The primary goal of the reservation system in India is to enhance the socioeconomic and educational status of underprivileged communities who were historically denied access to social and economic resources. This goal in recent past has evolved as a brazen political agenda to secure votes. It is, however, the exploited economic position of underprivileged communities in the market system which catalyses political nostrums. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Gujarat’s Chief Minister, when questioned about reservation had suggested the replacement of reservation system with Acche Din(Good Days) providing quality of living and jobs for all. This might be a political statement to woo upper caste votes as he has now oppositely employed the same tactic by providing 10% reservation for economically weaker sections like his predecessors ahead of 2019 Election Mahakumbh. The 10% reservation ploy is not even backed by any empirical research.
Why isn’t India interested in solving the menace of reservation? The answer to this question rests on two planks–leaders and voters. Reservation today is a correlation function of elector and elected, rest is the story which compasses none. While Reservation has benefited few like Dalit thinker KanchaIlaiah, it has neither uprooted the casteism nor has it been successful in providing the opportunity and quality of living to the deprived and marginalised. Tribes and manual labourers in remote areas of Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh don’t even know if any such protectionism scheme exists. They don’t even wish to send their kids to Anganwadi if there wouldn’t be any Khichdi scheme, they just expect their kids to earn money at earliest; ‘manual labour’ becomes the only option left to them at last. This not only highlights the disastrous failure of a prosperous scheme but also how it even has failed to generate a basic sense of awareness among beneficiaries.
In an address delivered at the Session of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation held in Bombay on May 6, 1945 and successive many others, B R Ambedkar, widely referred as the father of Indian Constitution, acknowledged that reservation might not change the way upper castes look at dalits. After decades of Ambedkar’s address, the atrocity against dalits remains intact with impunity.
DakshaynaiVellayudhan, only Dalit woman in the constituent assembly never supported reservation. In a speech delivered in August 1947, she said,“As long as the Scheduled Castes, or the Harijans or by whatever name they may be called, are economic slaves of other people, there is no meaning demanding either separate electorates or joint electorates or any other kind of electorates with this kind of percentage. Personally speaking, I am not in favour of any kind of reservation in any place whatsoever.” Against the resistance of several social reformers, the reservation was put into Indian constitutional frame with Article 334(b) on the expiration of a period of first few years but later amended to put it in effect for every consecutive decade. Reservation at the time of commencement of constitution was promulgated to nullify the socioeconomic disparity. Indira Gandhi’s government trying to give a fashionable outlook to the constitution added ‘Socialist Republic’ in the preamble of the constitution in 1977 but didn’t care to think that a phrase alone could not fill the socioeconomic gaps. India continued to boast on world map as a socialist republic but internally strained by catapulting forces and hinged on the preacher of reservation it is now set to celebrate 70th Republic Day.
I agree with Sankaran Krishna who says that we forget caste while living it. Avijit Ghosh calls it glue. Imtiaz Ahmad calls it an experience. Whether caste system is a privilege of amnesia or not it is above all a socio-political ploy today. The Jatav-Kshatriya dilemma dating back to early twentieth century pinpoints the bizarre rigidity of caste system. The manifest function of Arya Samaj in Agra was to reconvert or bring back scheduled castes or outcasts to the fold of Hinduism. This included religious enculturation to elevate their caste rank. Sanskritization, explored by anthropologist M N Srinivas, was conceptualised and integrated by Arya Samaj to purify Jatav caste by resolving to forbid the eating of beef and buffalo. Owen Lynch, in Politics of Untouchability, writes,”Jatavs from all of Agra City were convened and purified….they were told by Arya Samaj that they were Kshastriyas as Shiva was Kshatriya and Jatavs trace their gotra to Shiva….but dominant classes never accepted this sanskritization of Jatavs…Jatavs were humiliated and rejected.” This anecdote illustrates two things–a) the caste system was solidified into an endogamous community and caste mobility was restricted. b) Arya Samaj was not eradicating casteism but acting as a Hindu missionary it was only converting non-Hindus: a push to sanskritize Dalits and kill their culture.
Reservation at that point of exploitation was needed for Jatavs. But now reservation has become a gimmick for caste centred politics. Politically and socially dominant sections like Patidars in the state of Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra feel cheated. They have a significant share of votes and turning them down could result into government’s expulsion in respective states, hence it becomes important for the government in their states to agree to rebels’ demands.
The Chairman of the First Backward Classes Commission, Kaka Kalelkar, virtually pleaded for the rejection of the report on the ground that the reservations and other remedies recommended on the basis of caste would not be in the interest of society and country. He opined that the principle of caste should be eschewed altogether. It is the same menace country is facing today. Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen in their various collaborative works argue that political literacy is a function of general literacy. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) was called a massive failure by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), supreme audit institution of India. In that view, even general literacy seems an impossible task, let caste upliftment alone. It is not the lack of interest among Indian politicians to address this aggrandizing menace but it is their ignorance of these critical issues of socioeconomic disparity, caste violence, mob lynching and Hindutva radicalisation they are more interested in. It is also not only the job of political executives to bring equality; India in addition to Malcolm X and Rosa Parks also needs people from socioeconomic dominant classes to stand beside those who were historically oppressed so this chasm can be filled. Unless this happens, reservation will continue to be a menace.
If B R Ambedkar were alive today, he would be doing what he had once boldly said: “If I find the constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it.”
(Author is a journalist and serves as an Editor to Academia.edu with their editorial program.)