“Lost rights are never regained by appeals to the conscience of the usurpers, but by relentless struggle…. Goats are used for sacrificial offerings and not lions.” – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Each time the DBA communities assert their political rights and manage to gain something, the savarnas find a way to subvert it either violently or through dubious and unethical means. This is an essential feature of the caste system, so nothing to be surprised there. But as the assertion increases, so do the efforts of subversion making it a continuous conflict! The illogical 10% reservations (hereinafter referred to as Ten Other Caste Policy – TOP for ease) for the economically backward communities is nothing but one such subversion. While the policy was moved without logic and defies every known theory and practice of affirmative action, opponents of the policy have clearly demonstrated with governmental data, the hollowness of the policy and continuing caste based discrimination.
The usual rhetorical questions that are used against caste based reservations being its effect on merit and punishing the present generation of savarnas for the sins of the past are easily answerable to anyone who wants to listen. Merit is nothing but a euphemism for accessibility in India and there are enough studies that demonstrate the lack of accessibility being proportional to one’s status in the caste hierarchy. Insofar as the second objection is concerned, it is a fact supported by official data that the sins aren’t in the past at all, but continue in the present as well with equal overt and covert violence, be it massacres for political assertion, inter caste love or simply representation in political bodies or jobs. Post TOP, there has been enough research to show that caste based reservations have never been implemented properly and diversity and representation, be it in PSUs or central universities remain abysmal for SC/ST and worse for other backward castes.
The narrative that TOP is trying to project is that reservations are welfare largesse that is dependent on the government and that those receiving benefits of reservations are essentially at the mercy of the government of the day. This is not only patronizing and condescending but also blatantly casteist and contrary to how the history of reservations happened. TOP, in essence, is the betrayal of the foundation based on which the Indian state was formed and that not many people are talking about it is what angers me.
To understand this, one has to go a bit into the history of the negotiations and conflicts that led to the formation of the Indian state itself. The root of it goes to the second Round Table Conference, where Gandhi being the sole representative of the Congress party was unhappy with the separate category that had been included at the conference for the Depressed Classes (today’s Dalits and Adivasis) represented by Ambedkar, Rettamalai Srinivasan & Rao Bahadur Mylai Chinna Thambi Pillai Rajah (M. C. Rajah), for he was of the opinion that they were to be included under the larger umbrella called Hinduism! Ambedkar’s advocacy within and outside the conference ended up being successful with the British government agreeing to treat the Depressed Classes as a category separate from Hindus and the resultant Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award recognizing depressed classes as minorities and giving them separate electorates along with forward caste Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo Indians & Europeans.
Mohandas Gandhi was very upset at what he perceived as a division of Hindus. But at the root of the problem was that varnashrama dharma or the caste system was at the root of his spiritual ideology. Gandhi, being the man who was used to getting what he wanted went on a fast unto death at Yerwada jail where he was imprisoned and the Congress organized an all India Depressed Classes Conference to lobby, pressurize and negotiate with the representatives of the government and depressed classes to give up the separate electorates awarded to them. While the meeting was convened under the chair of the arch-Hindutva ideologue and a Brahmin Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Ambedkar refused to be a part of the conference. His take was that he could not be bothered about Gandhi’s blackmail and give up something that would go a long way in social and political mobility of Dalits. M. C. Rajah acted as the interlocutor between Gandhi and Ambedkar – but with no success. It was only when Ambedkar was worried about the violent backlash Gandhi’s death can cause to the Dalit communities that he agreed to negotiate that resulted in the Poona Pact signed on behalf of Mohandas Gandhi by Malaviya. In short, Gandhi broke his fast for Ambedkar giving up separate electorates for reservations! That is the story of reservations making a political entry into the constitutional history of India.
I need to make a diversionary but important mention here that reservations were already in force in South Asia in the kingdom of Kolhapur (and in other princely states like Mysore and in the Madras Presidency etc)), where the ruler Chhatrapati Shahu enraged by the stranglehold of the Brahmin community on all jobs and knowledge in his kingdom decreed through an administrative order in the State Gazette dated 26th July 1902 “His Highness is pleased to direct that from the date of this order, 50% of the vacancies that may occur shall be fixed by recruits from among the backward classes. In all offices in which the proportion of officers of the backward classes is at present less than 50%, the next appointment shall be given to a member of those classes”.
However, the idea of reservation within the Constitutional history of India starts with Poona Pact and the Depressed Classes giving up separate electorates for reservations and this eventually getting incorporated into the Government of India Act, 1935 – which is the essential skeleton of what the administrative structure of the future Indian state and it’s constitution would be! This clearly refutes the savarna notion and false assertion that reservations are some kind of state largesse that had been incorporated into the Constitution of India. In fact, apart from the jurisprudence of affirmative action and justice, it is a right that was hard won by the Dalits – in a macabre way in return for a more progressive and enabling right – separate electorates, so savarnas could retain control over the future of the Indian polity. And it is not accidental that Ambedkar regretted that agreement which was purely blackmail.
While, it would be pointless to discuss the hypothetical political structures and mobility that would have emerged had the Poona Pact not happened and separate electorates for the depressed classes had been incorporated into the 1935 Government of India Act and therefore the Constitution of India – it would be pertinent to point out that though caste would not have got annihilated, the political and social mobility of DBA communities would have been so much more visible and influential.
There have been many arguments about the statistical and jurisprudential fallacies that have gone into framing TOP, but my argument is that the biggest fallacy is the projection of TOP as some kind of a socio-political right for the poor in a neo-liberal state for they have absolutely no claim to it. On the contrary TOP, but it’s subversion of the jurisprudence of reservations and is essentially reneging on one of the most important political foundations on which the Indian Constitution was negotiated – and therefore a further betrayal of the Poona Pact and the Constitution of India.
To top it, TOP was legislated by a parliament that is still predominantly led by a savarna discourse and populated heavily by dominant castes, executed by a more savarna executive and to be tested by the most savarna of the Indian state institutions, namely the Judiciary in a Supreme Court which has 23 savarnas (including the two Muslims and a Parsi), two OBCs and one Dalit! The very Supreme Court that has hit out at the foundations of the idea of reservations by holding that reservations should be computed for department wise vacancies rather than institution wise vacancies in universities. In a country where the representation of DBA communities in universities is already abysmal (as can be seen in the picture given above) and managements regularly try to thwart reservations, it is estimated that recruitment of Dalits and Adivasis alone would be slashed by 50-60%! I only see further abrogation of the Poona Pact through whataboutery, lies and pure political bullying. To paraphrase Kuffir, India is entering a phase of Jim Caste laws – where TOP is only the wedge that opens the political spectrum to further subjugate and undermine laws and legal systems hard won by DBA communities!
“To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.” – el-Hajj Mallik el-Shabbazz
Bobby Kunhu is a lawyer, researcher and writer.