The Imperative Need Of Caste Based Reservation For Ensuring Social Equity
By Dr. Iniyan Elango
19 October, 2012
" The Shudra must not acquire knowledge and it is a sin and a crime to give him education. - If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off"- The Code of Manu (Manusmrithi - which is still one of the scriptural basis for contemporary Hindu civil law in India
This essay analyses why caste based representation (reservation) for backward castes and scheduled castes in education and employment is imperative for establishing social equity in a society ridden with the vertically graded bigotry of the caste system and why affluence cannot be a criterion to deny caste based reservation.
Caste based reservation in government jobs and higher education was first introduced during the British rule of India as representation through affirmative action in government jobs and higher education for castes traditionally excluded from government jobs and education such as castes of the Shudra Varna (backward castes) and Dalits (scheduled castes). Affluence is not the criteria for affirmative action (reservation) but social exclusion (backwardness) from government jobs and education caused by the discriminatory dynamics of the caste system over the centuries that denied and disapproved of education for castes of the Shudra Varna (backward castes) and scheduled castes (Dalits) irrespective of their affluence or the lack of it. Hence, affluence is not the criteria for affirmative action (reservation), and therefore, using affluence or the lack of it to deny or affirm reservation in jobs and education will be fallacious. Including or excluding castes for reservation based on affluence will only push in the factor of financial (economic) status as the criteria for reservation which is illegal, anti-constitutional and irrelevant to the social dynamics of the bigoted caste system.
Hindu religious and mythological lore is full of stories about even wealthy Shudras getting killed for trying to acquire knowledge through penance, the famous one being the killing of Sambhuka by the Hindu God Rama, since Sambhuka (who was a Shudra) defied the bigoted caste laws by doing penance through uttering chants from the scriptures, an activity that is restricted only to Brahmins as an expression of the latter’s supremacist bigotry in the caste system). All Hindu Gods and Goddesses are portrayed as guardians of the bigoted caste system and Brahmin supremacist bigotry in Hindu religious mythology, scriptures and religious lore.
Even in the USA, affirmative action and equal opportunity policies in higher education and employment does not shut off candidates from relatively well off backgrounds because using economic criteria will only aggravate the under-representation of races and peoples who are already under-represented in education and employment, by shutting off middle – class and upper class African Americans and other socially disadvantaged races from equal opportunity and inclusion in academia and employment. The aim of affirmative action is to enable equal opportunity for races and peoples under-represented in education and employment due to factors of bigotry. In USA, race is a bigoted factor that may cause under-representation of black people and other non-white races, and hence affirmative action and equal opportunity policies uses race as a criteria in USA. In India, caste is a bigoted factor that denied education and social equality to peoples of backward castes and Dalits for centuries, and hence caste is used for affirmative action (reservation) to backward castes and Dalits (scheduled castes) who were traditionally denied access to education and still denied social equality and denied state funded mandatory and universal access to primary and secondary education, due to the bigoted system of vertically graded inequality of castes and the caste bigotry of the Brahmin led “twice born” ruling class of castes.
Processes such as affirmative action (reservation) enable representation in education and employment for social groups (races or castes) who have been traditionally excluded from education, employment and governance due to bigotry. Thus affirmative action (or reservation as it is called in India) provides representation for social groups (races and castes) who have been traditionally excluded from education, employment and governance. For example, in USA, African Americans avail affirmative action in higher education and in Universities, but no one says in USA that the affluent amongst African Americans should be denied affirmative action. There are innumerable affluent American residents of Indian origin (Brahmins and upper castes included) who avail race based affirmative action in USA. This is because affirmative action is given on the basis of social disadvantage caused by race in the USA, (just as reservation in India is given on the basis of exclusion caused by caste bigotry and caste inequality) and not on the basis of economic class. In India, affirmative action (reservation) is given on the basis of exclusion caused by caste inequality. The aim is to make the student body in universities and employees in government more representative of castes traditionally excluded from education and government employment in India such as the backward castes and scheduled castes (Dalits). In such a situation, applying economic criteria to exclude the affluent amongst African Americans or other races (in USA), or the affluent among backward castes or scheduled castes (in India) from affirmative action (reservation) will destroy the aim of affirmative action (reservation) since the very poor may not be always able to study up to the academic level required for university admission or government employment, and restricting affirmative action (reservation) only to the poor amongst African Americans, backward castes or scheduled castes will leave no one amongst them eligible for affirmative action (reservation) for university admission and government employment, which will destroy the very purpose of ending the exclusion of African Americans, backward castes and scheduled castes in higher education and government employment through affirmative action. Hence affirmative action in USA is given on the basis of the race of the candidate – irrespective of the economic class of the candidate, so that any African American, Native American, Hispanic American or any candidate of non-white socially disadvantaged races in USA from any economic class will find equal opportunity, and avail the representation accorded in higher education and employment. So affirmative action is about representation of excluded groups (races and castes) in employment, education and governance and NOT about economic upliftment.
Economic upliftment of financially challenged students can be furthered only through financial help via financial scholarships, financial grants, student loans, part-time jobs and teaching assistantships and not by affirmative action. Hence, the use of affirmative action (reservation) to facilitate representation of socially disadvantaged castes and races in education and employment cannot use the economic criteria and cannot exclude candidates on the basis of their economic class. Therefore, the exclusion of the affluent in affirmative action for socially disadvantaged races and castes such as backward castes and scheduled castes is untenable and wrong, and beats the purpose of representation of socially disadvantaged and educationally backward castes in education and employment, not the least because affluence does not abolish the bigoted caste identity, caste inferiorization, graded caste inequality, social stigma associated with untouchability for Dalits and caste based stigma or discrimination of a person in India. This is simply because caste identity is determined by the birth of a person and not by the economic class of a person.
Reservation is not a tool to eradicate poverty but a system of representation for backward castes and Dalits (scheduled castes) who are excluded from government employment and higher education in the absence of such an affirmative action. Poverty can be eradicated only by a welfare regime as in Europe that guarantees state funded mandatory universal primary and secondary education, universal access to government funded medical care, state funded housing for the homeless and social security doles to all impoverished and unemployable people. The central government bureaucracy and planning commission mostly staffed by Brahmins and “twice born” upper castes have not spent a penny for such a welfare state while wasting thousands of crores of rupees in unnecessary arms imports and arms purchases and other unnecessary excursions such as buying the debt of USA and giving hundreds of billions as grants to crisis stricken EU (as Manmohan Singh led Government did recently) when the people of India impoverished and oppressed by caste bigotry and untouchability go without access to education, medical care, housing, sanitation and social security payments.
In the absence of a welfare state that guarantees primary and secondary education and free higher education to the poor amongst backward castes and Dalits, shutting off the rich amongst them from reservation will leave no one from backward castes and Dalits eligible for reservation in higher education and government employment, thus perpetuating their exclusion from higher education & government employment. Even the recent “right to education act” should be considered as an eye wash because the act does not make the provision of primary and secondary education as a fundamental and non-negotiable duty of the Government and does not make access to primary and secondary education as a fundamental right of every child citizen, and does not provide for large scale building and upgrading of Government schools in villages, slums and Dalit ghettos which have no schools while unrealistically shifting the provision of primary and secondary education to the private sector by reserving 25% of seats in urban private schools to students from impoverished backgrounds which is neither absolutely enforceable nor beneficiary to backward castes, Dalits or rural and slum dwelling children.
Excluding the affluent (or the so called “creamy layer”) from representation of socially disadvantaged races and castes in education and employment, or saying that only the poor can represent socially disadvantaged races and castes, is as ridiculous as saying Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Spike Lee, Barack Obama or for that matter artists and leaders who advocated the rights of those oppressed by the caste system such as Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “Rettai malai” Srinivasan, M.C.Rajah, Ayothithasar, Thanthai Periyar, etc., cannot be leaders or representatives of their peoples because they had attained relative affluence!! So if one applies the “creamy layer” (affluence) concept in enabling representation of castes and races by restricting representation in government, jobs and education only to the poor amongst socially disadvantaged races and castes, there will be no one to lead or represent those socially disadvantaged castes and races in education, employment and governance. This is what bigoted and reactionary interests in India want to happen by opposing affirmative action (reservation) based on caste (for backward castes and scheduled castes) by advocating “economic criteria” for affirmative action and exclusion of the affluent from caste based reservation while doing nothing to invest public finances for universal and mandatory access to government funded education, health care and housing for the poor.
Hence, any cap or restriction in the reservation for backward castes and scheduled castes in education and employment on the basis of the so called untenable and irrelevant “creamy layer” argument should be negated and nullified through appropriate and effective constitutional amendments.
Actually, several statistics show that reservation in higher education and government employment for Dalits remain unfilled and incompletely implemented. In addition, the open unreserved category in employment and higher education in which candidates from all castes can compete was wrongly enforced and fraudulently misappropriated as reservation for Brahmins and upper castes (forward castes), thus nullifying the very purpose of reservation until it was effectively challenged and exposed in the courts of law.
Certainly, caste is not perpetrated or perpetuated by affirmative action (reservation) to backward castes and scheduled castes in government jobs and higher education, as it is evident from the fact that the bigoted practice and perpetuation of the graded inequality of the caste system and its allied oppressive practices continued unabated for centuries even before the advent of affirmative action (reservation) in modern times. Caste is perpetuated by the social practices of caste stigmatization due to the vertically graded inequality of castes, endogamous caste based marriages, caste based social association at the exclusion of people belonging to other castes, untouchability practices and segregation imposed on Dalits, atrocities and honour killings against those who transgress caste norms – particularly Dalits - which forces people to conform to bigoted caste norms out of fear, the Hindu religious sanctification of the caste system that reserves priesthood and religious sacramental performance to the caste at the summit of the caste system – namely the Brahmins, thrusting various forms of physical labour on backward castes and Dalits, forcing degrading work on the basis of caste descent on Dalits, and the lack of equal and universal access to education, social equality, skills and employment irrespective of caste. This being the case, there is a great need to extend caste based reservations for backward castes and scheduled castes to the private sector.
Reservation in Tamil Nadu is as high as 87% because the vast majority of the peoples come under the caste category of Shudras (backward castes) and scheduled castes (Dalits). Shudras are lower in the caste hierarchy to “twice born” castes such as Brahmins – Baniyas (Vysyas) and Kshatriyas. For centuries, education, commerce and governance in India were the preserve of the aforementioned three “twice born” castes, leaving the Shudras (backward castes) educationally backward despite some of them being land owning farmers. The vast majority of the Shudras found themselves doing various forms of physical labour based on their caste descent and excluded from education while being considered inferior in birth to Brahmins and other “twice born” upper castes (even if the Shudra happens to attain more wealth than Brahmins). But the Shudras (backward castes) were still higher than the untouchables (Dalits) in the bigoted and vertically graded inequality of castes, because Dalits are in the bottom rung of the caste system as outcasts and untouchables. The castes which are lower in the caste hierarchy amongst the Shudras and bonded to various occupations of physical labour and suffering a more severe exclusion from education are referred to as “most backward castes” in Tamil Nadu state. Since the backward castes, most backward castes and scheduled castes comprise of almost 90% of the population of Tamil Nadu, naturally – the reservation earmarked for them in higher education and government jobs reflects their proportion of the population and is hence 87% in Tamil Nadu.
Representation in government jobs and higher education for castes which have been made socially and educationally backward due to the bigotry of the caste system irrespective of their financial status (meaning socially inferiorized in the vertically graded inequality of the caste system and traditionally excluded from education) is the premise of the reservation system in Tamil Nadu. But since the vast majority of the peoples are socially and educationally backward due to the bigotry and exclusion caused by the caste system, reservation earmarked for backward castes, most backward castes and scheduled castes is high as 87% in Tamil Nadu. There is no point in blaming the Government of Tamil Nadu for the large percentage of backward castes in Tamil Nadu, when the Hindu caste system has inferiorized almost all of the population as “Shudras”, and hence naturally, almost all of the population would be considered as backward castes. If the Supreme Court has restricted the overall reservation (for both backward castes and scheduled castes) to 50% it is demographically and factually unjust and wrong, when the vast majority of the Indian peoples have been socially inferiorized as “Shudras” (backward castes), banned from education for centuries and divided by the bigoted and vertically graded caste inequalities that preaches superiority and inferiority by birth apart from being bonded to various forms of physical labour by caste descent. If one also includes the population of scheduled castes segregated, oppressed and exploited as “untouchables” (along with those backward castes inferiorized as “Shudras), almost all of the Indian populace (except for the Brahmins and “twice born” upper castes) would fall under the category of socially and educationally backward peoples. Hence the 50% cap on reservation for (backward castes and scheduled castes) in education and employment as dictated by a Supreme Court judgment should be negated and nullified through a constitutional amendment.
The system of caste based reservation (representation) ensures that no one particular caste usurps and dominates most of the opportunities in Government employment and higher education. In the absence of caste based affirmative action (representation or reservation), the danger of Brahmins and “twice born” upper castes cornering all jobs in the Government and all opportunities in education did happen during the days before caste based reservation came into practice. Hence, in the land of the bigoted caste system, caste based reservation in education and employment is essential to ensure equitable representation of all castes in employment and education. Therefore, there is an acute need to extend caste based reservation to private sector corporate employment and private sector educational institutions of higher education.
But efforts for annihilating the bigoted caste identities (that sustains the division of society and nation through the bigoted and vertically graded inequality of castes) should go hand in hand with social justice measures such as caste based reservation for backward castes and scheduled castes in education and employment. Hence community certificates that are used to sanction affirmative action (reservation) for backward castes and scheduled castes - should not be issued with caste names and should carry only the general terminology of “backward communities” or “scheduled communities”. In addition, any kind of usage of individual caste identities of backward castes and scheduled castes should be banned, while community certificates and reservation can be continued to be accorded based on the general terms such as “backward communities and scheduled communities”. Off springs of marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits should not be thrust with their parents’ caste and should be declared “casteless” and reservation accorded to them accordingly. Bigoted preaching of superiority or inferiority of any caste should be criminalised and so should be the usage of any caste identity or caste name in any form including the use of caste surnames. Use of caste surnames has already been largely discontinued amongst most Tamils in Tamil Nadu due to Periyar’s self-respect movement, even though caste bigotry, graded caste inequalities, oppression and segregation of Dalits and untouchability practices continue to be alive and well amongst Tamils. All caste based advertisements including caste based matrimonial advertisements in all forms of media should be made illegal. Along with these measures, all caste hereditary and caste descent based menial and degrading labour should be banned, and segregation of Dalits in ghettos or slums or the so called "Cheris" should be ended by providing Dalits housing and land inside the towns and villages where caste Hindus live. Government schools, Government hospitals and Government offices should be built in segregated Dalit neighbourhoods so that caste Hindus who use them would have to visit segregated Dalit habitats thus socially integrating caste Hindus with Dalits and ending the segregation of Dalits. And in addition, all people irrespective of caste background should be allowed to train and work as Hindu temple priests to end the religiously sanctioned monopoly of Hindu priesthood held by the Brahmin caste and to end all other allied caste discrimination and untouchability practices in Hindu temples, rituals and sacraments.
Those who oppose caste based reservation in education and employment while wanting to preserve their bigoted caste identities and doing nothing for the annihilation of the caste system - are like those who want to have the cake and eat it too! Before we can talk about ending caste based reservations, we need to bring in strict and strong laws to criminalise, proscribe and ban any and all expressions, rituals, manifestations, institutions, traditions, occupations, segregation and social practices associated with caste, caste identities or the caste system including the banning of any usage of caste names, encourage the culture of courtship and dating across castes to enable men and women to choose their own life partners across caste barriers instead of resorting to caste based arranged marriages, give incentives in employment and education for non-Dalits and Dalits who inter-marry and create a welfare state in the lines of western Europe that guarantees universal access to education, universal access to health care, universal access to housing for the homeless and social security doles to the unemployed, thus creating social equality! Only after achieving such a casteless society and social welfare state can we talk about ending caste based reservations for backward castes and scheduled castes! Those who want to sustain the bigoted caste system and its associated regressive and oppressive social practices but oppose caste based reservations are hypocritical bigots!
The time has come to speed up the process for the annihilation of castes to create a nation that truly guarantees equality, fraternity and liberty to all her citizens. All Indian citizens who are committed to creating a modern, progressive and egalitarian India should contribute to this struggle for annihilation of castes.
Creating social equity through caste based reservation for backward castes and scheduled castes in education and employment is one of the primary and fundamental steps in the long drawn out process of annihilating the bigoted caste system!
"It is obvious that the central government bureaucracies, diplomatic services, IAS and IFS cadre, military officers’ corps, higher judiciary, elite academic institutions such as the IITs and AIIMS and various state government bureaucracies are still overwhelmingly staffed with Brahmins and upper castes. It is also lamentable that caste based reservation for backward castes and scheduled castes have not been extended to judiciary and military services. A few years ago, the “Outlook” magazine ran a cover story on the domination of Brahmins in central government bureaucracies (“The Durbar Hall Pundits”, Outlook, June 04, 2007). Thus it is obvious that the current reservation regimes in education and government employment for backward castes and scheduled castes have not made any dent on the Brahmins’ and “twice born” upper castes’ monopolistic control over the Indian state machinery as the ruling class of castes. This means that current reservation regimes for backward castes and scheduled castes are being insufficiently or improperly implemented, and the 50% cap imposed by the supreme court on reservation for backward castes and scheduled castes in education and employment should be done away with by way of a constitutional amendment, and the exclusion of the so called “creamy layer” from reservation should be scrapped through a constitutional amendment for all the reasons analysed and explained above and more. In addition, reservation in education and employment for backward castes and scheduled castes should be extended comprehensively to all private sector institutions".
Dr. Iniyan Elango, Correspondent : "Dalit Murasu" magazine
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