Saturday, January 2, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Lesser citizens

Volume 27 - Issue 01 :: Jan. 02-15, 2010
from the publishers of THE HINDU • Contents


Lesser citizens


Reservation has had some effect on the conditions of the oppressed
sections, including Dalits, but strong government action aimed at
their emancipation is yet to come.


A PROTEST BY medical students in New Delhi in May 2006 against the
government proposal to make 50 per cent reservation for backward
classes in the education sector and in government jobs. The
anti-reservation protests that year went on for weeks, but the
government came up with the Central Educational Institution
(Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, which provided reservation in
the institutions of higher learning.

THE first 25 years of Frontline covered a turbulent period in the
political, economic and social histories of the country. The period
witnessed several incidents and events of far-reaching consequences.
These include the brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi; India's
adoption of neoliberal economic policies; the demolition of the Babri
Masjid and the consolidation of Hindutva forces; the growing assertion
of Dalits inspired by the Ambedkar centenary celebrations; the
extension of quota benefits to larger sections as recommended by the
Mandal Commission, the Sachar Committee, and so on; a spurt in
incidents of violence against Dalits and tribal people; and attempts
to empower Dalits and women under the panchayat raj system. The last
three are considered significant in terms of social justice.


In a large country ridden with poverty, unemployment and disparities
in income, reservation of government jobs and seats in educational
institutions is an effective instrument for ensuring social justice.
The Constitution provided for reservation in education and employment
for the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes in
proportion to their share in the population. This provision was made
as part of positive discrimination in view of the historical
discrimination and social injustice faced by these sections. An
amendment to the Constitution in the early years of its operation
empowered the States to provide reservation for the educationally and
socially backward classes in educational institutions and government

Gohana attack HARYANA

The Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai appointed a
commission headed by the parliamentarian Brindeshwari Prasad Mandal to
identify "the socially and educationally backward" and consider their
case for reservation. (Article 340 of the Constitution enables the
President to appoint a commission to investigate the conditions of
socially and educationally backward classes and the difficulties under
which they labour and to recommend steps that should be taken by the
Union and State governments to improve their condition.)

Although Mandal submitted his report as early as 1980, it gathered
dust for nearly a decade. It was Prime Minister V.P. Singh who took
the initiative in 1990 to implement the commission's recommendations,
as promised by the ruling National Front during its election campaign.
He announced in Delhi on December 6, just four days after he was sworn
in as Prime Minister, that his government would implement the Mandal
Commission recommendations and that both Hindu and non-Hindu Other
Backward Classes, together accounting for 52 per cent of the
population, would be given 27 per cent reservation.

Khagaria killings BIHAR

The announcement triggered instant protests, mostly from "upper caste"
students. Protesters, who included over 3,000 university students,
staged demonstrations and stopped traffic in many places. Violence was
reported from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. The
next move from V.P. Singh came only on August 13, 1990, when he issued
a notification for the OBC reservation, which was also met with a
series of agitations. Notwithstanding legal battles against the scheme
on one pretext or another, the system has managed to survive.

The next significant move in respect of reservation came in 2006. It
was the Central Educational Institution (Reservation in Admission)
Act, 2006. It provided for the extension of reservation to the
prestigious institutions of higher learning. The Act is a significant
legislative measure – for the first time, Parliament recognised,
through a law, the need for reserving seats in higher educational
institutions as an expedient and necessary measure. The Supreme Court
has stayed the operation of the Act in respect of Other Backward
Classes pending the final disposal of certain petitions. The court
also clarified that the operation of the relevant section to the
Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes had not been stayed. The
Mandal Commission report pointed out that mere reservation of seats in
educational institutions or government jobs would not solve the
problems of OBCs. It recommended many other initiatives, such as the
intensification of land reforms, extension of credit facilities to
deprived sections, clearance of backlogs in respect of poverty
alleviation programmes, development initiatives, and measures to
spread education. A notable point in this context is that most of
those who come under the OBC category live in villages, something that
administrators and political leaders simply ignore.

Khap panchayat HARYANA

In recent years, some State governments granted separate reservation
for Muslims and Christians in the OBC quota. In Tamil Nadu, this has
been done by enacting a law, in response to representations from
people belonging to these two communities. The law was based on the
recommendations of the State Backward Classes Commission. Another
reservation-related step taken by some State governments was the
creation of sub-quotas for Dalit sub-castes such as Arunthathiyars and
Chakkiliyars (in Tamil Nadu), who are the worst sufferers of
untouchability, in the 18-20 per cent quota for Dalits. In Tamil Nadu,
the State government, through a resolution, has provided for a 3 per
cent sub-quota for some sub-sects from the existing 18 per cent
reservation for the Scheduled Castes. The percentage, however, changes
from State to State depending upon the Dalit share in the population.
People belonging to these sub-castes mostly serve as sanitation

Sixty years after Independence, reservation has not done much to
elevate these hapless people to any higher position in society.
Despite tremendous developments in science and technology, and in
violation of a Supreme Court order, the Centre and the State
governments have failed to bring an end to the practice of manual
scavenging and to rehabilitate those engaged in it in decent jobs

Dalit rally DELHI

Though reservation has substantially benefited large sections, it must
be remembered that with sections of people remaining outside this
safety net, ensuring social justice to all will continue to be a
distant dream. The disinvestment policy under the neoliberal regime
has posed a serious threat to those employed in scores of public
sector undertakings (PSUs). The dismantling of PSUs and the steadily
falling state investment in employment-generating industries are
posing even more serious challenges to the system. More and more
people are made to be dependent on jobs in private establishments,
which are in no mood to introduce reservation. This has only resulted
in increasing the number of the unemployed in the country. Adding to
this is the closure of a number of factories and the resultant spurt
in the number of the jobless.

In the case of Dalits, the situation is worse, particularly because of
what Dalit leaders describe as "tardy" implementation of reservation.
Dalit activists complain of discrimination against Dalits in this
policy of "positive discrimination". Bureaucrats from the "oppressor
castes" do not show any genuine interest in implementing reservation.
A large number of posts under the quota remain unfilled, and
upper-caste officials show the least interest in clearing backlogs.
This only proves that reservation in employment and education is not
enough to bring about any big change in raising the social status of
Dalits. Dalits on the payroll of private employers presumably suffer a
much worse form of discrimination.

Tribal homes torched by Salwa Judum activists in Dantewada, a file
photograph. Tribal residents of the Chhattisgarh forests are the worst
victims of the fight between the Salwa Judum and the naxalites.

A shocking expose in recent years is how Dalits, numbering more than
22 crore in the country, were taken for a ride by the governments at
the Centre and in the States in the matter of allotment of funds for
improving their lot. The Centre and the State governments failed to
implement faithfully the Special Component Plan (SCP), now known as
the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP). The SCP was supposed to be in
operation for the past over 30 years. Because of the failure of the
Ministries to allot money for Dalit-related schemes in proportion to
their share in the population, Dalits, according to one estimate,
could have lost a whopping Rs.3,75,000 crore in the last 25 years.
("Plan and prejudice", Frontline, October 19, 2007). This shows that
even Ministers and highly placed officials cannot claim to be free
from prejudice against Dalits.

It is not surprising that the outlawed practice of untouchability is
very much alive in the country, taking several new forms, and
atrocities against Dalits have become almost a daily affair in most
places. The 1990s saw a steep rise in atrocities against Dalits across
the country. The manifestation of "upper caste" prejudice against
Dalits is now more cruel and vulgar than in the past. However, one can
also see a qualitative shift in the response of Dalits to the physical
and verbal assaults on them. Dalits appeared determined to resist
these, apparently inspired by the nationwide celebrations of the birth
centenary of Ambedkar in 1991. They began to hit back. The caste-Hindu
response to this Dalit assertion has also been manifesting itself in
even more cruel ways. The police force, mostly packed with members of
non-Dalit castes, often side with the attackers.

Human rights activists and political observers say caste-based
violence against Dalits cannot be contained unless the police are
impartial and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act is effectively used against the guilty. The situation
that Dalits find themselves in has been aggravated by the economic
downslide brought about by the policies of an insensitive,
market-driven, neoliberal regime in the past 25 years. The period saw
the emergence of powerful Dalit leaders in almost all States in which
Dalit concentration is substantial, but not all could succeed to any
great extent in consolidating their base, maybe because of their need
to depend on bigger parties. Also, they did not have an agenda that
could radically transform the social and economic condition of Dalits.


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