Reservation in India; My Perspective [Part 2]

To clarify from Naman’s post yesterday, the following classifications are set for allocating quotas or affirmative action, according to the National Commision for Backward Classes:

Social: The caste should be considered as socially backward by other castes

Educational: The caste’ s school non-enrollment rate should be at least 25% above the state average

Economic: The assets of the average caste family should be at least 25% below the state average

On a more personal note, I was “bestowed” the certificate of being a Scheduled Tribal female through the constitution of India by birth. My father belonging to the Khasi tribe and my mother to the Jaintia tribe respectively. To speak of economic prosperity or how my father went from milkman’s son to professor would involve a journey of lengthy familial introspection and that would add/detract from discussing on the reservation system in India. So email me at fdkhar@clarku.edu if you want a proper one-on-one talk about this, I’ll gladly elaborate. Thankfully, through the conscience of my parents, the burden of my privilege has perhaps slightly lowered since I have always chosen to apply for most higher education qualifications through the general category.

Contrary to general opinion, it is a choice to apply through a general or reserved category. I have peers from elevated socio-economic backgrounds who have entered college in India and chosen to apply from the general category, in-spite of being born stamped with a “Scheduled Tribe/Backward Class.” The flawed practice of this entire system relies on the hope that those who are already ahead wouldn’t feel the need to exploit such quotas, and would “voluntarily” chose themselves to be general.

So, given the question: Are you ST/SC/General? I would say that I belong to the general category and would politely demand to be treated so. Of course, this applies to job/educational aspirations and when we speak of the public social sphere (roads, metro-trains, malls, friendly parties), the consensus that I am a northeastern tribal because of my ethnic facial structure prevails. And yes, there are also several who are already ahead and yet chose to eat everyone’s cake. This sustains economic disparity within quota-receiving communities. And if we are to speak of an Indian bureaucracy that will give a damn about checking who signs in as general or not, perhaps we are being too idealistic.

The saddest truth about the quota system, however, is that such reservations are allocated by birth. Almost a comedic hypocritical reverse reaction to the ancient caste system itself. The caste segregation system is just text ritualized into practice. In spite of several other texts within the “hindu” canon challenging the Laws of Manu (ascribes the Varna or caste system in 2nd century BC), society keeps retracting to systems of discrimination as if equality will never become our social quality. Caste segregation was a quota system of reserving specific occupations at birth, lowering certain people into dalits who would (for simpler lingo) do the dirty laundry in opposition to the ritual-performing Brahmin. Fighting this terrible segregation, the pre-independence fight for reservation was that towards equality. An equality still bound to recognizing dalit classes as dalits and brahmins as brahmins.

Of course, the ideal would be to do away with such prejudices in the first place, and let equality be enacted by its own will of choosing merit over classification. To understand how a text like the Laws of Manu enabled a rather poisonous re-organization of society that still continues today requires a proper, more in depth analysis of Indian society’s structural priorities. To clarify, the caste system does not only permeate Hinduism, there are Dalit Christians, Dalit Sikhs, Dalit Muslims, and Dalit Buddhists, too. Given the penance of such discrimination, the quota system would seem like some liberating force, leading one upwards in the socio-economic ladder. Somewhat true, but also more complicatedly false.

India is a federal democratic state. When it comes to reservation, each state can allocate certain people within the quota system. So when we speak of Jats, they have reservation in certain states and don’t have reservation in others. The Jats of Haryana are currently in the limelight for having demanded for their own reservation rights, and this has expanded to similar demands from un-registered Jats of other states as well. The economic loss resulting from the Jats’ demands is grave and staggers the country whose current focus is on prosperity that is defined by GDP. For some, the general belief is that Jats are already upper caste as opposed to Mazbi Sikhs, so there is no need for any reparations. But the violent protests indicate a disheartened community, and reports even suggest demands based on grounds of political inequality (again, India is not really a country of prominent objective journalism, then again no country is).

Resolving to mob justice does stagger a country backwards. Yet running affirmative action through a system of positive-segregation is not the solution either. Displacing focus on economic prosperity is perhaps what India has been doing all this time. Vigilante justice, absolutely morally unjust, is an indication of a government that has not properly accounted for the need to amend or even implement laws. Rising economic disparity clouds proper understanding of who is backward and what they’re demands are. Eradicating caste is all the more problematic when there is no one axis of approaching discrimination. An even more clouded system of checks and balances, addled by human corruption and folly, makes things all the more harder for people who are in actual need of saving.

-Fileona

 

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