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Concepts Of Reservation

By Ashok Yadav

05 December, 2009

As in Mandal I the so called creamy layer in the OBC was kept out from the reservation purview. In both Mandal I & II we see a clear pattern that the reservation was first opposed with all might by the upper castes vested interests and, when they did not succeed in halting the reservation, they took recourse to keep the so called creamy layer out from the domain of reservation. In both instances we find that the anti-reservationists went to the judiciary and pleaded that the reservation granted to the OBC, the first time in job and the second time in education, the second fifteen years after the first, was against the basic structure and tenets of the constitution and so fit to be rejected. Being already convinced that their agitation against reservation will not succeed, either on road or in the court, in view of the onward march of the OBC, they settled for not allowing the creamy layer among the OBC to come into the ambit of reservation. So the question is why are the anti-reservationists not willing to allow the so called creamy layer to enjoy the benefits of reservation. But before that we have to understand the basic philosophy of reservation. Only then we will be able to grasp the whole issue of creamy layer concept.

We often hear that reservation is a means to uplift the targeted community, to give opportunities to the deprived sections so that they may move upwards in education and jobs. Some persons even equate the reservation policy with poverty alleviation, job creating and education spreading programmes. These are vulgar understandings of reservation and create confusions and lead to wrong conclusions. One of these wrong conclusions is to keep the so called creamy layer among the backward out from reservation ambit. Even many backward caste people welcome the exclusion of the creamy layer from reservation ambit as a result of wrongful understanding of reservation.

Reservation is nothing but a means to break the monopoly of handful of castes called upper castes, Brahmins, dwijas, swarnas, abhijat etc in the common parlance of caste conscious Indian society in the state structure. Bureaucracy, police, judiciary, army, academics etc. are components of Indian state, or for that matter of any state, which are characterized by its monopolization by the brahmin and other upper caste people. Out and out undemocratic character of Indian state is not only due to its excessive centralized structure but also due to its social structure and character which is indicated by the dominance of its top, middle and low posts by the brahmin and other upper caste people. Even its excessive centralized structure is basically due to its monopolization by a miniscule section of our society. Mandal commission which gathered data about the social character of Indian state proved unambiguously that Indian state bears the monopoly of upper strata of Indian society. During mandal I the upper caste first opposed the reservation with all their might. But when they saw that job reservation cannot be halted they settled for the introduction of creamy layer concept. It is a common refrain of upper caste people in Bihar who are natual supporters of creamy layer concept that why should children of Ram Vilas Paswan or Laloo Prasad Yadav enjoy reservation.

Monopoly in any form is directly antithetical to democracy. If monopoly capital leads to concentration of capital in a few hands and ultimately leads to fascism, so does monopoly state structure wherein state power is the monopoly of certain sections of society which in Indian context are certain castes. The monopoly state structure is the biggest stumbling block in the path of the forces of democracy. So the democratization of Indian state, at least in terms of participation, if not in terms of restructuring of state organs, of all sections of people in proportion to their percentage in population, becomes the first principle of any democratic movement in India.

Historically, reservation in job and education has emerged as most effective way to break the stranglehold of traditional dominant castes/classes in state power. History of reservation also testifies this. Reservation in India for the first time was implemented by Shahuji Maharaj in his princely state of Kolhapur Riyasat. Why did Shahuji Maharaj implement reservation? What was the necessity for doing so? To quote Shahuji Maharaj himself in his letter dated 19th February, 1919 to Col. Wodehouse, “ You know since my boyhood it has been my pride and a cherished object to over-rule and breakdown brahmin bureaucracy.” In another letter marked September, 1918 to Lord Sydenham, Shahuji Maharaj wrote, “Although the British are the rulers of the country, the real power rests with the Brahmin officers who pervade every rank of the service from the meanest clerk and the village accountant, the kulkarni, to the highest offices and predominate even in the councils…Very few can realize the influence of the brahmin bureaucracy as your lordship does. Being very strong in every branch of the service, high or low, it has its ways and means to keep other communities down, who have to submit to their exactions and dare not raise a protest even when flagrant injustice is done to them. A merchant of Kolhapur was cheated by a Brahmin pleader. When asked to prosecute the latter the former said that he had no chance of success as the judges were brahmin , the police were brahmins, the clerks were brahmins and that instead of getting any redress of justice he would make himself a marked man and that he would have to bear the consequences of brahmin revenge. Even when I asked him to prosecute the pleader he begged to be excused and refused to move in the matter….The best way to break down this citadel of brahmin power is to grant communal representation, not only in the councils but also in all branches of the service, high or low. It will not do to appoint a few non-brahmins to important places. This remedy is worse than the disease…The remedy lies in granting proportionate communal representation in the subordinate and clerical staff also. Recruitment for the posts of the lowest clerks should be made from non-brahmins and for this purpose a list of eligible candidates from those communities should be maintained, and appointment made from among them until the non-brahmins get a percentage of posts in proportionate to their numerical strength…Communal representation is the only remedy.” Shahuji Maharaj was also instrumental in releasing the non-brahmin manifesto in 1916. It will be educative to quote a portion of this manifesto so as to know the motive behind the promulgation of reservation policy in various states of British India. “The Hon’ble Sir Alexander(then Mr) Cardew, now a member of the Madras Executive Council in his evidence before the Public Service Commission in 1918, described in detail, the relative positions of the brahmins and the non-brahmins in the Public Service of the province.. He is reported to have stated that in the competitive examinations for the Provincial Civil Service, which were held between 1892 and 1904, out of sixteen successful candidates fifteen were brahmins. In the Mysore state where open competitive examinations for Mysore Civil Service were held during the preceding twenty years, brahmins secured 85% of the vacancies. In the competition for the appointment of Assistant Engineers in Madras the number of successful candidates during the same period was 17 brahmins and 4 non-brahmins. Out of 140 deputy collectors in Madras at the time, 77 were brahmins, 30 non-brahmin hindus and rest Muhammedans, Indian Christians, European and Anglo-Indians. It is curious to note that even where competitive examinations did not exist, as for instance in subordinate judicial service of the Presidency, the major portion of the appointments were in the hands of the brahmins…From these and other figures of a like nature he naturally concluded that an open competition for the civil services in India would mean an almost complete monopoly of the service by brahmin caste and the practical exclusion from it of the non-brahmin classes…We do not deny that in these days of fierce intellectual competition the skill to pass examinations is a valuable personal possession. But it passes our understanding why a small class which shows a larger percentage of English-knowing men than their neighbours, should be allowed almost to absorb all the government appointments, great and small, high and low, to the exclusion of the latter among whom may also be found, though in small proportions, men of capacity, enlightenment and culture.” (Source of these quotations of Shahuji Maharaj from Kashinath Kavlekar’s Non-Brahmin Movement In Southern India.1873-1949)

So historically reservation in appointments and education was employed as a means to break the monopoly of a certain caste in the state apparatus. Mysore and Madras were other states apart from Kolhapur that promulgated reservation in appointments. Situations have not improved, rather deteriorated, in the last hundred years and the struggle for reservation continues to be as much intense, protracted and bitter as it was during the time of the pioneers of reservation movement. In a way twentieth century can be termed as a century of struggle for reservation. Barring a few states like the left ruled West Bengal the OBC have clinched the struggle for reservation in their favour though partially. Due to limit imposed by the Supreme Court on reservation to the extent of fifty percent the states except Tamilnadu could not implement reservation in state services and educational institutes in proportion to their population. Only when OBC, SC and ST will be able to get reservations in services and educational institutes, in government as well as in private sector, in states as well as in centre, in proportion to their population, then only the struggle for democratization of Indian state and polity would be said to have completed the first stage of democratic revolution.

Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the great social revolutionary, wrote of reservation as, “The reservations demanded by the servile classes are really controls over the power of the governing classes…The reservations do no more than correlate the constitution to the social institutions of the country in order to prevent political power to fall into the hands of the governing class.” He wrote at another place,
“Whenever the servile classes ask for reservations in the Legislatures, in the Executive and in public services, the governing class raises the cry of ‘nationalism in danger’. People are told that if we are to achieve national freedom, we must maintain national unity, that all questions regarding reservations in the Legislatures, Executives and the public services are inimical to national unity and therefore for anyone interested in national freedom it is a sin to stand out for such reservations and create dissensions. That is the attitude of the governing class.’ Who were the governing class in view of Dr Ambedkar? Dr Ambedkar wrote that the governing class in India consisted principally of the Brahmins. (All quotations from Dr Ambedkar’s ‘What Congress and Gandhi Have Done To The Untouchables: A Plea To The Foreigner’)

Thus reservation in posts and education for the lower castes is not a reformist agenda or palliative measures as many people, most prominent among those being the Indian leftists, believe but a radical step to weaken the monopoly of certain castes in positions of power, privileges and decision making. Radicalism of reservation is also enforced by the violent and venomous opposition to reservation by the upper caste ruling elites. Nature and quantum of reaction of the ruling elites against any measure is an effective indicator to judge whether that measure is reformist or radical in nature. Reservation to the underprivileged castes have always been violently and vitriolically opposed by the ruling elites. We just need to remember the ruling elites’ reaction to the V P Singh government’s decision to implement Mandal Commission’s recommendation to implement 27% reservation to the OBC in central government jobs. We the backward caste people of Bihar cannot forget the widespread incidents of arsons and violence that upper caste ruling elites resorted to when Karpoori Thakur government implemented reservation for the backward castes in state government jobs in 1978. The upper castes ruling elites’ reaction to Mandal II took place only a few years back and are fresh in our memory.

People often equate reservation in India to the positive discrimination or affirmative action policies in the USA. But there is a fundamental difference between reservation and affirmative action. While the majority white people bestow certain rights and privileges to the minority black people, it is the reverse in the case of the reservation system in India where majority people belonging to the lower castes demand reservation in jobs and education from the minority people who form the ruling elites of this country. While giving benefits to the black people under affirmative action programmes the white, who form majority population of the USA, are free from any fear that the minority black people can erode their dominant position by using posts and positions that they get under affirmative action programme. But the situation is quite reverse in the case of India where the minority upper caste ruling class people are fearful of the majority people from the lower castes who will corrode their dominant positions by getting reservations in education and jobs.

The reservation question is not mere a social question. It is also a state question because the provision of reservation prepares the ground for participation of all castes and communities in the state organs. The more open, the more inclusive, the more participatory the structure of state even in the existing system, the more conducive and less forbidding it will be for the growth of democratic movements and processes. The participation of men and women from socially deprived communities irrespective of their class status, who are free from caste prejudices against the low caste people, in the higher rung of state apparatus, will tend to democratize the state. It is not without reason that both monopoly capital and monopoly social groups join together in resisting any move to give reservation to the OBC.

In 1947 when India became independent the power did not go in the hands of the poor Indians. Yet it was welcomed by all sections of society because it meant freedom from imperialism. We the OBC do not mind if the benefits of reservation go to the affluent sections among ourselves. We want our representation in the higher echelons of the system whether they come from the affluent or the poor sections. We will rejoice and be satisfied to see the erosion of upper caste vested interests in the higher positions. What are called the creamy layer or the affluent sections are just ahead from the rest of the community. They are not bourgeoisie so that we should avoid them.

The so-called creamy layer is the strength of our society. In a caste society we turn to them for help in a state of crisis. If they are excluded from reservation their bonds with the fellow beings of the community get weakened. The implementation of creamy layer concept lands the so-called creamy layer in a no man’s land. The upper caste do not absorb them in their fold, their own caste men see them as separated from themselves.

Reservation is a great uniting factor. The 15% SCs and 8% STs are united because of reservation. Mandal united 60% OBC population. Reservation is glue which binds the so-called creamy layer with rest of the society. When a so-called creamy layer boy or girl obtains caste certificate and furnishes it with his/her application form, the caste consciousness gets reinforced in him or her. It is this caste consciousness that is very valuable from SC/ST/OBC point of view. The creamy layer concept is malicious treatment with those who managed to reach positions of some prestige and importance through labour and toil and opportunities that came their way. The creamy layer concept is an unkind treatment with those who could not move ahead but looks upon to the advantaged individuals of their society for guidance and help, because creamy layer concept seeks to disconnect the so called creamy layer individuals from the poor people of their caste. In dalits the creamy layer people are great strengths of society. Their affinity with their caste fellows will be considerably eroded if they are kept out from reservation on the plea of their being in creamy layer. That is not to deny the fact that a good section of these affluent SC/ST/OBC people have undergone the process of brahmanisation and grown vested interests in the social justice movement. But these brahmanised elements are at the worst irritants and undesirable elements in the whole struggle for social justice and cannot become an excuse to support creamy layer theory.

Chapter One of the History of the CPSU (B) writes at one place (para 9), “Nearly all, if not all, government posts in the national regions were held by the Russians.” Did not the analogous situation prevail in India at the turn of the last century? Does not the analogous situation prevail in India right now? Did not the king of Kolhapur riyasat, Shahuji Maharaj, democratize the state administration by the help of caste-based reservation? Some may raise the objection that the Russian question being nationality question cannot be equated with the caste question. To this objection our answer is that like nationality question the caste question is a group question. In every society there exist a number of group questions side by side with the exclusive class questions. No social revolution has ever fructified in history on the basis of class questions alone. To uproot caste based hegemony is in the interests of all OBCs whether one is rich or poor. No breach in the unity of the deprived castes is desirable on the economic lines. Hence we oppose creamy layer. Martin Luther King, jr., the great Black leader, wrote, “We have been oppressed as a group and we must overcome that oppression as a group.” We too assert we have been oppressed and discriminated against as a group and we must overcome that oppression and discrimination as a group.

Creamy layer concept is often justified on the ground that some backward castes are well represented in the political power structure. Their increasing number in the legislature is not attributable to their education and resourcefulness, which they seldom possess, but to their rising social and political consciousness and big population and the opportunities thrown by the parliamentary democracy, which is their savior. The backward castes who are well represented in the political power structure are entangled in a vicious war of attrition with the upper caste dominated media, civil administration and judiciary. Under- representation of the lower castes in bureaucracy frustrates all attempts of an OBC chief minister or minister to do anything concrete for the lower caste. The little federalism that the Constitution of India offers does not give much space to the backward caste leaders who every now and then come in power in provinces. A study of family backgrounds of backward caste MLAs, MPs, leaders and activists will reveal truth about class locations of these leaders. Some of these leaders may have made wealth but their wealth is regularly dragged in the judicial and media scrutiny. Without money they cannot sustain themselves in politics and when they make money they invite the wrath of brahmanical system. Manusmriti works here which has enjoined that wealth in the hands of shudras pains dwijas. The educational backwardness of most of these wealthy OBC leaders make them appear boorish and laughing stock. The glamour of power associated with these OBC leaders cannot lead one to conclude that the shudra have prospered. Behind every OBC leader there is a vast multitude of poverty stricken people. These OBC leaders have largely failed in improving the lot of their people. But this is no place to discuss their successes and failures.

Reservation is an outcome of the caste system. So long as caste system continues, the fight for reservation will also continue. Abolish the caste system and abolish the reservation system. In the caste system the caste of Ram Vilas Paswan or Laloo Pd Yadav or M Karunanidhi does not change howsoever one progresses economically, politically, educationally etc. A dalit will be a dalit even if he becomes a big capitalist though it is next to impossible to happen. A Brahmin will always be a Brahmin even if he is a proletariat. If the Brahmin community sits together and takes a decision that since Laloo Prasad Yadav has become affluent, he is no longer grazing cattle and milking cows, he has shed all the “obnoxious things” associated with his caste, he may now be absorbed in Brahmin caste fold, then only children of Laloo Prasad Yadav or for that matter of Ram Vilash Paswan can be kept out from reservation on the plea of creamy layer.

A weak, subdued, rural based OBC is not a threat to the upper caste vested interests. Only an educated and economically well off OBC can challenge the traditional vested interests. So the upper caste people often cry why should children of the likes of Ram Vilas Paswan or Laloo Pd Yadav enjoy reservation.

If reservation was just about giving some jobs and seats to the OBC there would have been not much outcry against the same. The extreme reaction of the upper caste against reservation is due to the fact that reservation will dilute their monopoly and privileges that they have enjoyed for centuries. Mandal I brought great changes in politics. The entire backward caste people whether proletariat or semi proletariat or small peasants or middle peasants or lower middle class or urban middle class rose in unison in support of job reservation in 1990. If job reservation was about giving some jobs to the backward caste people, only a miniscule section of backward caste population, living in towns and cities, would benefit and the vast majority of backward caste people would not have come onto the street in support of job reservation. In job reservation the millions of backward caste people saw an occasion of break of the entrenched upper caste vested interests. Job reservation gave an expression to their ages old hatred and fight against this entrenched upper caste vested interests that have always thrown insults to them.

Reports say that in IITs and IIMs only 10% of the reserved seats for the SC and ST are filled up. If the so-called creamy layer among the SC and ST are excluded from reservation all the seats will remain vacant. The same thing also applies in the case of the OBC. The Hindustan Times dated 18.05.2006 published news report wherein a result of the study conducted by National Institute of Education Planning & Administration has been quoted. According to this study the enrolment figure of the OBC students in school is just 29 per cent. In this news report an official of HRD Ministry is quoted as saying that, “as most of the OBC are from economically weaker sections, the drop out rate is likely to be similar to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In the same news report an educationist is quoted as saying, “If we consider the drop out rate in the country, one can presume that the enrolment will not be more than 15 per cent.” Thus by excluding the so called creamy layer from reservation purview the same story of non-fulfillment of reserved seats will be repeated in the case of the OBC also.

The creamy layer concept is nothing but a ploy to protect upper caste hegemony in job and education. It is not without reason that the BJP and the Congress like forces support the creamy layer concept.

The democratic forces of India have yet to realise the importance of reservation in job and education to the SC/ST/OBC in their struggle for democratising the Indian polity.

Ashok Yadav is active on social justice front and advocates in particularly OBC causes. He has written on issues relating to social justice, secularism, democracy, social reforms etc. He is associated with many social organisations concerning SC/ST/OBC. 

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