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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Caste in India

I was reading an article about casteism by Aditya Nigam published under Caste Politics in India in an South Asian journal. Quoting a paragraph on Mandal commission will be necessary :

"What was interesting about the agitation and the highly charged public debate that followed, was that it was entirely conducted, from the side of the opponents of the Mandal Commission, in the most immaculate secular and modern language of ‘merit’ and ‘efficiency’. The question was posed as one of dilution, if not the elimination, of merit at the cost of getting in ‘unworthy’ and ‘undeserving’ people simply because they happened to belong to certain castes. 'Would you like to be operated upon by a doctor who had became one through reservations?' 'Would you like to fly by an aircraft that was piloted by a reservation pilot?' Such were the kinds of questions that were asked by the anti-Mandalites in these discussions. Not once was the question of upper-caste and brahminical privilege ever articulated as a question of caste-privilege. Even more interesting was the fact that the more sophisticated among the anti-Mandalites were prepared to accept that there was a question of privilege involved here but that should be addressed in terms of ‘class’: that ‘economic’ rather than caste criteria should be made the basis of reservations. The question was really one of poverty, they argued, rather than that of caste."

A village, normally speaking, is backward intellectually and culturally and no progress can be made from a backward environment. Narrow-minded people are much more likely to be untruthful and violent. - J N Nehru.

This quote about rural areas will take our discussion further.  While chacha Nehru was right in his analysis, he did little to provide basic infrastructure of primary and secondary education in rural areas. Democracy introduced before an industrial revolution takes hold, dramatically tilts power to rural areas. Indian movies of those times where protagonist from cities where evil and villainous if not then unreliable confirms stereotyping ;

Land is an assest in the villages that shows the hold of any caste in the region. The green revolution had come to India and turned many mid level peasant castes into prosperous communities who will form a localized group aspired for political voice matched with new economic strength. Now, this group emerges as more powerful faction and higher caste movement towards cities for better life style started with the backup of resources at the country side. So inequality prevails even after abolition of Zamindari system and rise of service class as reach of education was mostly limited to GE and OBC groups.

More can be read on this issue in Ramchandra Guha book : India after Gandhi; However the political impact of this was visible in UP in 1993. Going with Aditya article only ---

"The problem however, began after the first alliance of the BSP and the Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, representing the backward castes formed its government in UP in 1993. Within a short time it became apparent that as soon as the political pact that was forged between the parties moved toward the countryside, sharp conflicts between the two groups began playing themselves out. It was during the panchayat elections that the conflicts became really serious and many Dalit leaders and intellectuals realised that much of their present conflict in the villages was with the dominant backward castes who had consolidated their hold following the post-independence land reforms. In many states, it was these castes, comprising the erstwhile tenants, now become landowners, who were their main oppressors. And they were not willing to change their attitude towards Dalits in everyday matters, even in the face of the political alliance at the state level. In many areas it was they who had been preventing the Dalits even from casting their votes."

Urban areas are politically catalyst for political reforms till now in India. It was in cities that political dissent against imperial rule emerged and where educated middle class began to migrate after the independence. Primary centers of new ideas, intellectuals and university across all fields of art, science and economics are currently working in urban areas. Our romantic and aesthetic view of village is wrong as change in economic conditions of Dalits has not much affected their social status in villages. It is not that urban areas are immune the caste factor but it is less in comparison to our villages. Only political equality has been established through reservation in government, the social equality is a far distant dream today.

Urban or Rural societies much like many other human attributes, occur along a continuum ranging from the dysfunctional to the good. Not all of them in all their aspects are good. Many advantages are inherited than inherent in the upper caste who lives with an air of superiority. Also, norms of quality, merit and talent are governed by market forces not through the idealistic notion of merit and talent.

I have written a poor quality write up on such a serious issue. On Caste Privilege by Namit Sir will explain this caste mentality in a superb way.

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