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Caste-away - Mid-day

Rajinder Puri ()
31 January 1997

Title : Caste-away
Author : Rajinder Puri
Publication : Mid-day
Date : January 31, 1997

If From India Gate we take a taxi to Parliament House and pass
Qutub Minar, won't we check if we're going the right way?

Then why not check the path we've taken on reservation? On our
journey towards social justice we've passed some odd sights related
to caste and class.

Dalits and Yadavs have their daggers drawn in Uttar Pradesh.
Kurmis and Yadavs are at loggerheads in Bihar. Gujjars and Dalits
kill each other in West UP..

The distance we have strayed from our destination became evident
last week. Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda had proposed 10 per cent
reservation for the economically weak. Both Communist parties
argue that the Supreme Court's prior ceiling of 50 per cent
reservation made the proposal impracticable.

Poor Marx is being made to stand on his head. Caste reservations
are more important than class injustice ... !

One can sympathise with the Communists. Affirmative action has
been so badly twisted that social justice is unrecognisable.

Ram Manohar Lohia was the first to propound job reservations on the
basis of caste. That was over three decades ago. Rural India was
frozen into immobile caste groups. For all practical purposes,
caste was class.

Things have changed. There is mobility Villagers migrate to big
cities. From there they go abroad. Foreigners are exploring Indian
villages. Television is opening windows to the world.

Doesn't this make economic backwardness a better benchmark than
caste for determining reservation?

We refuse to accept that Lohia could have been overtaken by events.
Or that great leaders of the past could have made mistakes. Marx,
Gandhi, Ambedkar, Lohia - they were all human. Isn't it human to

We started with the idea that reservation must only be on the basis
of caste. Then we introduced the creamy layer concept. Now we are
toying with reservations for the economically weak.

If affluent backwards are denied reservations and poor forwards get
it, why raise the question of caste?

Reservation has created an atmosphere so sick that even proud Jats
who rule the countryside are demanding that they be declared

And what of actual reservation? It is largely notional. In relation
to the number of new aspirants each year the jobs available are
microscopic. It is an if politicians should throw a coin among
beggars to make them fight!

Of course, we need affirmative action. But surely we can be more
inventive. We can do much more than reserve jobs.

Today, no work is lowly if made profitable. Humble barbers can
become internationally renowned hairdressers. Scavenging is
considered the lowliest work. Now sewage disposal and recycling of
waste is a big profitable industry in which private companies are
muscling in.

For centuries, balmikhis have been the scavengers in Indian
society. Why can't this be served as a joint sector between private
industry and a government-aided and funded national balmikhi

Indian castes are vocation-based. Many of the vocations have become
big business. Encourage weavers, cobblers, potters and the rest to
obtain government support for caste-based co-operatives which are
partners with big business in reserved sectors of industry.

Caste is a reality in India, but it need not be a weakness. But
talking advantage of century-old vocational traditional, we can
turn it into a national strength and revive the craftsman's pride
in his job.

A wealthy backward may expect,
Forwards paying him all respect,
People know money is strength
They'll please by going to any length!

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