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
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
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
Shudras comprise a huge set of worker population in
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
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
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.
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.