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THE MANUAL REPORT AND CASTEISM IN INDIA
INTRODUCTION: Caste has become very rigid and inflexible with the result that it has converted itself into casteism. It is this rigidity in casteism which resulted in untouchability and superiority complex and hierarchy. It checked mobility in society and promoted caste conflicts for establishing supremacy. Casteism is now quite visible and very much in operation in our social, economic and political life. In spite of the fact that in theory it is being much criticised and condemned, in practice it is still very much deep-rooted in society and has become its integral part.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: Caste has been the basis of Hindu, society since Vedic times. After independence, the Constitution sought to establish a more egalitarian society by according special privileges to the backwards castes so that they could overcome, the disabilities suffered due to centuries of discrimination, however, the recent Mandal report has again brought the issue of caste to the forefront, The Mandal report sought to provide the backward classes with reservation in Central Government Jobs. But it provoked strenuous opposition by the upper castes, manifesting itself in horrifying self-immolations by scores of young upper caste students. But the anti-Mandal agitation was not so much about jobs as it was about caste. What the anti-Mandal agitation revealed was the entrenched social, political and economic position of the upper castes and their insecurity arriving out of the upward mobility of backward castes which threatened to erode their power base. Despite wide-ranging legislation and even special machinery for implementation and monitoring casteism has become more entrenched in modern India than ever before endangering the very unity of India.
CONCLUSION: Immediate abolition of Caste from India is only wishful thinking. For centuries it has remained in our society and to think that a psychological change can come by legal measures is a difficult proposition. The people will have to be mentally prepared for this change and for that many efforts are needed. All that can be said is that the ground has been laid and unless constant efforts and endeavours are made the good work done will be lost to society.
The caste system is the most fundamental feature of Hindu society. Looking back over the course of centuries since its unknown beginning, the system has exercised a very profound influence on the social and economic life of the people. Originally, it was introduced on the basis of division of labour in the society and was calculated to promote its economic strength and efficiency. The division was, to begin with, completely flexible and it was possible for a member of one caste to change to the other. But as time passed, the caste system became a water-tight social compartment.
Many theories have been propounded to account for the origin of the caste system in India. The Political theory states that it was a shrewd trick of upper-class Brahmins. The occupational theory traces its origin to the family’s occupation. The Racial Theory owes its origin to the fact that different races organised their own race to form a separate taste. The traditional theory points towards its creation by the Gods to perform different functions. Some believe that Manu in his `Manu Smriti divided the human society into four classes, viz., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras.
However, the caste system has not only outlived its utility but is a positive evil, which must be cast away as soon as possible. By splitting the society into water-tight compartments, it operates as an obstacle to the social and national unity, which is essential for a national effort at economic regeneration. It kills the spirit of enterprise and initiative by making functions hereditary. By making a change of occupation difficult, the system makes the labour and capital immobile. The large-scale industry, which presupposes easy mobility of labour, becomes difficult to achieve. The caste system has produced among the higher castes a sort of contempt for manual labour. It retards the progress by creating a spirit of exclusiveness among the people and keeping them away from progressive influences.
It is gratifying to find that the shackles of the system are slowly and steadily breaking down. The welfare and advancement of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes have been the special concern of the State under the Constitution. They have been given reservation in legislatures and services. Measures to provide increased educational facilities have also been given to them. But much of it, unfortunately, seems to be merely on paper. Even after so many years of independence the mind-set bf the people hardly seems to have changed as was evident during the Mandal agitation.
Even after much blood was spilt, the central point of the anti-Mandal agitation, however, was still not obvious to the unbiased observer. Was it about jobs? Or was it about caste? Was it about promoting an undifferentiated Hindudom? Or was it merely to bring about a change in the Government? The mincing one-step-forward, two-steps-back jig performed by V.P. Singh on the Mandal issue indeed left little room for doubt that there was, in fact, an electoral vote batik calculation behind the announcement.
At’ the same time, the resistance to even such minor changes as may be brought about by Mandalisation was quite disproportionate. The active role being Played in the anti-Mandal movement by anti-social elements, political operators with unsavoury pasts and the votaries of aggressive hit/du/IPA whose sine qua non is caste, made it clear that the upsurge was directed towards the issue of jobs only to a very limited extent.
Without a doubt, many anti-Mandates, particularly students, were extremely insecure about their career prospects and their intense insecurity was reflected in the obsessive anxiety which drove them towards dramatic gestures ending even in death. However, it is the very gestures and symbolism of the less spontaneous forms of protests which gave away the protestations that the movement was primarily about jobs. The articulation of blatantly casteist slogans about the Dalit minister, Ram Vilas Paswan and others, the demand of the Confederation of Class I government officials to do away with reservations altogether, even those relating to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC-STs), the insidious linking of efficiency and merit to upper castes, such as through pseudo-statistical assertions by the pro-Hindutva as well as pro-Western journalists that railways accidents have increased on account of employment of SC-STs, etc., showed that the movement was at least as much about preservation of caste inequities as about cornering jobs market.
The reinforcement of such ideas which go against the very bases of civilization and modernity by ideologues and publicists who claim to stand for those very values, through repeated, articulate and powerful propaganda in the mass media, obviously inflamed the tinder in the minds of the youth. Apprehending their own defeat in the battle of numbers that democracy is, those who have enjoyed upper caste plutocracy were urging the youth to commit Jauhar (self-sacrifice by burning) for a cause that was only thinly disguised as being noble: the protection of merit. Even the fact that dominant elements in the movement were rampaging lumpens, who have nothing to do with the promotion of merit, and upper class-caste men, out to preserve their traditional class, caste and gender superiority, did nothing to make the ideologues drop their masks of merit. Such a manipulative ‘meritocracy’, a plutocracy of the privileged, is inherently hypocritical. The arguments of the anti-Mandalites who pretended to be promoting meritocracy would have been more consistent if they had the honesty to deny democracy altogether.
It is amazing how the Mandal move of V.P. Singh was able to make large numbers of the urban elite suddenly recall principles and values. Analysts who for long propounded the importance of vote-banks and who made caste calculations a fine art abruptly discovered that they have all along felt caste to be evil. At the same time those “free-market-Walla has”, who abhorred Marxist class analysis, pleaded for taking a class rather than caste as the basic unit of social transformation.
The one thing that V.P. Singh’s dalliance with the Mandal Commission’s recommendations did successfully was to throw the pet theories of simple-minded sociologists into disarray. Before Mandal was resurrected, the same sociologists and anthropologists who suddenly waxed eloquent on the merits of considering economic criteria laughed at the mention of class. They felt it was a concept which was misplaced in the Indian context and was imported by disgruntled and displaced Marxists who wanted to disturb the harmonious coexistence of Yamani groups based on traditional patron-client relationships and performing different social roles evolved through a uniquely Indian historical process.
The same academic elite which in the post-Mandal period proclaimed that there are only two valid categories into which Indians can be divided. i.e., the rich and the poor was engaged for long in the exercise of casting final) meshed sociological nets into India’s turbulent social waters and drawing out not a class but the familiar fishes of ‘tribe’, ‘sex’ and above all ‘caste’.
The hypocrisy of academic sophistry was matched by the inconsistency of the political practice of the Indian elite. It loudly inveighs against differentiation on the basis of social groups and reluctantly justifies its acceptance of positive discrimination in favour of scheduled castes and tribes (SC-STs) only because it says those groups suffer from historical disabilities.
While it admits this exception to its self-proclaimed rule of individuals-as-unit, it opposed affirmative action by the State in favour of other backward castes (OBCs). It conveniently forgot however that while it expresses solicitors concern for SC-STs and aims its ire against the OBCs, even in January-February 1990 when reservations for SCs and STs were extended through a Constitutional amendment, its storm-troopers had indulged in widespread rioting against those very SC-STs.
But the Indian elite can hardly help its hypocrisy. Used for centuries to deriving disproportionate advantages from a society ideologically subjugated by it, it has lost the self-confidence to stand by its own profession of promotion of merit. That indeed was the crux of the anti -Mandal movement.
The Indian elite, which constitutes less than a quarter of its population, has the possibility, even when Mandal’s scheme is implemented, of filling more than half of all Central Government and public sector jobs. In addition, it has open to it the vast vistas of the private sector. But such is its moral and intellectual degeneration that it feels insecure. It raises the bogey of merit being swamped by the multitude because it is not sure of its own competence.
Indeed the lack of merit in the Indian elite is apparent to all except those who perversely avoid looking at the sordid state to which centuries of elite domination have reduced Indian society. Up to the announcement in 1990 regarding the implementation of the Mandal commission recommendations neither have OBCs bad reserved quotas nor have SC-STs been allowed to fill those set aside for them. And yet such a state of affairs was created that Indian society became dangerously fragmented, it’s economy nearly bankrupt and its polity characterised by venality and inefficiency.
This is not without reason. The Indian elite has frozen its mind in time as it has lived by the self-serving social order ordained by Manu. Or, at best, it has moulded its thought according to hierarchical patterns imposed on it by elite-reinforcing ideas of colonial rule. While subaltern strands of Indian thought, whether of the Hindu Bhilai or Islamic sill tradition, rejected caste, the culturally alienated metropolitan elite, informed by colonial anthropology and Indology, saw idealised caste as the quintessential element of India. The colonial regime did not only deindustrialise India; it seriously de-intellectualised the elite too. And the de-intellectualisation reflected itself in rejection of the rich tradition of subaltern thought and a mechanistic adoption of social media fire. The humdrum secular existence of peasant and artisanal India was ignored as the British conveniently reinforced Manu’s ritual hierarchy. A fresh ordering of society on the basis of caste comfortably conformed to the limited mental frame of even the westernised Indian elite which was bemused by its quaintness, intrigued by’ its complexity and, of course, benefited from its ordained nature.
This simplification of social ideas was further vulgarised by the promotion’ of borrowed metropolitan values. The urge for high living eminently suited the plain thinking of the middle-class mass. In the last few years, there has been much talk about the growing ranks of the Indian affluent who are supposed to number nearly three hundred million. The political economic establishment has taken pride in doing its best to satisfy its import-oriented, consumerist urges. The State has been a prime player in this process. Even as it has allowed institutions of education and ideas to atrophy, it has encouraged mindless consumerism. While accumulation has been primitive, consumption tends to be an ultra modem.
It has been possible to do this because the metropolitan elite, occasionally supported by its affluent country cousins, has maintained its stranglehold on institutions of governance. It is that control which today appears to be slipping. And, given the limited nature of resources available, the elite can continue to live in the style that it has got accustomed to only by maintaining an inordinate presence in the government. It is only in that manner that it can squeeze out the high rates of return on ‘investment’ in Government jobs by extraction of exorbitant ‘rent’ through corruption and provide for its extravagance. The talk of “small government” and liberalisation is as unreal as the elite’s commitment to “equality of status and of opportunity” enshrined in the Constitution.
Implementation of the Mandal recommendations, even-its invocation, has shown the Indian elite for what it is: self-serving, selfish and disingenuous. The fact that today it feels, called upon to talk of “economic criteria” and yet is not satisfied when those criteria are provided for; the fact that it sheds crocodile tears for SC-STs while it continues to occupy seats reserved for them; the fact that it feels insecure in the face of the growing rural power of the OBCs and their consequent search for governmental avenues of faster accumulation; the fact that it uses merit as a euphemism for privilege: all these demonstrate that the metropolitan mind which dominates elite behaviour is both devious and desperate.
It is capable of converting any progressive substance into a merely symbolic shell of itself.
It is infiltration of ideology through ritual symbolism that represents the continuum between the Mandal and the Mandir issues. The inequities of caste and the obscurantism of irrational rituals are integrally connected, in sanatanisi (orthodox) Hinduism. The inherent and iniquitous hierarchy of caste has been maintained for centuries through Brahmanical control over rituals, in particular over rites of passage, over birth and death. Bloodletting and sacrifice, subservience and deprivation of life are essential ingredients of the hierarchical orthodox Hindu order which negates the egalitarian urges of modern civil society.
To the extent that the anti-Mandal agitation is a reflection of the attempt to perpetuate casteist plutocracy and the Mandir issue is one of irrational, socially divisive, aggressive and ritualistic Hindutva, the two are in effect the backward movements of the so-called “forwards”. If they succeed, they will only encourage primitivism in a modern age, a horrifying prospect for India which is desperately struggling to emerge out of its cultural-economic shackles. Curiously, however, it is not the poor, oppressed and “ignorant” Indian who is standing in the way of progress but the more privileged, even superficial “modernised”. metropolitan. And it creates so much confusion through sophistry in the matter of affirmative action by the state that the very project of nation-building gets obscured.
The reactions to the Mandal Commission’s recommendations brought to the surface several features which had been papered over by the State prevailing other society. One was articulated through the arguments used by the anti-reservationists contest extension of reservations in government jobs for backwards castes. They contended that such a move went against the basic premise of promoting merit, deepened casteism and intensified social strife. Pro-reservationists defended the measures on the ground that they promoted equity and indeed promoted social integration by broadening participation in processes and institutions of the States. It is interesting to note that both arguments and counter-arguments were premised on the centrality of state action in determining society.
However, the Mandal imbroglio also revealed two other facets of Indian society. One was the entrenched social, political and economic position of the upper castes and the other was their insecurity arising out of the upward mobility of backward castes which threatened to erode their power base. Once again, the issue of changing power balances was posited on relative holds on the state n’ general and on government jobs in particular. This is an important commentary on the very nature of social existence in India, determined and ordered as it is by the instrumentalities of the State.
In this context, it is also significant that the Mandal controversy contained kit vital throwback on colonial enumeration. As discussed earlier, while castes, religions and groups have existed as “fuzzy communities” from time immense-, the rial, their congealing into distinct, discrete and mutually antagonistic communities was certainly aided to a great extent by the counting of heads. In the case of the division of societies among `upper castes (euphemistically called Tor-wards’) and ‘Backwards’, the reference point was the 1931 Census.
This is important because after Independence caste was abolished by statutory fiat and hence no enumeration of caste was carried out in postcolonial censal exercises. Hence, the use by the Mandal Commission of 1931 data to extrapolate caste entities in the 1990s. Now, what is of immense importance is the fact that the statutory abolition had not restored the status quo ante colonial-ism with regard to self-perception of communities and the explanation for this lies not only in the inability of laws and institutions to turn the clock of history back but also in the hegemony of the enumerate (and literate) on even the enumerate and illiterate subaltern peoples. In any event, notwithstanding Canutian edicts abolishing caste, caste continued to be a major social reality. Indeed, with changing circumstances, not only did the caste structure get solidified within the mould of politics but the phenomenon of politicised caste even acquired an English name: “casteism”.
The unchanging India that Hegel conceptualized is obviously wrong. Empirical evidence and critical theory have demonstrated that caste is neither static nor is it even peculiarly “Hindoo”. Indeed, perhaps the most valid evidence of the composite nature of Indian society is in the incorporation of the caste system within non-Hindu religions. Thus, the Muslims in India ordered themselves with Syeds ‘ corresponding to Brahmans, Sheikhs to Kayasthas, Pathans to Raj puts. Ansari to Tanis, and so on. For all the imperfections of his report, and there are many, even B.F. Mandal realised this: his understanding of caste is of a hierarchical order which is relative to given space and time: the same caste is `forward’ in one region and ‘backward’ in another and caste characterisations of forwardness’ and ‘backwardness’ cut across boundaries of religion. The picture of caste that emerges is not of a static and lifeless arrangement of social building blocks but of an unruly, ever-growing, verdant social jungle.
In the inherently disorderly Indian society, it is the Brahmans and Brahman-ism that laid down the kind of law that existed. And, the Brahmans claimed legitimacy for their laws on grounds of moral superiority in society. Thus, even while Kshatriyas may have controlled government, Brahmanism hegemonised society and State.
The revolt against Brahmanism, of which the backward castes’ assertion is a part, is, therefore, a subaltern resistance of the elite. Earlier in history, this was articulated through various heterodox shamanic traditions. It is this process of resistance that has been sought to be idealised, institutionalised and perhaps even *regulated through the Constitution.
In spite of wide-ranging legislation and ex en special machinery for implementation and monitoring, however, the Constitutional intent has been only very partially put into effect. On the other hand. the very legitimization of social divisions through the operation of the statutory process has led to a degree of their intensification in actual social conditions of existence. And, special provisions for one group of people have led to other groups vigorously, and sometimes violently. demanding similar provisions for themselves and yet others resenting such provisions. Thus, for instance, while cultural and economic needs may have fragmented society into myriad yank.: and jail groupings earlier, political and legislative measures have led to the creation and nurturing of threefold caste conflict between ‘Forward’ or Upper Castes, ‘Backward Castes’ and ‘Scheduled Castes and Tribes’ particularly on the question of reservation in public employment in many parts of the country. Similarly, repeated use of religious and other divisions by cynical political operation has not only put secularism but also the very unity of India in danger.