Caste through Democracy part-II

Even the staunchest supporters of reservation flinch at the question of rich SC/ST students hogging the quota.The following discussion, on a request from fellow blogger Yayavar , assumes we have a similar understanding of the reservation policy which I have outlined previously. So I ‘ll build up on that, and in case we differ, we need to resolve that before we get into the nitty-gritty like this one.

The first question I would ask is, does it-with the rich SC/ST getting in through quota-meet the objective of the reservation policy- a mechanism which ensures adequate representation from all sections of the society in a democracy?

To understand that, we must field the question if a rich SC/ST can be a representative of  her community? In a country, where a poor and a rich grow up in two entirely different worlds with even different water to drink, different air to breath, not to mention the schools they attend, the languages they speak, the dreams they have, some specific set of experiences which leave a sore feeling to say the least, somehow permeate this barrier of wealth. Untouchability is one of them which at it’s urbane usage e.g. denying housing, attempting to downplay achievement, restricting association just to name a few, may not be as unbearable and terrifying as routine caste-atrocities, but it does make a Dalit/Adivasi imagine and realize the scale of oppression their lesser privileged brethren from rural areas undergo. This sense of handicap and loss can be even more in urban and highly affluent neighborhoods where dalits are much less in number and lack a sense of communal belongingness. There can be many more arguments to support, that a Dalit/Adivasi- no matter what her economic standing is, is a better representative of the her community, than anyone else. Because this feeling of discrimination, the sense of minority can only be comprehended fully with life experience.

So filing representation for Dalit/Adivasis with more affluent among them does not flout the objective of reservation.

The question remains: is it fair?

Should we be asking this question when there are thousands of backlogs in govt. Jobs reserved for SC/ST and when hundreds seats in colleges/universities are transferred to ‘general category’ every year? Here, the basic requirement of representation is disregarded. The question of fairness is required to be addressed, when there is such intense competition within the reservation category that a section of urban, affluent Dalits/Adivasis always seem to knock their country brothers/sisters down. In that case, introducing another level of positive discrimination to provide higher access to the rural and poor Dalits/Adivasis would be welcome, but not an income celling which will bar many eligible candidates, and flout the objective of this constitutional mechanism. Similarly, Dalit/Adivasi are not a homogenous society in terms of societal standing. Several among us have advanced socially, economically and there are many of us who are still living in the pre-independence life circumstances and hardly connect with our socially, economically well-off brothers. These difference are less on individual achievement and more on the basis of caste/sub-caste and regions. A welcome step would be to give due preference to such disparities within Dalit/Adivasis with, as I said, “positive discrimination” and with a firm commitment to the policy and percentage of reservation/representation.

However, the question of rich SC/ST, a term reserved for Dalits/Adivasis who are really middle/upper-middle class, is rarely asked in concern with the lack of access of dalits of lesser privileges to reservation, but more so vis-a-vis that of a meritorious general category fellow who happens to be poorer than the rich Dalit. She deserves equal opportunity as other general category fellows, and there must be mechanism to ensure that, but She can never represent the Dalit/Adivasi hence there should not be a comparison. The policy of transferring reserved seats/jobs to general category candidates thus is anti-constitutional and abominable.

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Mr. Punia, We Need You: To Help NOT Hinder

Reiterating his contention that the funds of the Special component Plan (SCP) meant exclusively for the welfare of the SC, are being diverted by the UP government for other purposes, Punia told The Sunday Express: “The construction of four medical colleges in Jalaun, Kannauj, Azamgarh and Saharanpour has been financed from the funds of the SCP. UP government in support of its unauthorised act says that 70 per cent of the seats in four colleges will be reserved for SC students, but the Medical Council of India has refused to grant approval to all the four colleges.”[link]

I read that and the first thing that came to my mind was, would not I, if I were Mr. Punia (or in his position) take the matter to the Medical Council of India, demanding why wouldn’t they grant approval to these colleges? There may be a thousand of reasons for the Medical Council of India, which openly instigated anti-reservation fest in several campuses, to refuse, with even some reasonable ones, but wouldn’t it be amazing to see the Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes advance the case of four medical colleges with 70% reservation for SCs, and along the way, reserve reverence of a legion of medical professionals of the future.

But no, this intelligent and highly-educated dalit would be nit-picking at the behest of his bosses and leave it to Ms. Mayawati to finally get the approval and don the badge of honor, which may take time.

Our dreams can wait, not their duel.

A letter to The Indian Express

While Dalit movement is riding the high tide of political empowerment in UP ( or at least it seems so at the surface) there are islands archipelagos of Dalit villages/panchayats where democratic rights remain subdued.  That’s a fact. But newspapers use the term “Dalit” for every small and big political parties and political movements, whereas the term “Harijan” is used often for political disputes at village/panchayat level. Is it 1.) casteist insinuation, 2.) matter-of-fact reporting, 3.) recognisation fo the fact that “Dalit” is politically  and psychologically empowering term while  “Harijan” is a futile, powerless euphemism or 4.) an effort to impose the term once again?

Here is my letter to Indian Express. (I received no reponse)

I strongly protest use of the word “Harijan” in the news item dated Dec 15th, 2008.

At the outset I would like to congratulate reporter Mr. Kautilya Singh for bringing out yet another case of intimidation of Dalits by caste-Hindus and callousness of the administration in enforcing constitutional rights of the Dalits.  However, educated Dalits (the ones who read English newspapers like Indian Express) deplore the use of term “Harijan” for themselves and for members of their community. As a national newspaper, Indian express probably knows the comtempt and disquiet Dalit community nation wide associates with the term. I would like to remind you that CIC had sought to ban the words “Harijan” and “Girijan” in Lok Shabha for being “unconstitutional and deragotory”, which was reported in Indian Express itself.

If in a remote village Dalits are called by their occupational caste names or mere acchut (untouchable) that does not give a reporter the context or legitimacy to report with those extremely offensive words. Likewise, even though Dalits of Malasa are called “Harijans” by other villagers (or called themselves so), the Gram Pradhan seat is reserved for Sceduled Castes and hence SC was more appropriate word in such context, if “Dalit” must be avoided (I wonder why?).

In a time when the whole nation seeks to be socially sensitive and responsive to the minority and neglected communities, Mr. Kautilya Singh’s choice of word comes across as crass and offensive. It is unfortunate that either Indian Express does not have a policy on such emotive issue or it was ignored.

Dalit community would much appreciate such reportage, if it didnt come packed with derogatory words, for the news itself was despairing.

Mahaparinirvan Divas

(Warning : Long article)

Before Ambedkarism, I had slowly thought myself into denouncing rituals, when I was much younger, then I became an “atheist”. That makes it difficult to accept or perform rituals, or adorn my walls with photos of Buddha and Ambedkar, do Vipasana when ambedkarism is becoming synonymous with Buddhism. That, again, might be one of the reasons I have not gone to pay homage to Babasaheb in last five years but religiously participated in last three marathons (actually half-marathons).

Then on 5th Dec this year, I received a call from one of my highschool classmates. “Some 25 of us from our village have come to chaitya bhoomi. 15 of us, from from our caste only”. I was surprised, and happy too. Last time I interacted with the dalits of my village, mostly people of my caste, they had not found any appeal in Ambedkar yet. That I count as a failure of my father. He was a man proud of many things. He was a radical Ambedkarite, and would go any length to foment Ambedkarism. And our village neither had a statue of Ambedkar, nor did celebrate April 14th, nor anyone discussed about it, except probably my father. Its not difficult to see why ? But this essay is not about that.

So 5th of Dec. was a sleepless night for me. I kept thinking of the unseen forces that made the transformation possible. Also I made some plans to introduce some important people to the visitors, from Bombay and from different places from Orissa. Educate, agitate and Organise, thats the motto isn’t it !! Continue reading