Saturday, May 27, 2006

Thoughts on the Reservation Issue..

Some preliminary thoughts on the Reservation Issue...(I need to restructure and solidify this article..something to be done later).

Ever since HRD Minister Arjun Singh announced the implementation of consitutionally mandated reservations for OBCs to the tune of 27% in Central Universities and Institutions, a virtual class war has been unleashed, partly fuelled by incessant media coverage, partly by agitated students increasingly getting jittery about their future prospects, partly by corporate and intellectual support (by members of the Knowledge Commission) and partly because India's neoliberal path suddenly hit yet another bumper. Eventually the sum of all the parts have taken a great toll and the Hulk, as you would call it, has raged two weeks now, seemingly not realizing that reservations are here to stay, no matter how long or how loud are these protests, and not realizing that reservations in Central Institutions are part of a process that had its antecedents not in Arjun Singh's train of thought but which has come after a century of social churning, resulting in what many like Yogendra Yadav calls, "The Second Democratic Upsurge" or what Ashutosh Varshney modifies as the "Fourth Democratic Upsurge".

The Media aren't persipient enough (and I am blaming the yellow press and the tele-media, not the sections of the media which care to analyse decisions in depth, like for e.g., The Hindu, but again I am termed prejudiced toward The Hindu, so I will let it pass), but thats another story for another blog. Lets first get to answer, as to whether the Reservations in Central Institutions as a means toward social justice is justified at all, and what else/more/at all should be done indeed for social justice, and whither social justice, social justice vs merit?, all these questions in this short blog piece.

First, Reservations on the basis of Caste. The favorite argument of those against reservations, is that if the end is to eradicate Caste, why do you need Caste based reservations at all? This is a rather innocent question, and the answer would have to start from the definition of Caste in India itself.
Caste is a phenomenon unique to India, which divides people on the basis of birth and cuts across religions..therefore there are caste Muslims and Dalit Christians as well in our country!. Caste as a phenomenon, as I said, exists in two different fashions in the country, accentuating the urban-rural divide. In urban, liberal India, where modern institutions are more active, more relevant to public life, where rationality of the market has permeated to a certain extent, Caste has in the words of Gopal Guru, "transmogrified" itself. You wouldnt' see different sets of people travelling in a train together complaining about "pollution", "distance" etc..thats the dialectical effect of modernity in the form of train travel. You wouldn't see people complaining about using common tumblers for drinking water/ milk at a public hotel, nor would you see people complaining about same sets of chairs and seats for all castes in theaters, in parks etc. You would of course notice a class divide, the sparkling multiplexes and malls vs the filthy chawls and stalls, the expensive shawls and stolles vs the ragged crawls and brawls. But again I am digressing.

In urban India, casteism has to be drawn from the proverbial well using Dronacharya's eye of the needle, caste exists hidden but loosely yet not fully subjugated..Peer into the Classified sections of the newspapers, and lo and behold, you find Caste there.. Marriage columns: caste is a factor, the inner home: Caste hangs over there in the "gotras", "the horoscopes" and in the yearning to create the ideal match for this or that son or daughter. Yes, Caste does exist and cannot be wished away. It exists in a transmogrified form, but it does exist. In some companies, caste acts a factor in recruitment; even in the formally rational Television shows, where fair wins over dark, you notice that those from the lower echelons of the caste system and of the darker, frailer skin, noticed and ignored..Casteism acts therefore in the subterfuge, but exists.

In Villages, the picture is clearer, Casteism is not transmogrified, free to function without the gaze of rationality heaped by modernity, and supported by the bulwark of traditionalism, caste is what that structures village life. The higher your caste, the greater your proximity to resources, the Brahmins hardly work on fields or toil on the lands, they are free to "teach", to "preach" and invariably "usure", and they are the most educated of the lot, they hardly have to move a muscle, the traders, charge and discharge, enjoy the privileges of being the determiners of the village economy and are the first to tide over any village crisis, the peasants are also organized on the basis of caste...the middle and lower peasantry, typically the OBCs, the landless, typically the Untouchables or the SC/STs all hanging on to one another in a pyramidical hierarchial structure, with the topmost having the greatest access to resources, and the bottommost the greatest necessity to toil and physical labour.

You can therefore imagine two pyramids...One pyramid showing the caste hierarchy and the other a reverse pyramid showing the resources..these two pyramids are directly linked..these village structures are almost uniform in North India, while in South India, due to a prolonged churning of society due to the rationality and the anti-Brahman movement in Tamil Nadu, the Communist movement in Kerala and Andhra to some extent, things are slightly changed..there has been a “restructuration” of caste…simultaneously a restructuration of the village structures and the access to resources…which leads to the question of how did this happen? Again..though this is relevant, I think, this question is to be answered in a separate and detailed blog or article, but if one has the patience to read Varshney’s article “Is India becoming more democratic” or Jaffrelot’s “India’s silent revolution” , he can get a picture.

In South India, the non-Brahmin movement and its articulation for social change, was harped on restructuring the iniquitous caste system. Reservations were mandated early in the 20th century, and modern institutions were forced to undergo affirmative action, including the bureaucracy. Eventually, there emerged political power for the lower castes and its political units, and social churning became an inevitable phenomenon, resulting ultimately in the radical transformation of the echelons of power and prestige as well as access to amenities such as education, health and to some extent ownership of land. It was not a direct straight line process, but a rather curved skewed one, but there can be no denying in the changes seen in South Indian society over the years.

If one from, say, the 17th or 18th century visited South India, he could have seen this change, not merely effects of modern institutions but the restructuration of the notions and hierarchies of caste. Deficiencies still remain, what has occurred is not a complete eradication of caste as a system, but a change in the structure and the hierarchy, yet hierarchy and structures still remain. That’s the story of South India.

In North India, however, the political and social movements from the vestiges of the lower castes were late to take off. Firstly, peasant proprietors , after independence acting as a class, tried to resolve their class interests, led by Charan Singh and his Lok Dal in what was a class movement, whilst Ram Manohar Lohia and his “socialists” worked upon to launch a caste based movement, articulating caste based benefits and political power..which has resulted in the strengthening of the OBC parties such as the Janata Dal and later its successors such as the RJD, SP, JD(U) in UP, Bihar and even in Gujarat. Even the pan-Hindu BJP has had to articulate the concerns of the OBCs and that has resulted in the rise of such leaders such as Uma Bharati and Kalyan Singh..the demands and rise of the OBCs therefore has a historical basis and an inevitability to it, owing to the universal adult franchise system that has been put in place and the rise in political power and concomitant social statuses.

There however has not occurred any substantial economic status change and the mixed capitalist system has endured a system of privileges that has stuck with a certain section of the populace, invariably upper caste and historically privileged. Here is where the articulation of reservations have come in. The lower castes and the SC/STs vote overwhelmingly in elections. They are what that determine the fortune of politicians and create leaders and political parties actually in real. If political power cannot help these people gain in their economic statuses, then it would be in jeopardy…no wonder there is a overwhelming consensus for reservations.

Now that one has constructed a historical, social, political and economic profile of the OBCs, even in a rather “blog” like manner and understood the raison d’etre for reservations and its relevance as a weapon for social change and its inevitability, one has to justify the same on certain universal principles of justice, otherwise it would become untenable.

Here is where one has to understand the kind of economic bases that constitute Indian society. India is predominantly a capitalist economy (even if not fully developed) in its urban centers, a semi-feudal set up in rural India predominantly. Social change in such a system, based on tuning of the system from within, is well possible using the tenets of welfare liberalism. Ideal Contractualists such as John Rawls have argued for principles of justice being realized in such societies. Rawls argues for equality of opportunity only to qualify it with the difference principle, wherein he argues for re-ordering of the offices of distribution to that extent that those who have historically been disadvantaged benefit from policies of re-ordering. To this to be possible, he argues for people to think from the original position, by throwing away their identities and arguing for principles of justice by thinking rationally, something that has not been witnessed in the Media, where a war of castes has been unleashed.

Offices, amenities are still invariably lopsided in terms of access and presence, despite changes made by Mandal reservations in the bureaucracy, public institutions etc. Any statistical look at occupation of seats in institutions across India shows a certain lopsidedness, reservations therefore from the Rawlsian axes are tenable. When there is a direct link between access to amenities and economic wealth and the caste system as in Rural India therefore, caste based reservations seem tenable again. Yet this is not the case about urban India. Here is where the creamy layer criterion has to be adopted and implemented.

Again the category of OBCs is a rather loose one. Several dominant castes exist within this OBC category such as the Jats of Punjab, Haryana ( who had been included in the NDA govt.’s tenure) and even the Yadavs etc. A reformulation hence has to be made to strictly match the economic and marginalization profile of OBCs, which is also a true fact, Lodhis, Telis, Vanniyars invariably are marginalized, economically and socially and are deserving of affirmative action.

Next, the notion of “merit”. In a lopsided system, merit is a construct that doesn’t include the social merit that which has been historically and sociologically privileged, creating a certain system, where there are a few who are always de’merited’ and hence incapable of competition. The logic of merit therefore is not sufficient enough.

Thus one can argue for reservations of this form: one which excludes the dominant castes of even the OBCs and creamy layers (deterimined by the simple criteria of yearly income of Rs 1,00,000 which entails someone as a income tax payer). Now the question that arises is whether reservations alone can change society and rid its ills? That’s the most pertinent question.

Despite access to higher education being provided and a share of the amenities pie, that is entailed therefore, no radical restructuring can be made without transformation of ownership of the means of production. Why? Because even if reservations to higher education is provided, people in rural India cannot be in a position to avail it, because they are not even in a position to reach such levels. What therefore is required is land reforms, which provides peasants and others lower in the hierarchy the ability and means to purchase economic power, and also dignity, because the question of land is related to dignity.

State action is invariably therefore required for such things to happen, to enact true forms of social justice, reservations merely qualify as palliatives and helping in the creation of new elites instead of changing the class and caste structure radically. True, a change of elites provides a basis of subjugation of caste as an identifier of prestige and honour, and hence a change in ideas, but mere change in ideas is not enough to answer questions of social justice and the building up of a harmonious society of equitable exchange.

Thus, to conclude, I would suggest that all those who are anti-reservation must realize that the historical processes that have resulted in a situation like today entail that one cannot wish away reservation, as much as one argues against it, there are sociological reasons that are relatively sound enough that buttress the argument for reservations. Then, again, one needs to articulate that even if reservation as a policy is implemented, careful analysis of how exactly it benefits those it intends to benefit, has to be done. At the same time, for those who argue for social justice, it must be understood that mere social change and transfer of elites would not change the societal structure and annihilate caste..a full and thorough blown change in rural India vis-à-vis land ownership and concerted state action are a must. One must therefore strengthen the nation state, at the same time decentralizing power to effect a change in structures in rural areas, and argue for substantial rationality in the functioning of urban modern institutions and not merely push for neo-liberal reforms that perpetuate inequality and exacerbate class and caste tendencies.


arvindh said...

This is probably one of the best articles I have read on this volatile issue. Great work!

majesticpalms said...

Good work dude..

Prasav said...

dude, with little bit of rational thinking you will be able to understand whats right and whats wrong. If you read the past, you should learn from it. Not commit the same mistakes.

Look, I say reservation is required. But who needs the reservation? The answer does not lie in promoting caste system. The government is not doing any good by providing reservation for convent educated OBC's.

Please look at point 9 for the possible solutions.

1. What is the purpose of reservation?
Do our politicians understand this? The purpose is to lift the people who are living in very bad conditions to the normal standards of living. There is a need for reservation and not only reservation but also help is needed to some of these people. But not at IIT / IIM / Engineering level. The government has terribly failed to bring in standards to the government schools and colleges. So whats the solution? Bring down the elite institutions to those levels. Great strategy by the government!!

Again not to miss the answer to this point - To uplift the poeple who are UNDERPRIVILEGED. Ya thats what the politicians tell when they make reservation policies right

2. Is the current reservation system helping?
Frankly, the answer is a big NO. Why? This is because out of the 50 seats reserved, maybe 1 or 2 of the seats will go for the sector to which it has to help. So it is actually counter productive. The other seats are taken over by the undeserving (like rich lower caste people) candidates and thereby a massive misuse of the system can be seen. One more important thing to note is that these person who have come in using quota will not be able to sustain in a competitive world. More than 60% of the OBC's themselves feel they dont need quota in post-grad level.

3. Who is preventing the upliftment of dalits?
Its the rich category of obc's. Most of us are not opposing the reservations, but instead they are only insisting that these BENEFITS GO TO THE DESERVED CANDIDATES and ALSO THE KIND OF BENEFITS THAT GO TO THEM. Also they indulge in unnecessary upper-caste bashing to mislead everyone. This creates a unhealthy society and we have to live in this unhealthy society.

4. Is it really necessary for having reservations in IIM's etc?
NO. Why? It really doesnt help the poor dalit who is in need. It is only for the elite dalits/sc/obc to become more richer and richer. They and their offsprints will keep preventing the deserving candidates and thereby the privilges does not reach the needy.

5. Do they need reservations in job?
Yes in govt and No in pvt.
NO - Once the education has been provided, the person will get the job based on his own capacity. Once the dalit/obc/sc/st has been educated, he can get the job on his own merit. He will be able to compete provided we set up a competing environment. Otherwise it will be counter-productive for himself as well as the nation.
Yes - 90% of entry level jobs in government has to be given to these people. This will help them to stabilise in their life, give good education to their offsprings and thereby create a social equality. You dont need to make a person RICH. All that this reservation needs to do is to make a person afford the education to their children. The entire social structure will change. This reservation will help the dalits who have not been able to pursue higher education due to various reasons and bring them on par with others in the society.

6. Is reservations justified for Promotions in GOVT reserved jobs?
Yes - But this should be LIMITED TO 2 PROMOTIONS. After that he should make an effort to compete with the rest for further promotions. This will build a competitive nature and is good both for himself as well as the country.

7. Is reservation justified in private sector?
No - Private sectors are profit driven. There are lot of obc/st working in private sector even today. Moreover anything in private sector means we are majorly touching the urban population where reservation is not necessary. There should not be any language/religion/caste in private sector.

8. Who are the people insisting on increasing reservations and upper caste bashing?
Its the elite obcs/dalits etc who have had a good education etc. This is the greedy section in the obcs/dalits/st's who want to get richer and richer and they dont care what happens to other members of their own community. They are pointing the fingers at the upper-caste members to escape from the eyes of deserving candidates who are not getting benefitted. SO THIS GREEDY SECTION WILL NEVER AGREE TO WHAT WE SAY. THEY WOULD NEVER WANT THE UNDERPRIVILGED IN THEIR COMMUNITY TO IMPROVE SINCE THESE PPL ARE ENJOYING BENEFITS IN THEIR NAME.

9. Any viable solution? How can we know who needs reservation and who does not? Can we prevent misuse?
Yes. though misuse cannot be prevented 100%, it can be reduced drastically.
Following ideas to take india further into future.
a. Eradicate caste system. (should not have to fill in any caste column in any forms)
b. Free and standard education to be provided by govt. until 12th (PUC). In villages, any child going to school with regular attendance will get some stipend/clothes/food every week. Also increase the standard of government schools so that they are no less than the private schools. Why are we paying so much education cess for? Failing to do so is the failure of the government. And now 30% RESERVATIONS FOR THOSE WHO STUDIED IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS ONLY.
c. Create a paid team of "social-helpers" whose job is only to monitor, educate and make sure the benefits reach them.
d. Fully functional libraries providing text books for the students, both in rural and urban areas. Especially for the students studying in government schools and colleges.
e. Interest free long term educational loans (payable only to colleges/institutions) to candidates who want to pursue higher education. AGAIN FOR THOSE WHO STUDIED IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS ONLY. For others very low interest long term education loans can be provided.
f. 90% - 100% reservations to the entry level jobs in government for students who studied in government schools/colleges. 2 bonus promotions for these reserved category people.
g. Some benefits for pvt sector companies employing persons who have passed out studying in govt schools/colleges.

10. Looks like the "caste" is not mentioned in prev. solution?
Yes. The whole idea of the system is to create social equality and eradicate the devil called "caste"

11. Will eradicating "caste" bring social equality?
Yes. Along with generations, people will forget associating themselves with caste. With more people getting educated, will bring in a sense of confidence and new ideas. It will push them to explore new fields.

12. Will it benefit the opressed obc/sc/st?
Of course. Designed for that. Do you think increasing quotas in IIT/IIM will help them?

12. But what about IIT/IIM?
Who are we helping by increasing quotas in Engineering/medical/IIT/IIM? Are you guys helping the poor dalits by increasing quota at IIM?

13. But what about the oppressed obc's/sc/st. They will be backward.
Can give numerous examples The obc's/st/sc are not inferior. Just allow them to compete on fair ground, but from the school level. They cannot face the competition all of a sudden at IIT level having come thru reservations all along.

14. But still i want to vote for the politician of my caste....
Cool. Thats the great "Indian Mentality". Just answer these for yourself. Do you think only the person from your caste will do good for you? Has laloo helped all yadavs? Does he know every member of yadav community? As a CM is that is job? Do you think only your caste politician will bring in water only to your house in your area? Finally do you think only a politician from your caste can do anything good for you?

15. Im not bothered. It does not affect me in anyway. I want to concentrate only on making money.
Cool. You think so? Hope it is so!!

BOTTOM LINE - YOU CANNOT MAKE A COUNTRY WITH 100% POPULATION AS ENGINEERS AND DOCTORS. The government should bring in value to other occupations. Say for eg: A person who sweeps the road should not be paid less than an average clerk in the government. So their job is NOT inferior. BRING IN VALUE FOR EVERY JOB. DONT SEPARATE JOBS JUST LIKE THEY DID FOR CASTE IN THE PAST. PLS DO NOT REPEAT THE SAME MISTAKES. HOPE WE LEARN FROM HISTORY.

Hope you have got some thoughts about this...

Prasav said...

BTW i forgot to mention... all the caste, all the religion people will get benefitted. The government need not keep the useless list of castes in india.

Please be warned - the politicians are playing -"divide n rule". If you guys cannot understand this, i get doubt about your mental ability.

Srini said...

To Prasav,

It will be difficult to negate all the suggestions that you have made, as well as the points that you have mentioned. At the same time, before plunging to jump into writing conclusions and use-case solutions in a management mode/scenario, one has to realize that society and social sciences are much more complex.

Wishing away caste by merely writing it off from application forms is not going to help at all. First the hierarchy has to be broken. Caste is a mental construct in certain ways (especially in urban India) and that mental mindset of one higher caste over lower etc, can only be broken by preferential or positive discrimination to the "lower" so that the "higher" no longer feels "higher". Till the time intercaste marriages are not frowned upon, caste mentality would remain and caste prejudice would continue and no matter how much we would want to wish it away, it can't be wished/removed off. As someone who is from the general category and has never been reserved, I have genuinely evolved from being a "higher caste" person to someone who doesn't believe at all in the caste system.

In South India, this has indeed happened. Due to State action, particularly in urban Tamil Nadu, caste as a construct of superiority has declined. It hasn't exactly happened in rural areas, but there caste is innately linked as I mentioned in the blog to the criterion of economic divide, so it is a different story altogether.

In sum, all affirmative actions, checks and balances such as creamy layer cuts, etc must be considered (as Prasav suggests), yet reservations on caste basis cannot be wished away and they are here to stay atleast for some more years, before the fading away of caste as a differentiating identity on basis of hierarchy. This is the crux of what I am trying to say.

As for politicians trying to divide and rule and blah blah...politicians are creations of the masses and Indian society is what which determines its kind of polity also.A divided and hierarchised Indian society is bound to produce politicians who are accountable to these divisions. Lets not be naive enough to think of the political community as a class apart from the society at large!.

Prasav said...

Agree until the caste discrimination goes off, it is difficult to achieve social equality.

But tell me one thing, caste based reservations indirectly keep educating every member of our society about their caste-subcaste etc. Until i finished my 10th i dint know about caste. After i got into college/reservation/ then i became aware of the caste. Can you answer me, by providing caste based reservation can you achieve this objective? If so, can you explain how?

you speak about TN, well, majority of Upper caste have migrated to other states and countries. And coming to the improvement in the TN people, its because most lower caste people are working as labourers in other countries like singapore,malaysia,dubai etc and sending money back. You might argue, but its a hard fact. I dont call it as a result of reservation, rather its more of a global opportunity process where those people preferred to become labourers in other countries. TN would have done much better without its stupid policies and monopolistic media and government.

to be specific, -1 and -1 is not zero. it is -2 (so two wrongs dont make it right). similarly discrimination and reverse discrimination are the same thing. So it does not equate to equality instead it moves towards further division of the society. Why only people from few caste to be helped. All the poor/discriminated indians need to be helped.

Of course politicians are there to take up every advantage of this "divide n rule" conditions. If you see the statements of BJP/DMK/Congress/JD etc, everyone is interested only about their vote bank. No one is interested in setting the right direction for our country. When the situation is like this, do you expect the right decisions would be taken by them?

The choice is with us. We have to analyse and set the right mindset amongst the youth. Otherwise this would be the dooms path for our country.

Dust-Biter said...

This post is long and I need some more time to grapple with the too many topics it attempts to stagger across...

Will assimilate and reflect...


Srini said...

To Prasav:

You didnt know your caste/subcaste because you had no use of it till then. Perhaps if you had checked your relative's advertisement on the classified section in any newspaper, you might have found out that you haven't been fully liberated from your "caste" identity thus far.

Yes, it is true that Brahmins from TN have migrated out of TN and this was a natural consequence after years of dominating the bureaucracy, the organs of governance and with mandated affirmative action in the favour of those who were outside such arenas.

As for the contention that the economy is *only* doing good, because of overseas remittances, I do not agree to that. Agreed that overseas remittances play a vital part in garnering valuable foreign exchange for investment, but the levels of governance, administration, economy that are not dependent merely on remittances are pretty high in the Southern States and this has invariably resulted due to wider participation of the masses in professional jobs. We have more engineers from deprived sections today in Tamil Nadu as also doctors which explains a better and vibrant service economy, previously which was restricted to a privileged few, who had *inherited* their statuses rather than earning it.

You have your grievances against the mainstream parties because *your* class/caste interest is not represented. Rs 2 a kg rice is seen as a populist move by those who can afford rice at 200 a kg and who can afford three square meals and a pizza a day. For those toilers who have suffered the brunt of neoliberal economic reforms and diminishing returns for their traditional labour, 2 Rs a kg rice, seems a logical move rather than populist move.

What I am trying to emphasize is that political parties represent their sectional interests as much as any representative contestable unit does. Merely terming the political class a corrupt, self-sustaining unit above and cut off from the broad society as such, in a country like India, is missing the point.

As regards the youth, I have only this to say. The youth of today is turning out to be myopic, selfish and not concerned about the "other side" as such. There are a few who are bucking the trend and doing great things by contributing to civil society in sociable ways, but the middle class youth of today in general lacks the idealism that is required of them.

Memoryking said...

My Reservations blog.-It's a bit controversial :)