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Justice V. Eshwaraiah is for a caste census in 2021

In India, an OBC might be wearing the crown, but the real power continues to be in the hands of the upper castes. The OBCs are yet to get their due. The report of the caste census conducted in 2011 is yet to be made public. Only politics is being played in the name of the OBCs. This is what Justice V. Eshwaraiah, former chairman of National Commission for Backward Classes, told Nawal Kishore Kumar

What is the rationale behind your demand that caste census be conducted in 2021, especially given that the report of the 2011 caste census is yet to be made public?

First, let me explain why India needs a caste census. Ours is an ancient country, with people of different castes, communities and religions populating it. There are SCs, STs, OBCs, Christians and Muslims. There are many OBC castes. What we need to understand is that we have different ruling and working classes. Working classes are those continuing with their traditional occupations such as laundry people (dhobis), barbers (hajaams), Yadavs, Kushwahas, fishermen (machuaar), etc. Among them are also castes that aren’t Scheduled Castes. They have all sorts of problems. For them, education has always meant acquiring only as much knowledge as would suffice to carry on with their traditional occupations. As their level of education remained low, they could not grow and progress. They not only did not get their share in the economy, they also did not get political partnership. Thus, they lagged behind.

The British knew that the ruling class wanted things to remain as they were. However, discontent was growing among the working class. The British Government came out in support of the backward classes. It conducted caste censuses. This continued till 1931. Dr B.R. Ambedkar knew very well that if the British gave freedom to India, only the ruling class would benefit from it and the working class would get nothing. That is why he said that we would achieve true freedom only when the deprived classes also became free. He wanted the deprived classes to be partners in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres.

He proposed that every section of society get a share in proportion to its population. The Muslims should get a share in accordance with their numbers, so also the Christians. The Brahmins should not get more than what is due to them in accordance with their population. The deprived classes should also get a share in politics and a share in the means of production in proportion to their population. Only then, would India progress. But his proposal was turned down. He was forced to compromise under the Poona Pact. This paved the way for reservations for SCs and STs, but the OBCs were left high and dry.

The Supreme Court had defined OBCs in the ‘Indira Sawhney versus Union of India’ case.

The Constitution that came into force in 1950 provided for reservations for SCs and STs. In Article 340, provisions were made for the sections which were neither “untouchable” nor Tribals, yet were socially backward. The provision was to identify these sections and make recommendations on how to secure their due share. That was why the then government constituted the Kaka Kalelkar Commission. The responsibility of identifying the OBCs was given to a Brahmin! Kalelkar was a Brahmin. He submitted his report to the government along with a letter that said that the recommendations contained in it should not be implemented. Later, in 1979, the Morarji Desai government constituted the Mandal Commission. B.P. Mandal submitted the report of the Commission within two years but nothing was done to implement these recommendations. Then, in 1990, when V.P. Singh announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, two things happened. The 54 per cent backward-classes people, for whom the Commission report was being implemented, were in deep slumber while the 15 per cent upper castes were wide awake. The upper castes opposed the commission’s recommendations and as a result 27 per cent reservation was given to OBCs in government jobs only, while other recommendations of the Mandal Commission meant for the upliftment of the OBCs were ignored, such as giving them a share in every facet of public and civic life – including executive and legislative bodies – in proportion to their population.

Are you saying that the recommendations of Mandal Commission were not fully implemented?

Yes. That was not done. It has not been done to date. Only one recommendation was implemented. It was said at the time that reservations in proportion to population could be given only when every such a proportion was educated, that it would be difficult to find even 27 per cent eligible people. To ensure that the OBCs do not become competent and eligible for government jobs, reservation was not given to them in educational institutions. Then, in 2006, the Constitution was amended and a new clause was inserted in Article 164 to give 27 per cent reservations to the OBCs in educational institutions. Arjun Singh was the Union Minister of Human Resource Development at the time. Until then, they hadn’t got any reservation in education.

B.P. Mandal submits the report on reservations for backward classes to president Gyani Zail Singh

You have served as chairman of National Commission for Backward Classes. Did you ever recommend that the remaining recommendations of the Mandal Commission be implemented?

I had forwarded my recommendations to the Government of India. It was brought to my notice that a proposal for sub-categorization of OBCs had been pending with the government since 2000. We need to understand that the ruling classes have always been eyeing the 27 per cent quota for OBCs. The need for sub-categorization of OBCs has been emphasized since 1993, when the National Commission for Backward Classes was constituted. The argument was that those sections of OBCs that need and deserve reservation the most – that is, the politically, socially and economically backward sections – should get it. But my argument was: Until a caste census is conducted and until we know the exact number of OBCs, how can we conduct any scientific exercise to sub-categorize the OBCs? My predecessor in the commission, M.N. Rao, had also said the same thing. I had also apprised the Government of India of the need to accord Constitutional status to the Commission so that it could monitor the implementation of reservations and other programmes for the welfare of the OBCs.

Did lack of Constitutional status come in the way of the Commission discharging its duties effectively?

As I said earlier, the Commission lacked Constitutional rights. It did not have the power to get reservation rules implemented. It was only supposed to add castes to the OBC list. What is important is that between 1993 and 2008, not a single caste was removed from the OBC list. Instead, the list was made longer and longer for political gains. Every state added new castes to their own OBC lists and then forwarded the proposal to include them in the Central list. At times, pressure was mounted on us.

The country has witnessed the rise of OBC politics after 1993. OBCs have come to power in many states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also claims that he is an OBC. Why is it that still none of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission has been implemented?

The reason is very clear. The OBCs don’t have a voice. They are not united. They themselves don’t know what social justice means. The members of the forward classes, ie of the upper castes, who are against reservations, are spreading the canard that reservations should be based not on caste but on economic status. The upper-caste people are now talking of discrimination because their children are not getting jobs. But they are not ready to spare a thought for the OBCs, who have been deprived for centuries. Social justice is a fundamental right but our children are not taught about it. They know nothing about social justice. Even the judges and the lawyers do not understand social justice. The government also does not want the OBCs to know what social justice means. It wants them to remain beggars and keeps on doling out programmes  for them like nutritious food.

Had the OBCs been told about social justice, they would have been aware. Had they been aware, they would have got their rights. They would have got their due share in politics, in education. They would have progressed socially. They would have got social justice.

Recently, you said that the OBCs who have migrated to Delhi from different parts of the country in search of a job should get reservations here.

Yes. Delhi is the capital of the country. The OBCs coming from different parts of the country to live here must be entitled to reservations – both in jobs as well as in educational institutions. However, a condition has been laid down. It has been mandated that only those OBCs who have come here before 1993 will be entitled to the benefits. But there is no such condition for the SCs and STs. I demand some reasonable condition from the government, such as that those who have been living here for 10 or 15 years will be entitled to reservations.

Translated by Amrish Herdenia and copy-edited by Harshvardhan Siddharthan


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