-s and they are already covered in SCs.

    - Vivek

    ReplyDelete
  14. Vivek:
    I am careful in my writings. Does not mean I am always right, but most often I am careful in what I write.

    What did I say about a caste and a region. Certain caste in one region is not positioned the same as in the other region.

    For example,
    You say blacksmith and weavers are shudras and hence covered under SCs.

    That may be true to the region that you hail from. I come from Andhra Pradesh, these two castes form Shudras and are part of OBCs (NOT SCs).

    I guess, now you will tell me that Andhra Pradesh doesn't know anything about caste categorization.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sujai said:

    I guess, now you will tell me that Andhra Pradesh doesn't know anything about caste categorization.

    No need to to be sarcastic, Sujai. Just goes on to show that 'messiness' argument raised against separation of 'creamy layer' is equally applicable here. Caste as the basis of OBC is flawed.

    - Vivek

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  16. For the sake of disclosure - Sujai - Are you SC, ST, OBC or high caste? We should know to understand where you are coming from and your motives behind this post.

    We Wake

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  17. 1. Subsidies of any form are bad and result in bad economic output.
    2. Why should we base these subsidies on the basis of something that as you say is so complex, hard to understand and worthless. Let's get rid of this caste system. By trying to detail it to this level, you are trying to encourage a bad system.

    We Wake (A Proud Creamy Shudra)

    ReplyDelete
  18. So how long do we need this caste based reservation?. Would it improve the present situation even if the reservation extends to 1000 years? I don't think so. It will just polarize people further and that could be catastrophic.

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  19. Sujai:

    This analysis is flawed. The biggest land holding castes in India are OBCs, not upper castes. This is as per 1931 census. Of course, nobody really knows todays situation since we discontinued caste based census in 1931. Going by the anecdotal evidence, in northern rural India, patels, jats, yadavs and gujars are much more dominant than any other caste including brahmins. All of them are treated as OBCs. Also, OBCs are not shudras. At least they themselves do not think so nor does the caste hierarchy treats them as such.

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  20. I completly disagree with reservation on the basis of caste. I condemn any form of reservation in any field. I alwayz encourage merit playing field.

    Anyway if government want to do with reservation, then it should be on the basis of economic criteria. A rich OBC guy can afford to send his child to good schools but not and poor upper caste guy.

    A rich OBC guy wont face the wrath of the society but a poor upper class guy might face it.

    So if at all reservation is there (which is strongly disagree) it shud b on the basis of economic criteria not caste one

    ReplyDelete
  21. In Tamilnadu Kshatriyas come under OBCS and Shudras usually form the SCs. I guess this classification varies in every region of India.
    I support reservations because the implementation of reservations in my state have resulted in the upward mobility of several backward castes and released the educational institutions and government offices from the stranglehold of upper castes(predominatly Brahmins).
    However the proper implementation of reservation requires a massive survey conducted along the length and breadth of the country to ascertain which caste belongs to what category. Keeping this survey free from politcal machinations and prejudice will be extremely difficult. I think excluding the creamy layer will be a tough task though it could be done keeping certain criterias in mind. However reservation are a must if people from the backward sections be properly represented in every sphere of life.

    ReplyDelete
  22. WHEN IT COMES TO RESERVATIONS PMK, DMK AND AIADMK PREFER HINDI OVER TAMIL

    Pro reservationationists ironically favour Muslims who only speak Hindi at home or Nayudus and Reddys who speak only Telugu at home. At the same time they treat Tamil-speaking Brahmins and Chettiars as foreign invaders by excluding them . They also claim to fight for the Tamil cause….by dividing Tamil society!!? PMK, DMK, ADMK etc reject creamy layer, support the cruel 2-tumbler system of Southern Tamil Nadu and now demand extended reservation. PMK leader will go Delhi, Hyderabad and Bombay to promote reservation rather than setting up Tamil learning centers in those places. This shows that Tamil Nadu policitians don’t mind loosing their self respect and prefer to worship their Hindi masters than to work for an integrated Tamil society. Incidently the PMK health minister has made Hindi compulsory for medicine, the the DMK surface transport minister has made Hindi compulsory on national roads even in Tamil Nadu.

    ReplyDelete
  23. there is great misconception in the society about sc/sts and shudras.
    the author is right on the bull's eye at this.
    He tries to discuss the problem without having any biased attitude towards anyone.
    please read my blog. it is totally dedicated to the discrimination based on caste and its effects on the society.
    OBCs are shudras but many OBCs tried to disconnect thmslvs from the word shudra to escape the lower caste feeling.
    Even JAts are shudras it is well known truth but social, economic power and habit of oppressing sc/sts on the name of lower castes have made them somewhat resistant to caste discrimination and they have succesfully escaped any connection from the word shudra from the society's glad eye.
    http://www.reservationfacts.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  24. I have gone through all the comments but no one knows that caste system diff,s from place to place.I stay in karnataka and a Blacksmith(Vishwakarma)family over here we are considered to superer than brahmins and only from twice bron people are allowed to do our work,about reservation as i know in ST category all caste(brahmin,kshatrias....etc)will come example:consider Jagamma class from Lingayaths....who actually comes in obc/GM.so reservation is only for selfishness not for any other reson

    ReplyDelete

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