Wednesday, June 2, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Choose your caste

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Choose your caste

Get maximum mileage from vote-bank politics

Jug Suraiya

Will you reveal your caste when the census-taker comes calling? Those
who advocate the caste-census do so on the principle that it is better
to know than not to know, and that knowledge helps us to empower
ourselves and others. According to this argument, the more information
we can gather on regional concentrations and percentages of caste, the
better equipped we'll be to take focused affirmative action to counter
discrimination and social and economic backwardness.
This seems to be a reasonable enough argument. The problem is that,
ever since the adoption of the Mandal commission's recommendations by
the V P Singh-led government in 1990, caste conflict has escalated,
not declined. The system of quotas and reservations in jobs and
educational institutions – originally meant only for Dalits and tribal
people, and that too for a limited period – has with the inclusion of
OBCs turned the traditional caste system upside down: often it's more
advantageous to belong to a so-called 'lower' caste rather than to a
so-called 'upper' caste.
This reverse caste-discrimination, championed by its votaries as
being just retribution for millennia of upper-caste repression, has in
fact engendered antagonisms within the ranks of the OBCs themselves,
of which there are 1,963 categories in the country. Competitive
casteism (i belong to a more backward caste than you, so i need more
quotas and reservations than you) and the vote-bank politics that it
creates can result only in dividing our society even more, socially
and politically.
Supposedly 'OBC' parties like Mulayam Singh's SP and Lalu Prasad's
RJD could well find themselves splitting to represent smaller and
smaller caste groupings, each vying with the other for a larger
allotment of seats on the gravy train of caste. Will India end up
having over 1,900 political groupings, each claiming to promote the
legitimate interests of a particular disadvantaged caste?
In fact, the final count of such caste-based proliferation could be
much higher. The so-called Muslim vote – which earlier was seen to
encompass the entire community – is also said to be showing signs of
internal divisiveness, with 'backward' Muslims, like the Mews of
Rajasthan, demanding SC status. Will 'backward' Muslims – who
converted to Islam to escape the lower-caste identity thrust upon them
by the Hindu community – demand and get special and separate political
representation? And if they do – and what political neta can resist a
new captive vote bank? – what about 'backward' Christians, 'backward'
Sikhs, and even 'backward' Buddhists, who will turn Ambedkar's dreams
of Dalit liberation upside-down?
Even as Nandan Nilekani's team is trying to create a cohesive and
equitable Indian identity by giving every Indian a Unique
Identification Number, the caste census will inevitably create further
cracks and fissures in our already fragmented polity. A typical case
of the right hand of the sarkar not knowing – or even caring – what
the left hand is doing.
Instead of trying to identify people by their caste, it would make
more sense for the census to identify peoples' economic status. Surely
BPLs – people who exist below the poverty line – are more deserving of
affirmative action and positive discrimination than OBCs, or even
SC/STs? Or are they? Unfortunately for BPLs, unlike OBCs and SC/STs,
they don't represent a captive vote bank. With the result, they
literally don't count with our netas, during a census or at any other
So what's your best option? Choose which caste you want to belong
to for the census. Opt for the caste that will get you maximum mileage
in terms of quotas. Caste is not your destiny; it is your vote bank
clout. Choose it wisely.


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