Deprivation Not Caste

Caste is not the only disadvantage in India

Let this be stated at the outset that no one, no Indian, can be, or is, opposed to securing a just and respectable life for the poor and deprived fellow countrymen. The opposition to the policy of Reservation stems basically from a growing awareness that the ruling political class is pursuing this policy not out of either real sympathy for the deprived or out of a concern for the national interest. It has increasingly become clear that politicians of various hues have ceased upon this instrument to perpetuate their power and pelf by dividing the society along caste or religious lines and creating ‘captive boroughs’ in the form of vote banks. It is not our intention to restrain the government from carrying forward its social obligations. The emphasis is on the manner in which the government wants to go about this task. Youth For Equality, herein, do not intend that the government ends its task of upliftment of the down trodden but is aggrieved by (i) the manner in which the government seeks to identify the down trodden, and (ii) the steps used for their upliftment

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’. 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.

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 pupil 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? The society discriminates against girls even before they are born. Such discrimination exists across religious and caste lines.

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. 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.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead public opinion by projecting caste-based reservation as the only form of affirmative action. Affirmative action has to “affirm” the social will to rectify unjust structures and practices in existence. Any society has a multiplicity of such structures and practices. Any program of affirmative action has to tackle all these factors and not elevate any one factor to the level of a political “fetish”.

Some of the votaries of caste-based reservation in our country liken it to the American model of affirmative action. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the spirit of AA is contrary to the stagnant quota system in place in our country. The American system does not have any pre-fixed quota for those belonging to historically disadvantaged ethnicities. Marquita Sykes defines the American model as follows: ” Affirmative action, the set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” This model is all about the provision of opportunities to those belonging to the historically disadvantaged communities so that they can be integrated into the mainstream. This has helped both the corporate sector and public institutions in America to reflect the diversity of that society to a significant extent. The American model does not focus exclusively on ethnicity; gender and economic factors are taken into account as well.

Kaka Kalelkar, Chairman , First Backward Class Commission, in his covering letter of the report, describes the criteria to identify backwards and Non-Backwards ( Report of the First Backward Class Commission , 1955, Pages xiv-xv ):

SL. No. Backward Non-Backward
Women Men
Residents of rural areas Residents of Urban areas
Those who are driven to the necessity of working with their own hands Those whose work consists of supervision of manual workers
Those laboring under the sun and open air Those working under shade after the pattern of the white-collared fraternity
Landless labourers Landed peasantry
Unskilled labour Skilled labour and high craftsmanship
Not having sufficient , or any capital Commanding sufficient capital
Working as mere clerks Following some learned profession
Menial service under private persons Government service of the upper grades
Having poor and uneducated parents, lacking ambitions and no vision. Having educated parents or guardians with an atmosphere of self-confidence and culture
Lacking in resources Having adequate income and resources
Belonging to , or condemned to live in, inaccessible and backward areas. Enjoying amenities of modern civilization
Illiterate Having a fair amount of education
Not having capacity to understand modern times and the facilities for self- improvement available in society Being well equipped alert to profit by modern conditions and opportunities
Belief in magic, superstition and fate Belief in science and understanding

Obviously, these criteria are sufficient to pick-up any backward groups. The only need is to objectivise these and develop certain indices. Some of these are:

  • Income of the family: Below poverty line/ Below double poverty line/ Above double poverty line.
  • Educational Status of Father: Below high school/ above high School but Below graduation/ Above Graduation
  • Educational Status of Mother: Below primary/ Above primary but below high school/ Above high school.
  • Sex: Female/ Male
  • Place of birth: Home/ Government Hospital in rural areas / Government Hospital in urban areas / Private hospital.
  • Primary Schooling: Government School in rural areas / Government School in Urban area / Private School
  • Place of residence: Rural areas and urban slums / Urban areas/ Metropolitans, State Capitals, and District Head quarters
  • Type of House: None or Kuccha / Rented in Urban area < 1200 square feet, Semi pucca or Pucca in Rural area / Pucca in urban area , Rented in Urban Area > 1200 square feet.
  • Profession of Father / guardian: Land-less, unskilled laborer / landed self cultivating peasantry, Skilled laborer and craftsmen, Class III-IV employee or similar employee in private sector / White collar jobs of higher grades, businessmen, big farmers.
  • State where the candidate completed major part of secondary education (Class VI-XII): Poorly developed /moderately developed / Well developed

Each of these parameters can be graded on a scale of 1 to 4 or similar and a comprehensive deprivation index can be obtained. This deprivation index will have the strength to pick up the entire true backwards and eliminate false backwards. For example: Daughter of a landless, resource-less, illiterate laborer from a village in Jharkhand will have all the plus points to avail the benefits of affirmative action policy. In contrast, a convent educated son of rich business manager from Delhi (whatever the caste may be) will not receive any benefit of the affirmative action plan.