Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Counting Caste

Over the past few days parliament has been busy debating whether caste should be counted in the on-going census(they've finally decided to go ahead and do so). There seem to be deep divisions within the national parties over the issue. Quite predictably the regional caste based partied have all embraced the idea. Most of the educated middle-class will see the exercise as further vindication of their long-held belief that the political class is out to make maximum mileage of the caste issue.

Caste is a burning issue in India. The uproar and violence over the Mandal commission and the more recent OBC reservation issue only assuages that fact. As a nation we have never been comfortable with caste. It's a scar on our national psyche- one that most of us want to be rid off. But it's here and present and has manifested itself in different ways in Indian society(think matrimonial ads in newspapers!). For long our country was held back because of the deeply oppressive caste system. It was the dream of our founding fathers to get rid of it as soon as possible and with this in mind a slew of measures were introduced. We have many many schemes targeted at people from the economically and socially backward castes. But all these measures seem to have failed at creating a modern- free- casteless society.

One could argue about the merits in pursuing something that doesn't seem to have worked. But the truth is that some of these schemes have done some good work at the ground level. They've made a change in the public perception and that's a good thing. I might be unpopular for saying this- but some schemes based on caste are needed in India(presently). Sometimes social stigma can be removed only when those who govern aggressively intervene to make society more fair and inclusive.(This is especially true in a society that doesn't do enough by itself to help the down-trodden/excluded)

So when you see caste based schemes as necessary then it becomes imperative that there be data on which to base these schemes and study their effectiveness. So counting caste might be good for the planners, and if the wise voters of the land decide to do so, the success of these plans can also be measured by this. 

However, the truth is counting caste is in ways further perpetuating it. In some ways it is giving official sanctum to the centuries old social caste structures as in registering it and keeping records of it gives it more of a legality. This is something that the government should be wary of.

While counting caste itself might not be a wrong thing and might even be needed in today's India, our leaders should not forget the vision of our forefathers. If counting caste and having caste based schemes is a necessary evil of today's society then it is important to also balance policy by making effective schemes that target eradicating caste. This is the need of modern India and one hopes that our leaders will have the intelligence and heart to do the same.  


Vibushan L Narayan said...

My view is just simple. Anything caste based should be abolished. After all, what is caste? its not some skill that is gained over time to properly differentiate you from the others nor are you special that you can gain privileges over the others just because of your caste. Caste system is just unfair and has no proper definition to it.

AJai said...

I think that's just over-simplifying it. While formulating policy one has to look at the short/immediate-term and the long-term. The truth is caste is alive and kicking today. That needs to be tackled. I also agree with you in that it needs to be done-away with and that also should be incorporated in policy. But I don't see caste being abolished anytime soon. It might be through law but in spirit it will carry on in our society and that cannot be allowed.

Vittaldas Prabhu said...

Sometimes I wonder who thinks about caste. Like many people, at a workplace with a number of people there is a good chance that you would interact with people from different castes and religion almost every day. I don't even go to the extent of thinking if he is a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or anything else. My interaction is based only on my professional needs. So I come to the conclusion is that a busy mind has no time to think of all this. I hope you get what I am trying to tell.

However, I do agree with you on the point that in present-day India providing privileges to the backward and minorities is required, but there must be aggressive strategies to really uplift them. Right now, these people are taking undue advantage of this scheme. Truly uneducated and good-for-nothing people get employed at responsible positions on the basis of reservations and what not! These people are really not forced to do well or think, they are there because the Govt. provided provisions for it. Simply introducing benefits won't help, but making them aware of why they are given benefits and what they must do to help others is equally important and must be part of the agenda.

Just my two cents. Cheers mate! Nice issue to touch upon.

V Rakesh said...

Now, even the process of counting has turned political! Politics in India can thrive only through menial schemes such as caste and other irrelevant butts!

I'm tempted to repeat the words of President Ronald Reagan, that "It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first!"

How true!

Chhaya said...

Caste is a reality. and its virtualy everywhere. We may find it disturbing but that does not change the fact that most of the Indians blv in it in one way or other.

the census, that included the caste info is a good thing i feel. we have had reservations for last 50 years or so.. its time to see how many lower cast ppl are still living BPL (thus checking the viability of reservation) etc etc

i think there is no need to get ultra sensitive about it. My cast or urs was just an accident. i might have been born in any. its just a fact, a fact that doesnt bother me at all :)

Uncommon Sense said...

i think as in the study as many parameters that is possible should be added... it will prove to be good to guage society in terms of development

AJai said...

Nice points. Yes I agree that it's the idle mind that comes up with all these distractions. Busy people just get on with their lives.
Your second point is even more relevant. What we've seen is the steady decline in quality in places where reservation has become the norm. That unfortunately further propagates prejudices of caste. While reservation might be an important tool it is important that standards are maintained and the pursuit of excellence not be taken for granted.

AJai said...

I like that quote very much. :). But again I think ignoring caste is being very naive. We've got to be more practical especially when it comes to policy.

I agree with everything you've said. There's absolutely no need to get all worked up about this. If used properly these data can be a great tool in the hands of the voting populace.

Same as I've said to Chhaya. We'll atleast have something to refer to.

Samvedna said...

I dont think that there is any need to have a caste based census..we must have evrything related to economics...I know amany people who drive honda live in bungalows and their children are getting all the privileges in admissions and otherwise as OBCs, whereas many poor are struggling unnecessarily because of being from upper caste..dont you think these situation will bring rancour in the society..somewhere down the line people will erupt with anger.

V Rakesh said...

I'm surprised! What do you mean? Count caste and make more reservations? Grant more favoured status labels to a dozen more emerging SCs/STs? Compound a more creamier creamy layer?

V Rakesh said...

I'm surprised! What do you mean? Count caste and make more reservations? Grant more favoured status labels to a dozen more emerging SCs/STs? Compound a more creamier creamy layer?

AJai said...

People are already angry at the happenings. But there are still deep-rooted caste prejudices in our society. It is still unnatural in most educated middle class families to marry outside your caste. It might not be visible to us but to people down on the line the violence and hatred is a daily part of their lives. Acknowledging that is not wrong. At the same time we should move to an economic criteria over time. We could have one now itself also. That I would like to deal as an entirely separate issue.

AJai said...

Where's the data to prove what you are saying? It might be happening, but without having a count how do we know who's benefiting from reservations? When we have data the voter also becomes empowered. The SC/ST guy who hasn't been able to get reservations because of the creamy layer will see the data first-hand and will be able to hold the politicians accountable. Even we will have better data to back our allegations of creamy layer. Right now there is nothing and therefore people are able to take advantage of the situation.

vEnKy said...

Very balanced I agree with you that reservation are needed for the minorities to improve them. And I second Vittaldas Prabhu's views he is spot on.

AJai said...


shivani said...

Admire your analysis for the motion and against the motion.Very well thought and discussed.
i sincerely hope that the balance in policy is executed to give the desired result and that it does not once again become another weapon in the hands of the politicians who for their vested interests perpetuate hatred...blood shed...all in the name of helping their
Thank you for stopping by on mine and urs has definitely made my day.:)

AJai said...

Thanks! I hope for the same. :)

Dhanya said...

Even if we - the educated janta - feel that caste system or anything caste related needs to be abolished, the majority of people (who are still uneducated) might think otherwise. As long as the majority feel that anything based on caste needs to be done away with, such issues will never come to a rest.

Bruno said...

Inter caste marriages can contribute to eliminate the problem :)

AJai said...

I don't think the educated class really wants to get rid of caste. There might be a section of society that is forward looking. But there are far too many examples of educated people who make decisions based on caste. I don't think being educated implies that a person is free from prejudice.

I like the idea. :)