In one of your letters, you to listed three things that weaken and divide India as: “First, corruption and selfishness. Second, the use of muscle power outside the law. Third, discrimination on the basis of religion, language and caste”. You conceded that your statements might provoke “lots of questions (for example, regarding reservations)”. However, you said: “if we agree on the main points above, we can discuss another time the subsidiary questions that arise”. But, dear Dadu, reserved quotas are not a subsidiary question! They are a matter of life and death to the majority of India’s population – Dalits and OBCs!
You are very right. Reserved quotas are indeed a matter of life and death to Dalits and OBCs. Originally, reserved quotas were meant to be a very small positive step to help the majority of our people against whom our elites have discriminated for centuries. And the truth is that whatever little progress Dalits and OBCs have made since Independence has been the result of the system of reserved quotas that we have in our country.
However, in the absence of a sufficient number of real opportunities for everyone, we see “reserved quota politics” becoming more and more prominent. In fact, as you know, the general lack of progress for the average Indian has made reservations so much a matter of life and death that even non-Dalits and non-OBCs want to falsely certify themselves as Dalit or OBC in order to take some benefit from reservations! And it is not only individuals who want to get in on the game, entire political parties now fight elections on the basis of caste.
The reality is complex. On the one hand, caste is becoming less and less important in the cities and among the progressive secular minority in our country. At the same time, caste is becoming more and more important in our villages, towns and slums which constitute the majority of our country. In fact, caste is becoming reinforced as a key aspect of one’s identity.
In the same way as religion became a key aspect of one’s identity before Independence, and led to the separation of India and Pakistan, there is a very real danger that the trend towards the reinforcement of caste (and language) as key components of identity will produce the danger of fragmenting or breaking up India.
It is a danger that has never been very far away from us (consider Kashmir, Khalistan, our challenges in the North-East, Tamil separatism … none of which we have handled particularly intelligently). And we need to handle intelligently the fact that some Brahmins and Kshatriya families are now poor, whereas some Dalit and OBC families are now rich.
Is that not a sign that we need to stop the kind of politics which has taken the whole idea of reservations to a ridiculous limit? Is the country really going to be safe, let alone grow and prosper, if we continue down this track? Do we really need more and more reservations in the limited number of government jobs and very limited opportunities that exist for education in our country? Should we not work rather for the rise of a new generation of politicians who will say “To hell with reservations, give us education instead! Don’t just give us government jobs, help train us so that we are fit to compete for real jobs in the business sector! Enable us to get the financial capital and the training which will enable us to start and grow our own businesses, and therefore stand on our own feet!”
Well, that may seem unrealistically idealistic to most of our brothers and sisters who are caught in desperate situations. However, things are changing in our country, now that companies such as Tata are starting to give preferential treatment to Dalits and OBCs. Our government has asked all big companies with a net worth of at least Rs 500 crore, turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, or net profit of Rs 5 crore to formulate a policy to invest at least 2 per cent of the net profits in activities that demonstrate their corporate social responsibility – even though the spending would be voluntary, with companies giving reasons in their annual report if it was less. State-owned undertakings (PSUs), however, will have to set aside a fixed percentage of their profits.
And the government has even started making noises about helping the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) to help Dalits create jobs. I am not aware of an OBC Chamber of Commerce, so I urge the DICCI not to be casteist in its thinking but to also include OBCs, and so to become the “Dalit and OBC Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry”.
It is time we stopped fighting only for what we can get. It is time to work together to build the strength and prosperity of our country, so that we can all live with at least some minimum dignity. There is no reason for the rich not to enjoy their prosperity, provided they too invest in some minimum philanthropy to build up the country.
You tell me, dear Aarakshit: should we fight for reservations or should we fight for genuinely equitable progress in our country?
Published in the March 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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