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22

With Hardik Patel ratcheting up the decibels on a daily basis, there is a growing multi-layered, highly organized effort at building public opinion against caste reservations and a beautifully architectered amnesia on the fact that Hardik hardly challenges the state when he demands that elites get reservations or they be removed for all. It is the exact BJP agenda he is parroting, that an elected government cannot, publicly. BJP and RSS have always been on the "remove" side of the caste debate and demands to remove it being promoted as a challenge to Modi's authority take extreme gullibility to believe... or an audience age below 20 with no real understanding of caste, reservations or their public history in India.

Regardless, this is not a post about all that. It is a post describing my views on the issue because I'm tired of saying the same things over and over to people who think they are making wholly original arguments by going "hey why not remove caste based reservations". So here is where I am.

Reservations cannot fix caste discrimination

Agree. Reservations are not meant to fix caste inequality - which is an effort all those wanting them abolished haven't even managed to start, for all their talk. Reservations are meant to prevent caste supremacists from outright denying the less privileged their right to learn altogether. That it works is seen from the fury of the supremacists over the "injustice" to them that they cannot occupy all the opportunities and must share. Reservations cannot end caste prejudice, but they can and do prevent denial of rights till someone bothers to do it. They have been doing exactly that. Which is why the upper castes are pissed.

Reservations are against the idea of equality

Sure. I agree. I think reservations should be done away with too. AFTER ensuring discrimination has ended. Not one moment before. Till then, anti-reservation demands are a weapon of inequality masquerading as a noble hogwash of equality.

No one excludes lower castes anymore

Well, they do, but they cannot do it on a massive scale because.... reservations. Which is exactly why they want the reservations removed - to be able to discriminate and use the reserved seats for elites as well.

And, even with reservations in place, stories abound of colleges keeping reserved seats empty rather than admit dalits, college canteens with separate "thalis" for students according to their caste, colleges with separate canteens altogether on the basis of caste and even midday meals served in schools feeding dalit children poorer quality food or seating them separately from the rest of the students. If they were allowed to deny education to lower castes, make no mistake they would do it in a flash.

If you ban discrimination, you don't need caste reservations

Discrimination is already illegal in India. In fact, so is murder. Yet court after court is acquitting self confessed brutal mass murderers of dalits. There is no outrage, no pressure on the government to bring them to justice no questioning of those exposed for providing material support to the murderers as they continue to hold positions of power. Do you really think anyone is going to give them justice for being refused a seat?

Reservations should address economic vulnerability, not caste.

This is like saying we will fight one kind of inequality but not another. In my view, both should be addressed, not only one. Discrimination of denial of rights must be combated by ensuring that a proportional space in the whole is reserved for the people at risk of being denied on account of prejudice. No, not the Patels. Poverty, on the other hand does not necessarily need reservations. Lack of economic resources can be fixed with free tuitions and funds to enable study. Particularly worthy students from economically backward sections of society could even be paid to attend college so that they don't have to drop out in order to earn. This may have an overlap where backward castes and economically backward students overlap, in which case they should benefit from both, of course. Removing protections to one kind of vulnerable group in order to assist another is not a better method, it is fundamental stinginess that refuses to take responsibility for the whole range of assistance needed.

Replacing caste based reservations with those that are economic capacity based will have an extremely predictable result of filling seats with high caste poor people and disenfranchising the lower castes while pretending that this is a more just system.

Understand this. If you understand nothing else.

This is a simple process of taking the resources (educational/employment capacity is a resource) of a country and saying that those who are in a better position to monopolize them.

Where access to something that ought to belong to all is defined in a manner that prevents use by some so that the remaining may appropriate their share.

But isn't competence important? I wouldn't want to be treated by an incompetent doctor

I don't think India has any laws forcing you to be treated by a doctor not of your choice. Feel free to check out the surname and prefer to die than be treated.

Competence is indeed important. Here's the thing. Our education system does precious little to inculcate it and the admission system makes no effort to measure it. Examination marks are not competence. They are merely a reflection of your memorization skills in an age where everyone can look up information in an instant in any case. Even then, a few percentage points does not make anyone clever or stupid. No seriously, you are really not more competent than your friend who got 5% less marks than you, or a stranger you'd prefer to snatch a seat from. To get an idea, in professions not limited by access in terms of percentage, find out the marks the most successful individuals got in their examinations. Most of the time you will find that their education is irrelevant to their chosen profession and that the range of examination scores is more likely to be between 60% and 80% than the high 90s. While it is fine to use it as a uniform method to share the limited resource of seats, arguing that it means that a person getting 80% marks is too stupid to study or be a professional is plain absurd, which you would immediately spot if your head weren't enveloped in a castesist fog.

The myth of 'competence' is another elitist fiction created to instill a bias in favor of those with the ability to spend considerable resources on an ability to memorize and reproduce quickly.

It is not fair that students study hard and are denied seats and dalits can get them if they just pass

Another elitist myth. That idea that the number of seats reserved for dalits are so vast that any dalit with a whim gets admissions. In reality, dalits too have to work to get admissions and they too get cut off like any other student. Also the idea that low caste people are lazy and not interested in education is an upper caste myth where the lower castes are so objectified as unworthy, that the idea that they too study to create careers simply does not occur to the thoughtless hordes taught to resent their very presence.

And oh, the real reason students struggle to get admissions is not Dalits - they too struggle to get admissions. It is your oh-so-very elite classes that run your country and have not bothered to create educational facilities that are adequate for the population size. This serves all, as the demand and supply rule results in nice fat bribes donations to... not dalits.

Caste reservations keep caste discrimination alive

This is bullshit. There are no seat reservations in college canteens that serve people separately by caste anyway. If a college can have separate canteens for dalits, and yet screams outrage that there is a separate admission quota for them, all I can conclude is that they basically want the dalits to vanish and abdicate all the opportunities to the privileged classes.

Caste discrimination is when a news organization fights to show the impunity with which mass murderers walk free, acquitted by courts one after the other and yet, none of the supposed equality supporting people find this an outrage enough to raise a voice for accountability. There is no caste quota for mass murder, in case you were curious.

What about lower caste people who are already privileged? Why should they get donations?

Feel free to create a rule that goes "people richer than XYZ must seek admissions through the general quota" and not occupy seats meant to protect the deprived. That would be the logical move, yes? But that will not happen, because last thing the elites want is for more competition in their "merit". They'd rather point out to the privileged few and use it as an excuse to deny all.

Wake me up when this bunch of jokers points out to the richest people in India - many of them doctors - many of them running businesses on black money that deprives the country of its due and argue that children of doctors or otherwise rich people must pay the real cost of education of a doctor instead of the massive state sponsorship of the training for all. Yes? No? Why not? We're talking about people who can afford it still using government provided benefits, right?

Well, a lot of medical students who are in "doctor families" so to say will wade through money to reach the college, learn on massive government subsidies meant to make the training affordable for far poorer people, and then go abroad and sell their services cheaper than doctors there who had to invest a lot of money in their careers. Wake me up when someone has a problem with that and goes children of the rich must pay the real cost of education ...

But we can't have caste reservations forever! What is the answer?

If we can discriminate for thousands of years, we can still go a few hundred years without worrying about reservations being continued too long. That said, the answer to this lies with the elites. If there is no discrimination, the reservations will not matter and can be removed - frankly if there is no discrimination, removing them will not create enough of a difference for anyone to get worked up about it.

The truth of the matter is that the people who always oppose caste reservations have also been implicated in caste crimes. The removal of reservations is just another front of attack to strangle the rise of castes they wish to subjugate in an ongoing caste war. The claims of equality are bullshit as you would see if you scratched even briefly under the surface. This mythical Hardik Patel protest against the state over reservations is speaking exactly the BJP line. BJP has wanted caste reservations gone since before Hardik Patel was born and now there are protests "against" the BJP to "force" it to do exactly what it wants to do. Who are we kidding?

BJP leaders are also implicated in support to dalit massacres that ranged from money, assistance in procuring weapons, getaway vehicles when surrounded by police during a massacre and political impunity including intimidation of investigation and inquiry proceedings.

These people are going to allow equal opportunity to those whom they helped kill? Who are we kidding here? The minute caste reservations are gone, exclusion on the basis of caste will rise. Your "underprivileged" will overwhelmingly be from privileged castes. By design.

So you tell us what can be done

Recognize caste discrimination for the disease it is. And like any other disease, eradicate it from the country. Monitor cases of caste violence. "Treat" them with justice and social reform. Reduce incidences and when caste discrimination ends or reliably gets justice in judicial process, remove the reservations. Just like the disease it is.

Your move, caste supremacists!

 

Note: This post is likely to get updated as I encounter more creative arguments on Twitter.

5

Identity is a fundamental part of our being. We have many simultaneous identities. Some are circumstances of birth or life, others are conferred by something we do, still others fall somewhere in between.

These identities indicate similarities among certain groups of people and are broad stereotypes that help us understand and relate better. For example, it would be absurd to ask a vegetarian if he eats chicken, and then separately for fish, beef, eggs and more. We understand the stereotype "vegetarian" to mean that this person we have just met will not eat any kind of meat. There are exceptions, which are notable for not following the pattern, but the patterns help us function amid the diversity of people and their circumstances and habits in the world we inhabit.

An identity in itself is merely a description of traits. The problem arises when some identities are treated unfairly by or in comparison with other identities. These identities are not just caste. Woman, child, leper, homeless, beggar are examples of identities that often face a default disadvantage in terms of social power. Other identities face a deficit of trust - politician, lawyer or money lender, for example.

Social identities we get from birth are not a choice. You aren't a Brahmin because you chose to be one, any more than you are a dalit because you chose to be one. It is a descriptor of how you are seen by those around you.

It is fashionable these days for people from upper castes to pretend to not know their caste or "abdicate" it. The problem with this is that it means nothing. I speak from experience. I am atheist. I have denied being a Brahmin many times. NOTHING changed in how I was treated. I stopped denying my caste, because I realized that all it achieved was for me to pretend that I don't profit from privilege, when in reality, I do.

Our centuries of conditioning of caste is such that the minute you open your mouth, accent and diction brings instant recognition. A surname completes the picture. Entire cultures and communities revolve around castes and sub-castes. There are a thousand subtle behavioral markers that make it instantly evident to one who values caste and many who don't realize how much they unconsciously register. To stop "being a Brahmin" with any real difference in how I was treated would take un-knowing many things Brahmins grow up conditioned with. It would take eating food differently, speaking differently, forgetting countless Sanskrit verses I grew up hearing. It would take going back and refusing all the various opportunities I received - would the new girl me have to struggle to get an opportunity to learn?

Would I even be the me I am now, if I hadn't grown up with that sheltered ignorance of dangers to girls that did not see an unsurmountable challenge in a young, single girl living as a nomad in remote rural India? Would I have been able to pull it off safely and have a profound, life changing experience if my speech, behavior and presence itself didn't save my reckless butt with the proclamation that I wasn't a category of person you could fuck with without consequence? Perhaps I would. Perhaps not. Perhaps, I wouldn't have grown with the foolish belief that no one would harm me that led me as a girl barely out of teenage into thinking that living in the Himalaya and being a nomad on my own would be feasible. What does it mean to deny caste without also giving up every unequal advantage you continue to enjoy because of it?

I remember my horror to discover for the first time that "Shastra puja" actually involves ritual worship of weapons - as in swords and such - among warrior castes. In our household, my father used to worship his electronics tools, and I worshipped my books!!! Till then, the fact that "shastra" means weapon or instrument (at its most benign interpretation) had completely escaped me. Naive? Definitely, but I had the luxury of having a functional world without learning practices of others because I lived at the top of the social food chain of what is acceptable. I suppose the world also needs some people naive enough to worship books as weapons :p

I had once, briefly stayed as a paying guest in the home of a Muslim. It ended rather abruptly when I praised ham sandwiches and invited their daughter to try one and worse, when asked not to do it, argued that it was delicious and that they should try it instead of just refusing without having ever tasted. I had never heard of a taboo about pork and thought it was their family eccentricity. I was Hindu Brahmin, studied in a convent, had some Muslim friends, I thought I knew religious diversity. (No, they didn't kill me, merely asked me to find another place to live when my ignorance and argumentative nature simply wouldn't accept a taboo.) It took me over a decade to understand the full magnitude of the offense I had unwittingly rendered.

I once had a kunbi maid. One of the sweetest persons and willing workers I have ever met. I had asked her to churn the dahi to extract the butter. She just stirred it a bit and brought it back. So I sent her back to churn it properly. Again, the same. Eventually I got angry at her "laziness". Why not just churn the damn thing till she could see the butter instead of trying to escape the task? Turned out, she wasn't trying to escape the task. She had no idea how butter was made. She was fifty years old without ever having made butter at home. They didn't even have milk daily. I learned how butter was made in early childhood. It was a routine process in the household.

My current maid is Malwani with a dialect that is simply enchanting. You want her to make the fish curry and not me. My balcony garden would not have been half as thriving as it is without another kunbi maid's years of practical experience working crops. "You don't need to do anything, just thin the seedlings. They need space." when I was googling up fertilizers for why my damn plants wouldn't grow as advertized.

Every culture, every caste, every lifestyle comes with a wisdom and experience of its own distilled into houshold practices, heirditary professions, rituals, methods, arts, heroes, reformers, philosophers and more. The problem is that we have reduced our understanding of caste to the "caste hierarchy" and discrimination or agreement or disagreement with reservations. Our efforts to combat it attempt to wipe out everyone's roots and render them into anonymous people that will be vaguely "same". I don't see this as either useful or respectful. What we are saying is that underprivileged people are too shameful to be respected for who they are and we have to somehow hide it. It may be well meaning, but it is an insult. We do it with many things, not just caste. We blur faces of rape victims - in effect saying, "If people knew who you are, they wouldn't respect you." It is not empowerment, it is not respect. It is a declaration of inferiority that says respect can only happen if you hide who you are.

I'd rather respect the diversity of cultures without seeing them or me as superior or inferior. Possibly because love taught me to respect the wisdom of many castes and tribes. The home that felt more home than the one of my birth were Buddhist tribal nomads. I lived as a tribal nomad for seven years. I saw the wisdom in their ways, though it took a while for my naive entitlement to register it initially. I would not wipe out that learning by pretending there was nothing special about them and we were same. I do not see the need to anonymize centuries of experience, traditions and knowledge and wipe them out in an effort to pretend that discrimination is not my problem just because I have abdicated it.

Identity is not always a choice, but actions are a choice. I can choose not to discriminate. I can choose not to rank individuals higher or lower on the basis of identity.

[tweetthis]The need is not to wipe out castes, but to knock the hierarchy down.[/tweetthis]

I oppose discrimination on the basis of identity. I KNOW I have enjoyed disproportionate favor, but I will not perpetuate it. I may not follow Brahmin practices or beliefs, but having still enjoyed the privilege, I will also use my identity as a Brahmin to acknowledge that it was unfair and ensure that THIS Brahmin does not allow discrimination. It is not enough for Brahmin voices to say the wrong thing or fall silent. The need is for Brahmin voices to say the RIGHT thing instead of falling silent.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]I will add my voice to those I see treated unfairly - even if they are treated ill by an identity I belong to.[/tweetthis]

At the same time, I don't see how it is useful to sneer at Brahmins for existing, if sneering at dalits for existing is evil. I see this in a lot of people who fight caste discrimination. This monolith Brahmin who can only be evil and unless you want to be known as evil, stop calling yourself Brahmin. Counter-prejudice is not noble either. Fight discrimination, fight injustice - that is where the war is. Attacking an entire identity of people just because you associate them with oppression makes you no better than those you object to. A default of hate for Brahmins makes about as much sense as a default of hate for shudras.

The struggle needs to be for dignity and inclusion of all. Today, it is "upper" castes that define popular culture. This needs to change. A shared space needs to be created. If being called a man or woman is not an insult, being called a dalit or Brahmin ought not to be. It is merely identity. It is actions that merit contempt or respect, regardless of identity. We need to create social acceptance for self determination of caste and speak up against impunity to caste crimes. We enjoy the power, we must bear the responsibility for setting matters right within our spheres of influence as well.

What the caste system needs is not Brahmins with a sense of fairness quitting caste and leaving it the sole domain of those who discriminate, but Brahmins who are aware of injustices and change the living culture into one that refuses to discriminate. There is no rule that states that Brahmins must perpetually be inhuman and if you are humane, you must pretend to not be one. If enough Brahmins oppose discrimination, it may just become possible to have Brahmins offering society what they are good at, instead of seeking their status in pushing others down. Which many do, but they abdicate their caste, leaving the caste stereotype still mired in primitive injustices and perpetuating them. What we need is "entitled" castes who don't subscribe to discrimination to oppose the practice and refuse to include it in their social norms. Then perhaps we will finally have generations that see diversity as enrichment instead of threat.

Many may batter at gates demanding access to wells of dignity, the ones on the inside who believe it is wrong that the gates are closed must throw them open instead of pretending they don't exist.

 

Note: In this post, Brahmin can be substituted by any caste that does not suffer social discrimination and dalit can be substituted by one that does. My use of the words merely reflects the caste that I was born to and the identity most mentioned when these questions come up in discussions.