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Dalits, castes and reservations

Dalits, castes and  reservations
Highlights

A Dalit (untouchable) was killed. His house was destroyed and his family, including a 10-year-old, was thrown out. The upper caste members did not like his audacity to hoist the national flag on the Independence Day at a disputed property which they had appropriated.

I have not seen the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticizing the caste system although the party is all for the Hindu Rashtra (State). The party’s attention is focused on politics, not on social reforms. Its problem may well be the dictation by the RSS, a group of Brahmins, the uppermost caste

A Dalit (untouchable) was killed. His house was destroyed and his family, including a 10-year-old, was thrown out. The upper caste members did not like his audacity to hoist the national flag on the Independence Day at a disputed property which they had appropriated.

Discrimination is the bane of India where caste-prejudiced Hindus constitute 80 per cent of the population. The story of this Dalit came to light because one TV channel highlighted it. Otherwise, thousands of Dalits undergo similar rigours every day. They face the arrogance and zulum of upper castes. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

More than 60 years ago, the Constitution banned untouchability. The freedom struggle had promised to break the shackles of the caste system after independence. First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru even deleted the column of caste from applications, registers and forms for admission to schools and entrance examinations. Yet caste considerations have not lessened. Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, named the Dalit, Harijan (son of God). But Dalits found the nomenclature too patronizing and preferred to be called Dalits. A social evil or whatever the explanation, the feeling of discrimination in Hindu society has not abated.

Even today a Dalit bridegroom cannot ride a horse while taking the barat (wedding procession) to the bride’s place. Roads at many places are closed to Dalits. As for their habitation, they continue to live in slums in the urban areas and on outskirts of villages. Some who claim to speak on behalf of Hindus seldom endeavour to eliminate the discrimination against Dalits who are also Hindus.

I have not seen the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) criticizing the caste system although the party is all for the Hindu Rashtra (State). The party’s attention is focused on politics, not on social reforms. Its problem may well be the dictation by the RSS, a group of Brahmins, the uppermost caste.

Unfortunately, caste has penetrated the thinking of Muslims and Christians. The religions of both communities forbid discrimination. They preach equality. But when it comes to practice, they are not different from Hindus. Both of them treat with contempt the Dalits, who embrace Islam or Christianity to escape the caste hatred of Hindus. However, there is a case for concessions to such Dalits which former UP Chief Minister Mayawati, a Dalit, has suggested. But her fault is that she wants a quota in promotion of public servants. The demand has justifiably raised uproar in the country.

I think that whatever reservations, they should be given at the time of recruitment. Any reservation during the career would affect the morale of other caste civil servants who have come through a tough competitive examination. The Dalits wanting to join civil services also take the examination but the reservations give them an edge. The two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, are supporting Mayawati’s amendment because they have their eyes set on votes in the 2014 elections. The quantum of reservations has gone up because the quota has been extended to the Other Backward Classes (OBC).

They too want reservation in promotions. Many others are also want reservations. This is not possible because of a Supreme Court judgment. It has fixed 49.5 percent as the maximum limit for reservations. Even if Mayawati’s amendment is passed by Parliament, the court may consider it unconstitutional. A constitutional amendment to introduce reservations in promotions is sought to be passed in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha has already passed it despite opposition by Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party from the OBC.

It appears that the political parties in the opposition had their way when the ruling Congress party, after putting up a brave fight against quota in promotions, caved in. True, the Congress did not have a majority in the Lok Sabha. But it could have mustered the numbers if it had stood firm.

The reservations have been spelled out in the Constitution for Dalits and tribals. But as the Supreme Court has pointed out, the benefits have been cornered by the creamy layer among Dalits. So is in the case of the OBC. Dalits and the OBC members should allow the advantage from reservations to go below. The problem is that the leaders, vocal as they are, manipulate to appropriate the maximum concessions.

My knowledge of law, however limited, tells me that the column of caste in the form that the census enumerators ask violates the basic structure of the Constitution. They inquire about the caste. On the basis of such information economic benefits are distributed. This makes a mockery of the Constitution. Its Preamble says that people resolve to constitute India into a “sovereign socialist democratic republic.” Democracy and discrimination do not go together.

My objection is also on another point. In the Keshavanand Bharti case, the Supreme Court said that the objectives in the Preamble constitute the basic structure of the Constitution. It means that Parliament, although elected directly by the people, cannot alter the basic structure. Surprisingly, the government does not realize the effect the introduction of quota in promotions will have on bureaucracy, the sheet anchor of the administration.

Divide and rule was the dictum of the British who held India in bondage for 150 years. The nation needs to be integrated, however strong the forces out to stratify it are. The introduction of quota in services is an important policy decision. The government should have called a meeting of the National Integration Council which is meant to discuss such problems. Caste is something that affects the whole nation. The country cannot be pushed back to the dark ages.

Affirmative action which America follows to give benefits to blacks is far better than the reservations which see no end. But that is a different story, although Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, a Dalit, who outlined the Constitution, agreed unwillingly to reservation for 10 years only.

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