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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Understanding Researvation (Not complete yet)

In Distaste and Ambiguity
The current status of reservation is shrouded in ambiguity and disaste. The unfortunately ‘educated’ debate that looks down on all talk of caste, yet would prefer to discuss the reservation issue is in clear distaste. It is not possible to discuss reservation without acknowledging that castes in India exist, that it is still a social structure by which people lead their lives, that a majority of people are either benefited or affected by the caste system. That caste provides an identity and understanding of one’s own background than any history taught in the history textbooks in schools.

If acknowledging caste is a problem of the educated, the basis of reservation is ambiguous on the part of the government. The government uncertainty was made clear by the HRD minister in his various public utterances[1], even the supposed success story on reservation issue in Tamilnadu has one of its members saying that economic and social background alone is not enough for someone to be considered backward[2]. This is again because, the governments of today were not responsible for creating the caste based discrimination for either jobs or education. Such a segregation of people for the sake of apportioning of privileges stems from the Colonial past. Two systems created by the Colonial masters are encountering each other in this conflict of ‘reservation’.

The Categorization of People
Why are we stuck with a colonial definition of “OBC”, “SC” and “ST”s still? When the Chairman of our knowledge commission voices his opinion on the reservation issue saying that this is a 19th century practice, we need to also understand all that we inherited in the caste debate from the 18th and 19th century colonial masters intervention and interpretation of the caste system.

How is the knowledge of the caste different today from that of the 19th century when the colonials had to bring in the label of SC and ST to group all those whom they didn’t want to remember by their regular caste titles. It was a brilliant move on their part, it wiped out from the minds of the significant sections of society their own traditional identity and the relationship this identity had with its immediate neighborhood, its environment, the land, trees, forests, rivers…perhaps the first step in the centralization of their lives, the corollary of this move as corporatisation has been the major beneficiary. Since the centralization of the maintenance of water bodies through PWD and all the mines taken over by the government to the current proposals of selling off of the rivers and water bodies, have all started with the alienation of the communities from their habitat by providing them a new identity and association a percentage as perhaps the most desirable aspiration.

The very idea of reservation is so demeaning to someone who ought to be ruling their neighborhood. It is the fear of them taking control over their resources that ensured that the colonial masters to create a new kinds of privileges called government jobs, clerks, access to government bungalows, access to the centralized corridors of power, and a system of which grouped people into a classification they could not relate to with their own locality. The classifications of castes as FC, BC, OBC, SC and ST are in themselves a centralist attitude and anyone who is for the de-centralisation cannot agree to such categorization.

A blind acceptance of such a classification without rigorous questioning by independent India is what Gandhiji described acquiring the system and the attitude of the colonial masters, a change of hands in terms of the people in power, but no change in its spirit.

Knowledge of Indian Castes Today
Today, it is possible to have a comprehensive list of castes, if we respect these castes and respect the privilege of an individual to practice his caste, then we should try to re-create the identities in full. What was the history of the caste, what were its struggle, what were the jati puranas, who were the local heroes of these jatis, what were their totems and how did it help in conservation (as has been proved repeatedly by anthropologists and historians) of the local flora and fauna, what were the times of local prosperity and drudgery, when and how did the community reach its current position…such re-creation of the caste identity is a more humane way of providing them the culture that has been destroyed. Maybe, there is a danger of creating past antagonistic attitudes between communities and castes, there certainly will be resentments on other castes in the neighborhood who have been better off in the recent past. But, such things are limited to the locality. The centralized debate which polarizes the debate into dichotomous position is self-serving and self-propagation.

Technology to Understand Castes better
The unfortunate thing is when our chairman of knowledge commission talks of technology being an equalizer[3] and also criticizes adopting the 19th century system of reservation, he is a victim of his own notion. The very acceptance of the labeling of the castes as FC, BC, … stems from a 19th century colonial hangover. With the technology and the database available today on the castes, the knowledge commission can do a thorough job of profiling the castes of India, their locations, their skills and occupations, their placement in jobs with the unorganized sector, organized sector, government, forces, private sector and the institutions of higher learning.

With such information available, it would make the job of the government so easy to say which communities have benefited least in which parts of the country through the reservation policy and extend them the same, perhaps even more than what is being currently proposed. Perhaps the knowledge commission is centralist in itself and does not want to unravel to itself and others the knowledge of the communities.

[1] The interview with Karan Thapar is a very good example
[2] Interviews with the Second Backward Commission members quoted in rediff article on Reservation in Tamilnadu by Shoba Warrior
[3] Sam Pitroda email interview on the rediff on reservation issue

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