Pride, Prejudice and Peril : The Pitfalls of Caste Census
The shrill cry from almost all political parties especially regional parties’ sans BJD, pressing for a caste-based census points towards an ideological insolvency and setting up an agenda for social suffering. The ruling dispensation has borrowed time before joining the bandwagon because being in power and entrusted with governance they know both the limitation and riskof this venture. But the social pathology ofIndian politics is its emphasis on division, loyalty and corruption both moral and monetary. Notwithstanding, occasional exception, the short-sightedness both the voters and voted has often spelled doom for the society. Family, caste and religion have been used as instruments of political mobilization and consolidation of vote bank. The grant of largesse and benefits to supporters in furtherance of political consolidation and creation of loyalty only eroded the commitment to governance in furtherance of political interest.
The entire spectrum should be viewed from two recent events namely, the passing of 127th Constitutional Amendment Bill in both houses and which now requires the Presidential assent before becoming an Act and the demand for caste-based census has its origin in the competitive politics of reservation. The independent India has seen a clamour among caste and community groups to be included in the reserved category. The reason behind such rush is the perceivable appropriation development benefits in the form of easier access to the education and employment market especially of the government ones. The implementation of the Mandal commission report first and then necessary constitutional amendment which was vociferously pushed by late Arjun Singh.
The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 was introduced to provide reservation to OBCs in higher educational institutions across the country sans institutions like BARC. The sudden increase of 27 percent OBC students strength without taking care of faculty, infrastructure and quality standards proved death knell for Indian academia in an era of global competitiveness. It was definitely not about admission of students but a complete abdication of responsibility by the government in recruiting, providing funding, making and maintaining infrastructure. It ripped apart teacher-student ratio, laboratory facilities, books and space in library etc. The last nail in the coffin came with the reduction of budget for higher education in each successive year and by each successive government. In such a scenario our national anguish of mot having a single University in world ranking above hundred is nothing but shedding crocodile tears.
The Act provides for reservation of seats for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and OBCs in certain central educational institutions. It states that out of the annual permitted seats for a branch of study or faculty, 15% seats shall be reserved for SCs, 7.5% seats for STs and 27% for OBCs. But necessary provisionswere not made to make the idea tenable. Consequently, we added volume to the already overburdened higher educational institutions. But opposition to this blatant blackmailing of the system never came as politicians of all hue were busy reaping the harvest in terms of votes by appeasing a large chuck of voters.
As much as we say in public that the development of human society including the marginalized will be possible only through providing them education but in practice the Macaulayan education only makes us fit for a government job. The link between education and employment especially a government job is not just symbiotic but like an umbilical cord. Hence, provisioning of educational opportunities do not satisfy the beneficiaries without corresponding reservation in employment. This in turn has played have both in terms of provision of quality education and creation of a large pool of skilled manpower. The sufferers of this tragedy are both State and society.
The philosophy of reservation in India on caste lines has actually created more division in the society than ever they had been. We have dealt rather successfully with the problems of untouchability and discrimination through legislation, education and social awareness. But the same prescriptions were thrown out of window as far as dealing with representation and employment in government sector is concerned. The perils of democracy reflected in the form of securing political power through caste mobilization have shown its ugly head more often than not. Scholars like Rudolph and Rudolph, Weiner, Kothari, Dirk have explored these dimensions and were categorical in their opinion that it’s not democracy which has changed caste rather there has been a ‘casteization’ of democracy. A look into the representative politics in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh before 2014 national election would show how the access to power was processed through caste. The gain of 2014 in dismantling caste is bound to be lost in the wake of caste-based census.
The purpose of reservation was to ensure representation and participation but what happened is that it created a ‘fourth world colony in a third world country’. As Prof. Andre Beteille observed in his seminal work, Caste, Class and Power, that the power has shifted from Brahmins but has not transformed the society by reaching to the downtrodden but now rest with the ritually inferior but economically better of middle caste groups. Look at the presence of Meenas of Rajsthan in civil services you will get the hang of it. The same has happened with the OBCs where a hierarchy has been created within the caste group. As the nature of politics in modern India is revolve around caste the attempt to appropriate and appease other caste groups in the fluid contours OBCs has only made water murkier. An increase in demand for reservation by the affluent Marathas or the Patels in Gujarat or Gujjars and Jats in Haryana can be seen as a case in point, a cacophony for accommodation through quota.
A comment taken out of context by the Sarsanghchalak of RSS regarding the need to evaluate reservation policy during 2015 Bihar election became a spark that consigned BJP’s hopes to be in power in the state into dustbin then. Like they say in English, once bitten twice shy, the current deputy head of RSS has gone the other way round. Thus, signifying the importance of body politic, the political compulsions rather than the desire for democratization of society.
The formation of the Justice Rohini Commission for the evaluation of existing reservation policy was a ray of hope for those wishing for a more egalitarian reservation system. The principle of affirmative action has largely been misused by communities who have either accumulated wealth over previous decades or have recently gathered both wealth and social prestige because of the existing reservation system. This has led the demand by competitive social groups and political pressure groups to increase the reservation beyond the 50 percent bracket fixed by the Supreme Court of India. This has done rather blatantly in Tamil Nadu, and former Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh late Rajsekhar Reddy made two unsuccessful attempts to provide 10 percent reservation for Muslims. In aneffort to keep things at bay, and playing it safe the Union through 127th Consituioonal Amaendmment Bills has tried to put onus of states. It provides that the quantum of reservation shall be prescribed by the state government.
Needless to add, the cry for caste-based census is a precursor to stifle the talent and smoothen the victory procession of mediocrity in the empowering marginalized. These tactics of selective appeasement and shenanigans will lead to nothing but Balakization of society and divide the already fragmented Indian society into multiple and contesting not competing microcosms. That day will be celebrated by the same forces who are celebrating the victory of Taliban and pitch for the secessionism of the country. I hope our enlightened citizens and vibrant civil society will shake its inertia and roamce with petty gain and help in the rise of the spirit of nationalism. This will in turn ensure that the nefarious design fall flat on its face.
By Prof. Tapan R. Mohanty
(The author is the Dean, Department of Distance Education and Professor of Sociology of Law at National law Institute University, Bhopal. The views are personal.)