Times of India, in its editorial column, asks, ‘Why is reservation still such a contentious issue?’ The column is discussing the current debate arising out of Prakash Jha’ film Aarakshan, which was banned by three state governments – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Instead of just laying out an opinion on the legality of the ban, the column goes onto discuss the issue of reservation. It writes:
Have we failed to break out of the mindset favoring a divisive caste-based quota system? Rather than forging unity, quotas today are a tool of vote-bank politics and a potential trigger of a social conflict.
The column expresses the same opinion which the most upper-caste and the elites hold in this country. The topic of reservations remains a contentious issue, not because it is divisive or because it is a potential trigger of social conflict, but only because this topic is never discussed or taught in the right way in this country. The debates that arise on TV shows are devoid of rationality, and instead it is full of bias and prejudice.
Even the liberals amongst the upper caste and even the elite amongst the lower castes are squeamish when it comes to the topic of reservations. They continue to look at it as a tool that provides social crutch rather than social justice. Reservation is seen as a system that introduces division rather than a system devised to bring equal opportunity. Nobody bothers to ask why unity involves domination of one group of people over others? Reservation is seen as a trick employed by the politicians to secure vote-banks instead of being seen as the greatest and the most successful social experiment in the history of mankind that has emancipated hundreds of millions of lower classes out of subjugation in less than hundred years, overturning domination and discrimination that lasted nearly two thousand years. Most of the urban elite see reservations as anti-merit and anti-excellence system, while nobody bothers to point out that a society cannot strive for excellence without being inclusive.
The issue of reservations remains contentious because most people who debate the issue are ignorant of the reasons why reservations came into being and why they continue to exist, or because the people remain solidly casteist in their outlook and continue to be prejudiced towards people of lower castes and lower ranks.
Though caste is never discussed in a rational debate, nor it is taught in schools, it is all pervasive phenomenon that seems to grapple entire subcontinent, a strong identity that remains with you, more than that of region, religion or language. One can change the identity of a religion within a generation, region within a generation or two, and language with two to three generations, but one cannot escape caste even after five hundred generations. The topic of caste is never broached at a social gathering, even between two liberal and rational people. Though it is shunned in debate, it is not shunned in practice.
The marriages continue to be within one’s caste which is the only reason why castes continue to exist. And even the most liberal of the Indians tend to marry within the caste. Many businesses which try to portray themselves as all-inclusive tend to be founded by people of the same caste and employ mostly the upper-caste. Most friendships in local colleges in India are still based on caste, clearly reflecting the local biases that are primarily based in caste. In some of the colleges in Coastal Andhra, the students are divided so much along the caste lines that even the school canteens are designated for various castes. Division in such colleges is not just along upper castes and lower castes as two groups, but the caste division throws many groups, some within the upper castes, and some within the lower castes.
The caste-based-reservations is a topic that India never dealt with maturity. By shunning the topic forever, we have not taken care to educate ourselves. We are ill-informed because the topic of reservations is not introduced as a chapter in the text books in our schools.
Unlike in USA or Germany where the contentious topics like treatment of slaves or treatment of Jews is discussed in school curriculum, in an effort to educate the future generations not to indulge in the same in future, the schools of India act as if caste doesn’t exist. Such an attitude doesn’t serve well. The first time the school going kid from upper caste gets to know about reservations is in 12th class when he finds out that some of the seats in the college he is trying to get in are ‘reserved’ for people who are going to score much less than him.
That is when he forms strong opinions against caste-based-reservations. Since nobody has provided the rationale for existence of reservations, and since no history is taught which highlights subjugation of millions of Indians based on caste for thousands of years, the young kid gets angry because of loss of his opportunity. He turns to few people around him for answers. And unfortunately, the parents only add fuel to the fire by passing some casteist remarks. The society around him, his friends circle, his relatives are of no use either. Some of his extremely valid questions are unanswered, or answered in the most irrational way, like, ‘these politicians introduce reservations for winning votes’, ‘the government is only interested in dividing the people along caste lines’, ‘that’s why you should go to USA, my son’, ‘that’s why this country has gone to dogs, look at the streets and roads filled with garbage, what do you get when you allow a less deserved person to make decisions?’ and so on.
Such answers do not help understand why there are caste-based-reservations in education and employment They only help in growing antipathy towards the government, prejudice against lower castes, and anger against Indian political system. Those who move to other countries are considered lucky because they escaped the system. Those who get into private industry consider themselves lucky because there are no reservations there. Many people who are casteist do not even realize that they have already succumbed to age old prejudices. When a debate was held at IISc on the topic of reservations, one young girl innocently asked, ‘why do you want to pollute esteemed institutes like IITs and IIMs?’ Little did she realize how racist her comment was. Most Indians don’t realize they are being casteist in their actions though they continue to believe they hold no prejudice. The column in Times of India writes:
Yet the essential logic of reservations has grown fragile.
According to me, the logic of caste-based-reservations has only grown stronger. We have underestimated our capacity to perpetuate prejudices, to discriminate people of other kind, to look down upon those who are considered socially weak. We have underestimated our capacity to flout agreements and safeguards, and gentlemen promises – as clearly evident from the Telangana issue. We are a set of people who will do everything, including stepping on others, to get ahead. And for thousands of years, we ensured lower castes were treated as subhuman population confining them to menial jobs, denying them capability to read or write, awarding them atrocious punishments for innocuous and petty crimes. Reservation is the single tool that has reversed much of that.
According to me, caste-based-reservations is one of the greatest achievement of modern India rivaling its track record in maintaining democracy even after sixty years of Independence. It may be one of the greatest social experiments of modern history of mankind. No other social experiment has yielded such successful results in reversing such deep-seated discrimination, which is sanctioned by scriptures, by religion, and which continues to be order of the day. The fact that India continues on this social experiment yielding great successes year after year, even though most of the upper castes and elite of the lower castes continue to be opposed to this experiment speaks volumes about the vision of the architects of Indian Constitution who recognized caste as the basis for affirmative action through quotas.
Many myths abound. There is no clause which says that reservations were introduced for a period of ten years. And most of our initial thoughts on how long a certain safeguard should be employed have gone grossly wrong. The signatories of Gentlemen’s Agreement between Telangana and Andhra thought only fifteen years was needed to bring Telangana people to the same level of Seemandhra people in their capacity to grab opportunities in education and administration, but now we know that even after sixty years, Telanganas continue to be marginalized and suppressed by Seemandhra domination.
Lyndon Johnson, President of USA, justifying the affirmative action for Blacks in the United States, said:
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Two thousand years of imposed social handicap cannot be reversed in a matter of sixty years. It would take much longer than that. Reservations based on caste are here to stay, primarily because they have been successful in emancipating some of the lower castes through a series of mandatory inclusions in those areas which are considered basic areas of opportunity, the domain of the state to provide a socially and economically decent way of living to all it citizens.
According to Dr. C.T. Kurien, who spoke at IISc in 2006, the reservations based on caste were introduced for the first time in India not to help the lower castes but to ensure that Brahmins of Mysore do not lose out their positions to the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu. And the states which have introduced caste-based-reservations the earliest, those of the South, continue to be the top states in India on all social indices. Today, we see reservations help remove the social stigma by a considerable amount, though the experiment has not completely rooted out all of the prejudices against lower castes. Today, we see many government officers, administrators, and even the Vice President of India coming from lower castes of India. The social experiment of caste-based-reservations, employing affirmative action through mandatory quotas, has resulted in reversing the social trend on this subcontinent quite considerably, though it has not changed the attitudes of people who continue to live within their social circles, which happen to be caste circles.
The state cannot correct the prejudices of the people, but it can help create a mature society by including the topics of debate and discussion in the classrooms of India and hope to create a new generation of Indians who look at caste-based-reservations as a great social tool to reform the society for the better, instead of treating it as a divisive tools employed only to win votes.
Related Posts: XVII: Bad Jokes, XVI: Why elite lower castes do not support, XV: OBC Issue, XIV: Corporate responsibility- mandatory?, Can and should Caste be abolished?, XIII: How Indian industry discriminates, Dalits In India: Movie Clip, XII: Corporate Responsibility, XI: Is there caste-based-discrimination in India?, X: Visit to IISc, IX: I apologize, VIII: Are reservations the perfect solution for the problem at hand?, VII: Are we dividing our nation along caste lines?,