The Constitution guarantees equality to all citizens and thus establishes a rule of Non-discrimination by the state in any manner. It ensures and inures the state to treat all citizens equally and allow equality of status and opportunity to all and specifically provides that discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, color, caste, race or the place of birth etc are impermissible. The pious objectives with which our fore-fathers decided and embarked upon the framing of the Constitution - Secularism was one of the guiding principles. Secularism entails not just religious but also casteless egalitarian society. The high objective and the final goal was to convert a society fragmented on the lines of religion, caste, economic status etc into a homogenous society where identification of a person was not on the basis of the religion he professes or caste he belongs to but was on the basis of what he is or what he has made himself into. This is aptly clear from the statement of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru made by him on the floor of the Lok Sabha on 13.6.1951. He said
"……After all the whole purpose of the Constitution as proclaimed in the Directive principles is to move towards what I may say a casteless and classless society……" (Lok Sabha Debates Vol XII-XIII (Part II) Page 9830-31)
In fact it forbids governanance on the basis of caste, religion place of birth and language or any one of them.. So there is no justification at all to provide or enable reservation on the basis of caste. When the state does not discriminate admission to educational institution on the basis of caste, there is no justification at all to provide reservation on the basis of caste which instead of eliminating caste perpetuates it
On 25th November, 1949, in Constituent Assembly, Doctor Ambedkar spoke:
………….In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint
The policy practiced today of the so called crusaders of the down trodden and the following appeasement policy adopted by their rivals to counterbalance their actions have lead and would further lead to fragmentation and division of the society which would be irreversible if allowed to continue any longer.
Reservation at the time of independence was only meant to be a measure for the ultimate goal of "wholesome development". The experience of last fifty six years have shown that the measure and the means have become an end in itself resulting in further fragmentation and division of the society on caste lines which was never the objective with which special provisions for upliftment had been incorporated. The present policy of "positive discrimination' divides the whole society into two broad categories : Oppressed and Oppressors, which creates an environment of victimhood and mistrust. Clearly, this policy is a major hindrance for national integration.
Caste is being used as a means to classify people. The classification is being made to extend certain benefits - in educational institutions, in public services and also to become members and the representatives of the people. Thus, caste is being used for extending all such benefits which leads to emphasizing caste which the Constitution makers sought to avoid. The classification for extension of benefits should be on a secular i.e. "non-discriminatory, non-communal and non-caste" basis and any person who satisfy such secular conditions of classification should be eligible for such benefits. The assumption of the backwardness limited to certain castes is wholly fallacious and should not be allowed to continue.
The secularist way of life promotes a society where a division on the basis of caste has no place, where "birth mark" is not given any importance. Religion is always an issue of faith which is personal to a person and can be changed on a change of faith but caste sticks as a permanent mark which cannot be altered. Thus efforts should be to dilute its importance and not to promote it by over classifying on its basis.
When a policy is adopted it becomes central to the discussions that follow and interest get vested around it. The basis of the policy therefore has to be carefully selected since the focal point of the policy becomes rigid with the passage of time and vested interests resist its change. The criterion for a policy should and must always reward growth and development and should not be an incentive to remain illiterate and backward. If individuals or groups get reward for being and becoming separate, they would continue to be separate and become more and more fragmented. This would defeat the very objective of one tie, one allegiance, devotion, loyalty, fidelity, to the Sovereign Democratic Republic, that is, INDIA.
Moreover, the question is: do we want to eliminate caste as a factor of social relations and political processes or do we want to perpetuate it forever? By treating caste as the only medium of oppression and hence by focusing all remedial measures on caste alone, we have only added to the longevity of caste as the determining factor of social identity. Individuals have been virtually turned into the epitomes of the caste of their birth - denying the multiple identities that every individual perforce carries. This also helps the powerful amongst the generally disempowered sections to corner most of the benefits of caste-based reservation. Caste, which in reality is only one of the features of identity at the individual level and the manifestation of an abhorrent social order at the social and structural level, has been turned into the essential identity of individual citizens. It is harmful for the cause of a modern social democracy as well as to the cause of individuals in need of social justice and related affirmative action.
If caste is the only ground for Social Backwardness, how can giving jobs or education will remove social backwardness. As evident in Southern India, the members of royal families, ruling classes, land-lords, and rich businessmen are considered to be backward by the Government because of their castes. They were kings and rulers for generations, and if the backwardness because of caste could not be removed, how could it be removed now?
There are several analytically significant differences between "Caste" and "Class" :
- The membership of a caste is hereditary or by birth which is not so with a class.
- Caste is a closed group characterized by endogamy, while class is an open group which one automatically joins when one shares a common situation with other individuals.
- There is vertical mobility in class so that a person can move up to a higher or go down to a class considered lower in social hierarchy; and there is horizontal mobility also as one can cease to share a common situation with one group of individuals and start doing so with another group. There is no such mobility in caste.
- A class can generally be distinguished from another class in terms of some economic criteria, e.g. income, occupation, ownership of land or other means of production, place of residence (e.g. slum dwellers). While some castes may have a traditional or hereditary occupation, they are basically nothing have in common.
Caste system is the greatest hindrance in the way of our progress to egalitarian society
The Chairman of First Backward Class Commission, Kaka Kalelkar, pleaded 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. Then alone, he said, would it be possible to help the extremely poor and deserving members of all the communities. He wrote:
122. Towards the end of our enquiry, we have come to the conclusion that caste, communal or denominational considerations need not be introduced in the educational policy. A progressive, modern welfare State, cannot afford to tolerate educational backwardness anywhere in the State. In most of the modern States more than 60 per cent of the scholars receive full educational aid. In India, it should be possible for the State to give educational aid to all the poor and deserving students in the country, irrespective of caste, sex or denomination. Whenever it is necessary to show preference it must be for women and for students of rural areas. The present preference for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be continued for some time, but the time has come when all the poor and deserving should, and could, be helped, so that no communal consideration need be introduced in the field of education.
In the Memorandum of Action on the report of First Backward Class Commission, at the time of tabling it before the Parliament, it was pointed out that the caste system is the greatest hindrance in the way of our progress to egalitarian society and that in such a situation recognition of certain specified castes as backward may serve to maintain and perpetuate the existing distinctions on the basis of caste. Shri Govind Ballabh Pant, the then Home Minister stated:
"………the emphasis on caste has further been highlighted by some of the minutes of dissent. The tone and temper displayed therein bring into prominence the dangers and of separatism inherent in this kind of approach. It cannot be denied that the caste system is the greatest hindrance in the way of our progress towards an egalitarian society, and the recognition of specified castes as backward may serve to maintain and even perpetuate the existing distinctions of caste. There may be, besides castes, a large number of whose members may be classified as backward educationally and economically, but still there may be others among them who cannot be so classified. Similarly, among the so called upper and advanced classes there may be, and in fact there are, large number of those who are not less backward educationally and economically and even among the backward classes some castes are more backward than the others………"
Apart from the rejection of the crucial test of caste as a basis for classification it was further noted that if caste is used as a test for backwardness, it would result in the entire community barring a few exceptions to be regarded as backward. The reality in such situation, recognized by the government, would result in the needy swamped by the multitude and would hardly receive any special attention or adequate assistance which is the very basis of providing affirmative action.
This way lies not only folly, but disaster.
Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in his letter dated 27th June, 1961 wrote:-
"I have referred above to efficiency and to our getting out of our traditional roots. This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group. The recent meeting we held here, at which the Chief Ministers were present, to consider national integration, laid down that help should be given on economic considerations and not on caste. It is true that we are tied up with certain rules and conventions about helping the scheduled castes and tribes. They deserve help but, even so I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in Services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost.
The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities of good education, this includes technical education which is becoming more and more important. Everything else is provision of some kind of crutches which do not add to the strength or health of the body. We have made recently two decisions which are very important one is, universal free elementary education, that is the base; and the second is scholarships on a very wide scale at every grade of education to the bright boys and girls, and this applies not merely to literary education, but much more so, to technical, scientific and medical training. I lay stress on the bright and able boys and girls because it is only they who will raise our standards. I have no doubt that there is a vast reservoir of potential talent in this country if only we can give it opportunity.
But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn how for this business of reservations has gone based on communal considerations. It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal or caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let us help the backward groups by all means, but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build the public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?"
"Sir, do we still have that goal of a castiest society ………
The speech of the former Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition Shri Rajiv Gandhi in the Parliament criticizing the Mandal report, its recommendations and the resolve of the V.P. Singh government to implement the same, truly reflects the aspiration of modern India. He spoke:
"Sir, do we still have that goal of a castiest society ………if you believe in a casteless society, every major step you take, must be such that you move towards casteless society and you must avoid taking any step which takes you towards a caste-ridden society. Unfortunately the step that we are taking today, the manner in which it has been put, is a castiest formula. While accepting that caste is a reality, we must dilute that formula by adding something onto it. so that at least we start inching away from it……"
The most important reform that is required in the present situation is a departure from the present "Group Centric" affirmative action to "Individual Centric" benefits. At present benefits are being extended to a "class" (correctly described as "caste") which has resulted in formation of unholy "caste based" lobbies which is not in the interest of one Nation State. At the outset this groupism has to be disbanded and therefore emphasis on extension of benefits has to shift from "the conditions that a group satisfies" to the conditions that "an individual satisfies" for claiming benefits of state protection. Thus the state thereafter has to lay down secular conditions which apply to all individual irrespective of their caste, religion, sex, place of birth etc. The individuals satisfying these conditions would thereafter be collectively called the "Backward Classes" to muster the Constitutional mandate. In the words of Pandit Nehru :
"……I don't particularly like the words "backward classes of citizens" and I hope the select committee will find some better wording. What I mean is this; it is the backward individual citizen that we should help. Why should we brand groups and classes as backward and forward……"
In Indian society, caste is not the only obstacle in the way of development of an individual. Economic conditions, educational opportunities and discrimination on the basis of gender also contribute to the denial of opportunity to express one's true merit and worth. It is important, to discuss reservation in the holistic context of much required social restructuring and not to convert it into a fetish of 'political correctness'. Admittedly, caste remains a social reality and a mechanism of oppression in Indian society. But can we say that caste is the only mechanism of oppression? Can we say with absolute certainty that poverty amongst the so-called upper castes has been eradicated? Can we say that the regions of Northeast, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh are on par with the glittering metros of Delhi and Mumbai? Can we say that a student from a panchayat school in Bihar is equipped to compete with an alumnus of Doon School on an equal footing, even if both of them belong to the same caste group? After all, this society discriminates against girls even before they are born. Such discrimination exists across religious and caste lines.
Caste in our country has become a tool in the hands of the governments who have made the list of backward classes into a tool for furthering their political ends. The high objective of upliftment of the really poor and backward has been overtaken by the greed for personal growth through segmentation and politicization of castes and new additions are being made to the list on account of political pressures rather on a basis of any analysis to determine the backward classes. The commissions appointed by the government have also become a tool in the hands of the government to realize their political ends.
Among the common consequences of caste based preference policies are:
- They encourage non-backward groups to redesignate themselves as members of backward groups to take advantage of group preference policies;
- They tend to benefit primarily the most fortunate among the backward caste (e.g. creamy layer), often times to the detriment of the least fortunate among the non-backward (e.g. poor upper caste Hindu);
- They reduce the incentives of both the backwards and non-backward to perform at their best -- the former because doing so is unnecessary and the latter because it can prove futile -- thereby resulting in net losses for society as a whole; and
- They engender animosity toward backward groups as well as on the part of backward groups themselves, whose main problem in some cases has been their own inadequacy combined with their resentment of non-backward groups who -- without preferences -- consistently outperform them.
The logic "Use caste to achieve a colorblind society," is an assault on common sense. It is similar to the proposition, "Prepare for war in order to have peace." Caste conscious measures will never eliminate caste consciousness.
To count by caste , to use the means of numerical equality to achieve the end of moral equality, is counterproductive, for to count by cast e is to deny the end by virtue of the means. The means of caste counting will not, cannot, issue in an end where caste does not matter.
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