For a few years in every decade, the discussion about caste based reservation becomes hot. The 60’s and 70’s saw anti-upper caste movements in many states esp South India. In 80’s, there was a huge anti-reservation movement in Gujarath. In 90’s we had the anti-Mandal commission movement. The decade of 2000’s saw consolidation of castes and some some improbable alignments between SC’s and so-called upper castes in states like Uttar Pradesh. In this decade, this discussion has once again started. However, the tragedy is that the stakeholders don’t progress towards a solution and positions only become more rigid. What are the reasons ?
Period of Turmoil is the worst period to engage in a free and fair discussion. Basically because issues are clouded due to prejudice, personal experiences and positions are strong. However, considering that the discussions are now rampant esp on Social media platforms, it maybe worthwhile to examine the issues raised.
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 on the basis of 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 unprivileged and therefore a case for reservations.
In both positions, there is merit in the argument. However, instead of seeing each other point of view by dialogue, the groups have transferred their power of attorney to politicians who make good use of the issues to further their cause. Personal rivalries, Election clashes, land and family disputes also take up that vicious form. Further, the politician or the interested person gives it the colour of conflict between two castes just to save his skin and serve his political ends. At such times, unfortunately, many well-meaning persons are made pawns in this game.
Let us try and address the issues one by one :
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 by the invaders was the same – oppression. In fact, the so-called upper castes were subjected to the highest form of discrimination. Many of them 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 India” 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 Swami Vivekananda puts it, “Touch me not ism” became prevalent. So much so that some communities were debarred from temple entry, getting water from the same source as others and also basic respect.
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, when the British started to enumerate castes during their ten-year census and meticulously codified the system. A system which was self-managed was made dependent on government for grants and sops.
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, esp 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. However, this cannot run endlessly. Community leaders from all sections have to come forward to discuss these issues and work out solutions.
Post Independence :
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.
What Does this lead to ?
- Society, esp the unreserved categories lose confidence that reservation as a policy would ever go away and therefore they make efforts as groups to become part of the bandwagon viz to stake claim of backwardness or seek other forms of reservations.
- The most needy communities in terms of social status still don’t get the benefit of reservations which makes the case for the same to be retained.
- There is no movement from the politicians to instill a feeling of swabhimaana and motivation to move forward. Before the British came, there were hundreds of instances of communities moving forward from so-called lower caste status. It effectively meant that the desire of communities was to be respected.
- Politicians make communities a pawn in their game of power showing the carrot of benefits.
Growth of SC ,ST’s and BC’s post Independence :
In 1950 we had 1208 SC castes. 2011 census : 1241; List of SC’s in 1950
In 1950 , we had 664 Scheduled Tribes. 2011 we have 705;
1950 we had 1257 communities enumerated as Backward Classes. It must be noted that the constitution framers scrupulously used the word “Other Socially and Educationally Backward classes” and not castes for OBC’s. However, new political movements use the word Other backward Castes for OBC’s.
In 1979 – 3743 castes and communities were enumerated as OBC’s; In 2013 – this number was put at 5013.
The above numbers are a consolidation of the castes and communities enumerated in various states and Union Territories. There are many castes which have an overlap in the states.
It effectively shows that instead we now have more and more castes aspiring to become part of the SC,ST and BC community list. The constitution has been amended dozens of time to include more castes into this list.
The recent movement by the Patel’s of Gujarath also falls in the same category. It either shows that communities are being further impoverished by government policies or that there is a rush to fall backwards. It also shows that the government is not the agency which can stop this.
How can we Win Over this Situation ?
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 .
a. In 1921 Census- The Race Was To Rise In Hierarchy – Understanding Why ?
Hindus never believed in living at the mercy of other. Swabhimaana or self-respect was an essential part of our value system. In 1921, jaati ( caste ) sabhas put up representations to be called as Higher castes. The representations included – Ahars 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..This list runs to 63 pages . Each of this caste demanding a higher place in the social hierarchy. Contrast this with the movements later where movements were made so that Scheduled castes be called as Crushed communities- Dalits.
Shift in Caste Numbers : Also, the census thereafter showed that numbers in castes changed frequently. For example, Yeatts, who was the British Census officer compared 5 successive censuses and wrote that caste enumeration is useless since the figures swing. He gave examples of Ambattans who were recorded as 2,27,000 in one census and in successive ones, they came to 10,000 because they went to other jaatis. Similarly, the number of gollas declined but Yadavas increased. The reason being one Jaati had many upajaatis ( sub-castes ) and transmigration among upajaatis was common. It is for this reason that the British made enumeration of caste rigid and tied benefits like jobs, sops etc to caste.
The Census Commissioner of India for 1931, J.H. Hutton noted,
Sorting for caste is really worthless unless nomenclature is sufficiently fixed to render the resulting totals close and reliable approximations. Had caste terminology the stability of religious returns, caste sorting might be worthwhile
. With the fluidity of current appellations it is certainly not… 227,000 Ambattans have become 10,000, Navithan, Nai, Nai Brahman, Navutiyan, Pariyari claimabout 140,000 all terms unrecorded or untabulated in 1921
Only explanation for this could be that most of the Ambattans of 1921 changed into some other caste. Similarly, the number of Marathas in Central Provinces and Berar increased from93,901 in 1911, to 206,144 in 1921. This more than 110% increase in number can be explained by the mass mobilization of Kunbis ( Kurmi’s) to Marathas during the period. It was also found that Koli’s could rise to the status of Maratha Kunbi by taking to cultivation.
b. Ending Social Discrimination
As the 3rd RSS Sarsanghchalak, Sri 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 our selves with restraint and grace. Then only we will be successful. There are our religious leaders, saints, sages and scholars. They hold a sway over the popular mind. Their cooperation in this task is essential. Sometimes we feel that they are firmly attached to only the old customs and would not like to see them changed. However, this should not make us mistake their good intentions.In other countries too there are religious teachers pinning their faith on ancient systems. Nevertheless the people there do not ridicule them on that account. We too, with proper approach, could plead with our religious leaders that they should, in their preaching’s and discourses, tell the people which facets of our Dharma are of eternal value and which of them changeable according to the times, and that such an exposition on their part would be more impressive and pervasive in its effect. We should also submit to them that the responsibility of protecting the society is theirs and that it can be discharged only by their coming out of their ashrams and mutts and unreservedly mixing in the society.
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.”
c. Invoking Swabhimaana or 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 with others and that too on their own merits. The Dalit Chamber of commerce is one such initiative in instilling a feeling of self-confidence and aspiration among the scheduled castes. We are seeing individual instances of people from SC,ST and BC’s giving up reservations for themselves and their children as a contribution from their side for the nation. Such people must be celebrated and discussed. Dr.Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr.BR Ambedkar also stepped in stating that it is time to end Political reservations .
It is for the communities getting reservations to think and strive and chalk out a time-bound plan of rising themselves up. A day has to come when all of us will feel equal, equal in our worth and capacities.And it is for them to decide how long these privileges should continue. Groups of such individuals must educate their own community members to give up reservations for the sake of the more under-privileged ones. Read also – Social Equality & Hindu Consolidation
” I complained I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet “. While it is true that many beneficiaries can actually give up reservation for their next generation, it is equally true that there are many more who deserve affirmative action. It is important that the socially upwardly mobile communities share a emphatic view on the situation of communities who are socially deprived. The entire society must invest in educating the more underprivileged communities and give them a sense of self-respect.
e. See Through the Game & Let Us All Show Maturity
Some people are making derogatory caricatures on both sides showing the other group as wily characters. This is the work of those who want to divide the society and a continuation of the British mindset.. This is not the first time a social issue is being discussed in our nation. A social issue needs to be handled with maturity of a society which has a civilization history of atleast 10000 years.
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 . We cannot allow a set of political leaders to hijack the nation’s progress. At the same time, we must know our history of handling social issues and then Discuss and Resolve Issues – We must !
– Ayush Nadimpalli
i) Government Census – 1950 to 2011
ii) Social Equality and Hindu Consolidation – By Sri Balasaheb Deoras
iii) Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Medieval India – Sri KS Lal
iv) Falling Over Backwards by Sri Arun Shourie
v) Caste by MN Srinivas