Dharmendra Jore: Reservations on caste

Caste discrimination affects upper and lower caste homes, and has now spread to campuses

Rohith Vemula’s heart-wrenching suicide saw a flurry of action on social media. One of the posts that appeared as response to allegations that Rohith’s death was a case of caste discrimination, should make us think aloud as to why we, as a society, have not been able to eradicate the caste-induced menace.

The Facebook post, originally in Hindi, reads: What does a so-called upper caste person do after waking up in the morning? He reads newspapers over breakfast. Then takes a taxi or hails a rickshaw, rides a bus or travels on a suburban train to reach his office. On the way, he buys himself a cup of tea from a roadside vendor. On the way back home, he buys vegetables and things that his family has asked for from unknown people. The post reads further: And while this person engages himself in these, does he really care to know the caste of a taxi or bus driver, a motorman who ensures his safe travel? Does he refuse to have tea from a vendor who could be a Dalit? We know that the answer to these queries would be a big NO.

However, the writer of the post seems to have missed a crucial part of the upper caste person’s daily life. We have no way to know whether the deletion is deliberate or inadvertent. So let’s try to know what this upper caste office-goer should be thinking about or reacting to when he confronts caste-induced situations at his office. The situations could be very intense if that office has a quota in jobs and promotions. The situation would have another set of people — employees who have availed job and education quotas to make their careers lucrative after struggling early in their unprivileged lives.

We are using government/semi-government office only for a representative purpose. These offices smack of direct or indirect skirmishes between the two social classes. Barbs and racial remarks flow freely when groups of employees — reserved or open category — discuss their office work. Allegations of discrimination are made by both sides. Employees in open category accuse their ‘quota child’ bosses of treating them badly. The employees from reserved category do the same when they report to the non-Dalit bosses. The issue of reservations and meritocracy consumes a lot of talk-time. What is left behind after such skirmishes is hatred and contempt for each other that is then carried home to share with their respective families.

The contagion, with its origin in respective households, has long back spread out to the educational campuses, where innocent students from both sides are subjected to the harsh truth. Upper caste students are not explained the need of quota for uplifting the socially backward and economically weaker strata of the society. A question as to why the people who have made socially, politically and economically big by reaping benefits of quota for generations, should be allowed the facility, hasn’t been answered by any government.

Have we been able to achieve substantially in covering genuinely distressed people under the quota? Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan has triggered a debate yet again (the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had attempted it before), asking for reviewing reservations policy. She should elaborate further, but not create an impression that India does not need reservations any more.

Doing away with caste system at this point in time appears an impossible task. Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh should understand this because their very existence depends on a politically tried and tested caste formula that ensures electoral success. This formula, also called ‘social engineering’, has destructed our social fabric beyond repairs.

If these parties are so concerned about atrocities against Dalits, we should ask them to first shun caste equations that have been dictating selection of poll candidates and allotment of ministerial berths. Will Gandhi, Modi and Mulayam field Dalits from upper caste-dominated constituencies in UP? We would be glad to see that happening.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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