I am reservation. The forward castes are out to kill me. I am very sad. I am seething with anger. I am crying. But there is no one to listen to my cries.
I had never ever imagined that one day things would come to such a pass – that no one would rise in my defence. Today, I am being attacked from all sides – with arrows that come in the shape of words, with sarcasm, with unholy alliances and with dubious plans.
Under my shadow, the weakest of the weak have touched heights they could never have imagined. But instead of fighting for me, they are hurling all sorts of charges at my makers and me. My own people are attacking me.
The biggest allegation against me is that I have widened the chasm between castes. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. Due to me, the Dalits, the OBCs, the women and the weak have got a share in education, employment and politics. They have got an opportunity to march ahead in life. They have got social, political and economic recognition and equality – if not completely, at least in fair measure. I brought those who were not even considered human beings into the mainstream. I played a key role in breaking the chains of slavery that are thousands of years old.
The second charge against me is that I promoted the undeserving. This charge is equally baseless. The undeserving were being promoted then, they are being promoted now. People of certain religions and certain castes and those who are economically prosperous control the resources. Politically, socially or economically influential families get their children admitted to good schools. But suppose the child is not interested in studies. He fares poorly in exams. Then, the parents buy a seat for higher education by making heavy “donations”. And then even thicker wads of currency notes fetch a good job for the undeserving child.
Now, there is another child whose parents are labourers. He has faced social inequality. He has faced casteist oppression. He has studied in a run-of-the-mill school. He has worked while studying. When he gets admission to an institution of higher learning, despite securing somewhat lower marks, with a bit of help from me, the rich and the influential start shouting in chorus that merit has been compromised.
Today, I will relate to you my chequered life from my birth to date. When I was born, the weakest section of society was very happy, for I was born for it.
“Weak” here means “socially and politically weak” – and “often economically weak” too.
It was a great warrior who made the first small but determined effort to bring me centre stage. Shahu ji Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur in Maharashtra who, influenced by Jotiba and Savitribai Phule, lit the torch of knowledge among the Dalits, the Backwards, the weak and the women by involving me in education, employment and politics. The notification announcing my arrival for backwards classes/communities in Kolhapur state was issued in 1902. This was the first official order in India for my deployment for the welfare of the Dalits. To the south of the Vindhyas, I was made available to the backward classes in both the Presidency area and the states ruled by native rulers.
Shahu ji Maharaj was in England in mid-1902. It was from there that he issued an order setting aside 50 per cent positions in the government and the local administration for the backward castes. The Brahmins of Kolhapur were stupefied. In 1894, when Shahu ji became the ruler of Kolhapur, 60 of the 71 officers were Brahmins. There were only 10 non-Brahmins among the 500 clerical-level employees. After he sought my services, by 1912, only 35 of the 95 officers were Brahmins.
He took the initiative for establishing separate schools and hostels for students of all sections of society, including Marathas, Mahars, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Christians, Muslims, Jains and the backward castes. Such compartmentalisation may seem weird today but it was a unique initiative to educate the castes that were consigned to the darkness of ignorance for ages. He had made special efforts to provide facilities for the education of children of Dalit and backward castes. He provided economic assistance for their higher education. The impact of the revolutionary step was visible soon. There was a noticeable increase in the number of girls and boys of the backward castes studying in schools and colleges.
After my birth, I have grown in a phased manner. In 1908, the British brought me in for the many castes and communities that were under-represented in the administration. In 1921, an official gazette notification of Madras Presidency set aside 44 per cent positions in the administration for non-Brahmins, 16 per cent for Brahmins, 16 per cent for Muslims, 16 per cent for Anglo-Indian / Christians and 8 per cent for Scheduled Castes. In 1935, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution seeking a separate electorate for the Dalits. After Independence, tireless efforts of Ambedkar led to provisions in the Constitution to enrol me to help Dalits. But his efforts use my services for the OBCs were in vain. OBCs got me only in 1990, on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, which were accepted by the V.P. Singh government. The Mandal Commission had clearly defined backwardness. It had said that castes that are socially and educationally backward would be considered backward castes. In different states, different castes were categorized as backward.
But the members of the forward castes were not happy. They staged huge, violent demonstrations and unleashed propaganda against me. I have generated human consciousness among the Dalits and other deprived communities and have boosted their self-esteem. Due to me, social and educational inequality has lessened. But still I have not succeeded in bringing the Dalits and OBCs on a par with the forwards. In fact, with my help, a “savarna” section has emerged among the Dalits, which abuses me day in, day out.
The savarnas have come out with a new formula to kill me. Now, forward castes are demanding that I help them too. They say that either they should also get me or no one should. The movements of Jats in Haryana, of Patels in Gujarat and of Marathas in Maharashtra are examples. And they seem to be succeeding too.
Some state governments are also out to undermine me. After Gujarat, the Haryana government has also taken the decision that those who apply with my blessings won’t be able to compete in the general category. This is a conspiracy and goes against the spirit in which I was conceived. I was clear from the beginning that those who do not belong to designated communities can compete only for the remaining posts whereas those who belong to the designated communities can compete for all posts (reserved or general).
Today, instead of debating whether I should be killed or whether there should be just an economic basis to me, the debate should be on why I failed to achieve my objectives. Where did the governments falter?
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