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Caste and Reservation (Text of my speech delivered at a Seminar in Jammu)

I would like to start my speech with a statistic. The Drop Out rate of Dalits between standard First and Tenth is 80%. So, the relevant question here is : “Whose Empowerment are we talking about”?

Reservation after seven decades of its inception is serving the poor, downtrodden, backward, and needy or is it greasing the vested interests of a select few?

Some other questions that need to be answered are, Do we want to do “Capacity Building” through affirmative action or do we want to keep Dalits as Dalits forever? Do we need to convert “Affirmative Action” into “Empowerment” or do we want to derogate it to something called “Entitlement”?

Reservation was always conceived as a “Mukti Marga” but unfortunately it has attained a permanent place in Indian polity, a place of “Sthai-tatva” (permanence). If the son/daughter of a retired Chief Secretary needs reservation, we can assume that Reservation as a policy has failed.

Before I go into the merits and demerits of Reservation I would like to touch upon the historical and psychological aspects of our colonial legacy often termed as Colonial Hangover.

There is a Colonial legacy to this whole business of Reservation and Caste. Lord Risley, a very well known racist was a product of Race theories evolved after Darwin’s theory of Evolution. The Race theory proponents started talking about less evolved and more evolved races. They used to come up with conclusions as Africans and Asians being less evolved and Europeans being more evolved etc. So, this Race Science used to be taught in European Universities where the students would study races from their point of views as to which race is better, which one is good and which one is bad.

Risley was a Race scientist who was appointed to be the Census Commissioner of India. His job was to come up with a census of India using the framework of Race. So, he started listing different jatis and he called them as castes though, caste is not a Sanskrit word Caste. The word caste has been derived from a Portuguese word casta meaning race, lineage or breed. So, he took all the Jatis, made his own assessment as to which one is superior, which one is inferior based upon who resembles more like a European or who is better off on economic strata.

He made his own hierarchy and in his Census Report when he is writing his comments in the beginning of the Report, he says that some of these people are so ignorant they don’t even know which caste they are. Now this was bound to happen. The head of the Jati would say that we don’t fit into your framework of caste; we can’t even relate to your framework. So, this framework was forced upon them and gradually people started complying with this colonial lens of Caste Framework because this is how you get facilities from the Government.

Only if you fit someway into this framework, would you be able to get Government facilities. Those who were outsiders were called as tribes. So even tribe is a kind of prejudiced term. Tribe is a colonial term for people they were not able to call civilized. So, those included in their framework were categorized as Upper caste, lower caste etc and those ‘others’ were called as tribes.

The actual Hindu concept of Varna had nothing to do with birth. Hindu concept of Varna is based upon the principles of Separation of Powers coupled with decentralization of power at societal level. Rishis tasked with organizing society identified four sources of power namely Knowledge, weapons, Money and Land. They decided that not more than one source of power shall be vested in any individual. So, those equipped with knowledge will not acquire weapons, money and land and will live on donations. Those with weapons will not make policies. Policies will be made only by those equipped with knowledge. Those with money will neither interfere in policy making nor acquire weapons. Similarly those with land will produce for everyone and will not acquire other sources of power beyond a reasonable limit. And this system had nothing to do with birth. Later due to further stratification the concept of Jati originated which is totally different from the concept of Caste imposed upon us. Jati had nothing to do with hierarchy.

Now for this Caste Hierarchy, the worst thing is that it is Indians who are being blamed for this. But actually, it was imposed upon us and now they say that Hindus are a caste ridden society.

So, the question now is this: What would we as Indians Do?

The answer to this is: We would remove all privileges based upon “Collective Identity” like Caste. We would give privileges based upon “Individual Need” and “Individual Merit”. If a person is poor, he is poor, he needs help. If a person is physically handicapped or suffers some under privileged situation, he needs help. So, the emphasis now has to shift from Caste based privilege to Individual need based privilege. This approach will give a death blow to this whole caste based vote bank politics. And seen in this background, we will have to drop the words General Category suffixed with Joint Action Committee. This terminology is Exclusionary and discourages those who support our idea of Individual need based help but do not belong to General Category. No successful movement could be exclusionary in nature and if does so, it derogates itself to be a club of vested interests based upon some kind of collective identity. At least the leadership should be able to foresee the scope and impact of any movement and navigate with a wholesome understanding of all dimensions.

I would also like to make a brief reference to the question of Reservation in Promotions. The matter is pending in Supreme Court and will be decided in the due course of time. To prevent government from committing any legislative adventurism, we have to gather people on streets. We have been visiting towns and villages mobilizing people of diverse backgrounds but the common thread which motivates them to strike on the streets is this: “This movement should be fought to put an end to collective identity based upon caste. Economic backwardness may be criteria for affirmative action. Reservation in promotions will be automatically covered by this movement.” The fact is that if we oppose only Reservation in Promotions, we may be called as anti S.C/S.T. But if we make economic criteria as the basis of this movement, our movement will be more inclusive and will speak for poor and needy people from all castes. Such a move will therefore be not aimed against any caste but would seek justice for the poor and needy belonging to every cross section of the society.

I will end my speech by saying that this is a fight against Reverse Discrimination, against Administrative Inefficiency, against erosion of constitutional values and for Social Justice. Bureaucracy or this Administrative structure like a pizza delivery boy is a Service Delivery Mechanism. It delivers Public Goods and Public Services. Welfare Services intended at eradicating backwardness and poverty if delivered by a colonial administrative system healed with no reform but infected with caste based employment and promotions will always perpetuate poverty and backwardness.

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