Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mandal chapter is now a book

Byline by M J Akbar: Mandal chapter is now a book

Has the Manmohan Singh Government ordered India’s first Hindu census? The exercise scheduled for 2011 to count the caste populations of the country excludes, by definition, those who do not believe in caste.

If someone asked me what my caste was, I would have no answer. I have a nationality: Indian. I have a faith: Islam. I have a birthplace: Bengal. I have a cultural identity even if this tends to get diffuse, since my father was a Bihari settled in Bengal, my mother a Kashmiri who was brought up in Amritsar, and I now live in Haryana. The answer may be complicated but it is still an answer. But caste? I have none.

Should I acquire a caste, if someone is willing to offer me one, in order to become politically correct in the era of Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi? I take these names quite deliberately, since, to the best of my knowledge, they too do not have a caste, at least if they are true to the philosophy of their faith. Will the Prime Minister claim that he is either a Jat or a Pappa Sikh or whatever when the men in white shirts with blank forms turn up at his door? Will Mrs Gandhi tell the censuswallahs that she has become a Brahmin-Christian because she married a man whose mother was a Kashmiri Pandit and father a Parsi?

What is the precise purpose of an additional, expensive and wearisome enumeration of our innumerable social differences? The normal census already delineates fractional, not to say fractious, identities which is why we know what is the percentage of Dalits and Brahmins and Yadavs and Muslims et al in every constituency, enabling politicians to select candidates on the basis of caste-communal mathematics. Government knows these percentages and publishes them for citizens to read and make demands for job reservation on a quota slide-rule. Are we now heading for the specific numbers of sub-castes and gotras, so that squabbles for the job-pie get even more intense, bitter and divisive?

Decisions with long-term consequences are being made with vision no greater than an eye-range of the next regional election. Cabinet ministers who objected to this caste census were warned that the Congress would lose crucial votes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh if it did not succumb to pressure from the margins. No party is so angelic as to reject adjustments which serve partisan ends. But the moment a party sacrifices its core values for perceived surface benefits, it is in danger of losing its political equilibrium.

The celebration of caste as a democratic virtue was perhaps inevitable in a complex dynamic where the reality of economic injustice was enhanced by layers of identity inferiority. Such problems had to be purged out of the system, and that could not happen by pretending that they did not exist, as if we had achieved some form of Gandhian Ram Rajya by virtue of becoming free of British rule in 1947. If the Dalit struggle for equity preceded freedom, thanks to the brilliance and courage of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who demanded and got a commitment from Mahatma Gandhi on political and economic reservations, then agitation by the impoverished among those a notch or two above was only a matter of time.

There will always be a gap between economic growth and social aspiration, particularly since it is almost impossible to spread the benefits of growth in ideal proportions: Marxism could not make it happen, and it is silly for quasi-capitalism to even try. The democratic process is the only one devised for a peaceful transfer of wealth along a sustainable axis. This is not a favour that the rich do to the poor; higher reward for labour and expansion of remunerative employment is an entitlement in a democracy. The peculiar catch in our country is economic and political mobilization around the unique reality of caste. The Mandal report, therefore, was an inevitable chapter in the economic history of India.

The question, two decades after Mandal reservations were adopted, is whether this chapter should become the full book. The interplay between votes and gratification is a function of any democracy, but it is dangerous to make that the sole parameter for decisions.

In an effort to ameliorate an obvious injustice, in the case of minorities who do not accept caste, the system has taken retroactive measures, like assigning a pre-Islamic identity to Muslims and categorising them by their caste before conversion. Since jobs and reserved educational seats are on offer, many Muslims have accepted this variant. Compromise however is never an adequate solution; moreover, it can become a bottomless abyss. The caste census institutionalises an anomaly. Caste has become a vehicle without a reverse gear, and there is no U-turn visible on the road ahead.

Perhaps the answer will lie in the prospect that Government jobs will become an illusion, as the private sector absorbs the functions of state authority. Politicians have already caught on, and begun demanding reservations there as well. If we are sensible, we will draw the line long before we encroach upon the private sector.



R K MISHRA said...

Retrogression galore is the hallmark of Indian polity and Indian society. Our decision-makers have, time and again, succumbed to the their vacuous instincts to perpetuate their positions of Power and influence. It is irony of India that we have stopped giving birth to reformers who can at least bring some reasonable renovation and innovation in collective conscience of citizenry. Path-breaking leaders have disappeared and their place has been acquired by heart-breaking egoists and egotists who love to be equated with great-men without having any significant contributions for the uplift and ascent of society.
If it was possible to embrace untouchables by Gandhi in those orthodox times then it must be colossally convenient to eliminate the divisive and disintegrating features of Indian social milieu.
The ingredient which misses massively from our present leadership that either they do not have the audacity and conviction to bring change or they are credulous and gullible to believe in the falsity of fostering the concept of brotherhood and love among various social divisions of our society.
The desire of dominance created caste and desire to rule India for eternity drove Britishers to bring in the principle of divide and rule.
The scenario is appalling, disgusting and dictates drastic action.

Love Kumar said...

I am at the moment in Nairobi on a short visit.The Kenyan Government and people are in transition, withthe new Constituion in the process of being implemented. There has been a great deal of discussion whether tribes hereafter be enumerated in the Census. I find striking similarities between the Indian caste system and the tribal loyalties which are an integral part of the Kenyan society. The conflicts here have been largely arising from tribal loyalties.At the moment there is open discussion in the media. While some feel that tribalism is an evil which needs to be banished from Kenya there are others who feel that data on tribes is important. In India the British after 1931 and subsequent governments had assiduously avoided census based on caste for very good reasons. There should have been no reason to change the policy which has been followed by different govts, lead by different political parties. Mr. Akbar as always has been forceful in his condemnation of what is retrograde.
Love Kumar,
Kings Post,
Rhapta Road,

CSCK said...

'its silly ...quasi capitalism to try..'barring this sentence,its brilliant.capitalism not only tried but succeded in making a equitable society largely.enough proof in europe,america,scandenavia...
the basic premise of looking at 'capitalism' as demonic,profit mongers,devoid of any pity and responsibility is dated,incorrect and needs to be updated. the examples of narayan murthy,capt.gopinath,kesub mahindra are endless.even ratan tata, anil ambani,birlas are living a frugal life.check personally,and we get astonishing can be compassionate,nationalist,humane,kind and everything .generally richness is fragnance giving,sometimes it may stink .richness rather helps in acquiring these qualities. on the other hand poverty deprives a person of his compassion, extracts all 'goodness' from a body and mind normally.only vote politics thinks otherwise.'poor' is the fodder on which runs left-caste-region-religion politics.surprisingly ,they also promise to make them 'rich' then where is the difference? 'coveting success' is different than becoming successful.
vijay sharma,kolkata