Sunday, 18 October 2015

Caste, And Reservations : An Examination

We need reservations because of the history of inequality and injustice that has preceded our current generations, for at least the past 200 years, if not more. That requires some rebalancing. Further, there are some areas in India where discrimination was practiced; if some reports are to be believed, pockets still exist. Until our society grows out of this scourge, we have little choice.

The question is : why compromise on quality? Why cant we stress both reservation and quality, impractical though it may sound?

Note :
The earlier casteism was softer, and did not acquire its present shape then. It was entrenched in a system of hereditary vocations, with relevant skills for each vocation being passed from generation to generation. This built deep intra-caste relationships and inter-caste dependencies, based not on oppression but on a workable and eminently but brutally efficient methodology, that rivals and beats any and every modern system with a modicum of ease.
This is what ensured India's dominance for close on 9000 years - it built a system that was extraordinarily hard for anyone to break into. The proof of this is the presence of guilds that existed for centuries {Thapar, 2004/05 - will need to check precise year of her book}. Another proof comes in the writings of Sujan Rai from 1689 or 1696, who has described a flawless system of cash transfers that puts our modern IT hot-shots and western / eastern management geniuses to shame. {Habib, 2012}

* From my Blog : Casteism - A Fresh And Objective Analysis : Casteism - A Fresh And Objective Analysis

The above is another factor : the hardlined and clearly demarcated lines of no-crossing {which developed during colonial rule, but were based on increasing and steady hardening immediately preceding colonialsim}. This created a deep division, entrenched into stone. This also cultivated selective competencies in selective classes

{Prof. Vaidyanathan in India, Uninc has brought to the fore the relevance of these selective competencies even in modern Business in India : India, Uninc}

Thus, my contention is in support of reservation on demographic, historical, cultural, economic, Skill-sets, and competencies parameters. In order to create an equal society, we really do have no choice. That is what sets us apart as a nation : unlike others, we are at least trying to say sorry, to set things right.

On annihilation of caste - that is frankly, impossible. The term caste has a multitude of cultural connotations, and is a reality of the social landscape in India, It is not going anywhere anytime soon - and that is the truth.

The differences between cultural practices in castes, {even sub-castes} is unassailable, and unbridgeable - and range from practices related to religion, to even standard things like outlook towards life, and other traits. This is due to centuries of inbreeding. I myself can trace my family tree all the way to approximately the 1400s, in one single unbroken line of authentic succession. In my own caste, there are but 57 family trees, with exceedingly well documented histories and practices.

The cultural and other practical differences between castes are rock-solid, and hued into stone; centuries of deep inbreeding within castes has set in stone the practices, so much so that some traits are now almost genetic; and easily identifiable. Case in point being my own caste : Kokanasth, which is a very small caste of Chitpavan Brahman tree. You dont need to know the name to pick out one of us, most times. Those who live around us can tell us a mile away; and most Maharashtrians can tell even more easily! These have now been coded into Genetics, almost - and is not going away; not for centuries.

Caste isnt going anywhere! More to the point, it is the outlook of how we look to castes that needs to change.

Caste wont go away; the differences in various castes ensure that this is a concept that will stand the test of time in at least the next couple of centuries, The differences between even related castes are huge; boys and girls, even today, are known to prefer same-caste spouses by choice rather than parental force. The exception proves the rule.

Technology and modernity arent just equalising castes - they are also solidifying them. Case in point : I am a member of my Family Tree Whatsapp Group, constituting far-flung members of the extended Kale family tree. The same development that is breaking barriers is also fuelling easy connectivity between constituents of the same caste. I know several means of reaching my own caste members through technology. This is fueling a deeper connectivity within castes, which might just solidify rather than equalise. The same forces of change that are breaking barriers are also acting on the other side of the coin.

The same technology, for example, will enable a member of the Kale Family to check relationships with another Kokanasth and check back to how many generations ago a Kale had married,say, which Patwardhan and which Branch of which Patwardhan. Relations are till the 5th Generation; marriage is feasible thereafter. There exists documented and extensive family histories, well chronicled on the internet. I myself have accessed it!

A corollary can be found in the rapid rise of the vernacular film industry; far from Hindi becoming the lingua franca, there is actually a reverse trend of rapid technology driven rise of local languages everywhere across India. Remember : Technology and Development operate equally on all sides of a socio-cultural equation. That is why I state : Castes are here to stay.

Change your outlook towards castes. I see no issues in a Kokanasth marrying a Kokanasth; just as I see no issue in a Kokanasth marrying a Kshatriya or an OBC, or any other caste. I see no difference between a Brahman and a Vaishya or any other SC, ST or OBC. In fact, we should stop calling them SC, ST etc; the constituents have their own culture in their own castes, like we Kokanasth. Can’t we accept all castes as equals?

Change your outlook towards caste, and how you view it. But Caste will not go away. We can undo the damage to the caste system due to colonialism {Refer Maria Misra's monumental research on this topic} - but you cannot take way caste. Modern forces ensure that.

The root is the caste issue; that is the origin. Problem is we arent even trying to change our outlook towards caste, and are, as a people, beating around the bush, swinging like pendulum from one extreme to the other. At one extreme you have the dreams of remove caste from society brigade, and at the other you have the vociferous defenders of reservations and of the status quo. Given the ground realities, it is impossible to remove reservations, and neither is this recommended.

What is required is a sea-change in administrative delivery and capabilities, and a lot less chalta hai, which is harming India no end. That is the only real solution - good governance and deliverance of the results of governance to the people. That will help percolate good ideas and people development; and that is precisely what none among is even willing to contemplate. We need to remove the concept of discrimination from our society, and that requires education.

Even our sacred texts make the reality specific : I quote from The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Shri Bhagwaan Uvaach :


The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Shlok 13, Adhyaay Chaturth,

This shlok explicitly tells that the caste system was based on "Guna" and "Karma"; these are Shri Bhagwaan Uvaach, the words of the Lord and Creator himself. Why cant all of us understand and accept this as a cornerstone of our thought process? That your status is a straight function of your own individual abilities? That would allow us to focus on and create a system wherein the intrinsic qualities of each individual come to the fore? Isnt this doable?

How far have we come from this shlok in our lives? The need of the hour is the education of the people, and enlghtenment; which isnt happening. Caste as a cultural concept is now irreplaceable, given the cultural practices and norms that are now almost genetically coded. But we need to stop viewing caste as anything other than a cultural realm and reality, and not as a status symbol, or as an achievement, or indeed a means to an end.

Crafting this is not going to be easy, and at this juncture sounds highly idealistic; that said, we as a people do not have any other option. Rather than question reservations, we would do well to look at the discrimination which does have a historical basis to it; we would do well to look at the demographics; we would do well to look at ground realities; we would do well to look at the full picture and modulate our response accordingly.

The current system isn’t perfect – that is beyond question. That the emphasis should be on quality is pretty much a given; that we should move to ensuring quality intake is also simple logic. But is this so simple to do? The question that we should, as a people, be asking is : how can we ensure that the discriminated castes {I dislike the terminology SC, ST, OBC} can get up to speed, and produce the same level of results like the others? What is stopping them?

I appreciate and accept the need for some sort of reservations, given the history of discrimination; but shouldn’t we be trying to develop their long-term capabilities by investing in proper education not at college level, but at Primary, Secondary school levels, so as to ensure capability development? Shouldnt we be focusing on channelling our energies at that question? Shouldnt we be asking what needs to be done that everyone, regatrdless of caste status, can meet the same bar, rather than lowering the bar, thus defining a new paradigm in the reservation system? Shouldn't we be examining if this is possible, as it would solve most problems, and trying to craft a course towards that ideal?

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