THE OFFICIAL (& UNOFFICIAL) STORY

O'Brien, Tom

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN INDIA Recaste-ing a fated past LUCY KOMISAR Affirmative action, which has caused great controversy in the United States, has this year provoked riots and violence in...

...The national constitution established a commitment of preferential treatment for Untouchables, who are 16 percent of the population, and also for tribals, non-Hindus who were isolated and left out of national development and are 8 percent of the population...
...To reserve just about half the seats in an educational institution without much public debate invites a backlash, especially in a society of scarcity where violence has become the only medium of dialogue...
...The Hindu religion teaches that one's status in life is preordained LUCY KOMISAR is a freelance journalist who writes about foreign affairs...
...Caste in India is technically a matter of social and not economic class, but the lower castes are generally also economically deprived, and critics say the caste system was instituted to give religious sanction to economic inequalities...
...Some critics fear that affirmative action will have dangerous consequences...
...Shourie said, "People have acquired a vested interest in proclaiming themselves as backward...
...Andre Beteille, head of the sociology department of the Delhi School of Economics, has argued that the quotas for parliament and state assemblies make sense because those representatives are supposed to speak for their constituencies...
...In spite of resentments, and though the Untouchables have been the targets of caste violence over land and other economic issues, there has been a general consensus that the country should do something for them and the tribals...
...29 November 1985: 671...
...AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN INDIA Recaste-ing a fated past LUCY KOMISAR Affirmative action, which has caused great controversy in the United States, has this year provoked riots and violence in India that have left more than two hundred dead, hundreds more injured, and 10,000 homeless...
...One solution to the problem is to change the standards for affirmative action, "Why can't there be a balanced approach taking into consideration merit as well as the economic aspect...
...In time, they will make their contributions...
...The problem in India is both similar and different from that of the United States...
...The Hindustan Times observed, "The real danger in such reservation for the backward classes is that the upper castes would exploit its obvious unfairness to attack the very principle of reservation for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes...
...Now, in an economy of short29 November 1985: 669 ages where there are not enough jobs or school places, the conflict has exploded...
...said Inder Mohan, another leader of the civil liberties union, who works on behalf of exploited laborers...
...This is creating a backlash among caste Hindus which will lead to divisions in the future...
...The real need, Beteille has written, is for mass literacy and primary education (only 20 percent of Untouchable children are literate), but that it was doubtless cheaper to provide higher education to a selected few...
...She has recently returned from six weeks spent in India...
...You can't make progress if such large numbers of people remain backward, so they have to be given incentives...
...Shourie said the government should increase scholarships and extra coaching for disadvantaged groups but should phase down the reservations...
...We must replace caste as the criterion for determination by economic criteria...
...Added to the places reserved for Untouchables and tribals, that made a quota of 49 percent...
...As with minorities and women, lower castes in India have been looked on as intrinsically inferior...
...The latest riots started in February in the state of Gujarat on the west coast of India between Bombay and Delhi...
...It also poses questions about whether such tactics can be used to raise the underprivileged masses in developing countries...
...Although most of them are in lower level jobs, a few hold important positions in civil service and government, including that of cabinet minister...
...Inder K. Gujral, a former minister now in the opposition, predicted that the politically motivated approach in increasing reservations would only lead to further serious problems in a sub-continent already teeming with them...
...Job reservation has diverted attention from the masses of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes who are too poor and lowly to be candidates.'' It has attended to the middle classes of those groups as a way of buying temporary peace...
...The Untouchables and tribals never presented a real threat to those in power...
...The only sure area of gain has been for those political parties which gained votes by promulgating the rules...
...They were banned from entering Hindu temples or taking water from village wells...
...Beteille remarked in an i nterview, " On the whole, it has made a difference to the Untouchable's image of himself and the public image of them...
...However, the magnitude of the problem there are 100 million Untouchables living in a feudal economy creates huge differences of scale and problems of integration into the society...
...By the end of three months, 70 people had been killed...
...Student beneficiaries got scholarships, free books, free meals, and lodging...
...Some of the states extended the benefits to what the Indians call "other backward castes," low caste groups above the Untouchables...
...He wrote,' 'The emergence of such an elite is indeed the main objective of reservation policy, the expectation being that this very group would strengthen and give hope to the weaker sections it has sprung from and would also make a dent in the exclusive attitudes of the rest of society...
...Arun Shourie, general secretary of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, has said, "The more advantaged hog all the benefits...
...The government calls them scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, a reference to the commitment to them specified in the constitution...
...The state government, in a ploy to gain votes in the March local elections, had raised the quota for backward castes in medical and engineering schools and government jobs from 10 to 28 percent...
...However, writing in Seminar magazine, he pointed out that the reservations for jobs are so few in comparison to the eligible populations that they can't have any effect on moving large numbers of people out of poverty...
...And there have been some real benefits...
...Shourie said the groups are manipulated by leaders who fan their grievances in order to blackmail the politicians seeking their votes...
...and you have to pay the price for it...
...Government officials acknowledge there are abuses...
...The situation inevitably calls forth comparisons with the affirmative action program for minorities and women in the United States...
...Others are political leaders who trade their control of votes for lucrative advantages...
...It said the results would be dangerous...
...by good or bad acts committed in a past incarnation...
...To touch them was to be polluted, and Brahmins would wash if an Untouchable's shadow fell on them...
...However, the move by some states to give preferences to the so-called "backward castes," has unleashed the anger and violence of those higher up in the hierarchy who see their own privileges slipping away...
...Much of the resentment which has resulted in the populace is from the perception that the rewards of the present system go to the elites, the headmen of the communities who deliver the votes, and not the impoverished masses...
...They also see such benefits as politically motivated in a society where voting is done on caste lines...
...In the nearby state of Madhya Pradesh, last November the state government had increased the quotas for backward castes in professional schools from 30 to 55 percent, and had also decided to give them 25 percent of government jobs...
...In fact, a study several years ago showed that since the policy began in Gujarat, scheduled castes and tribes had taken only 37 of 857 reserved seats in medical colleges because they lacked qualified candidates...
...But the upper castes, who had acquiesced to reservations for the Untouchables and tribals, began to fear that the "backward castes'' in effect middle castes who have increasing political influence and decide the fate of the governments in the northern Indian belt were pushing them out of their advantageous positions...
...The disorders spread there, including the ill-fated city of Bhopal where more than two hundred anti-reservation protesters were injured when police charged their demonstration...
...A government spokesman, who declined to be quoted by name, said, "A large number of people who have been promoted are not suitable for their jobs, but they have got to be promoted under the constitution and law...
...He said that cooption of this elite would pave the way for greater integration...
...They have increased in recent years as the lower castes became economic and political competitors of those who had traditionally been privileged...
...The system is rife with corruption...
...Still, the rate of literacy and socio-economic progress of the Untouchables and tribals lags behind the rest of the nation...
...Students and workers of the middle and upper castes have taken to the streets to protest state laws that set quotas and provide preferential treatment for lower castes in government jobs and professional schools...
...THESE EVENTS are forcing people to take a hard look at the reservation system, and many liberals who are sympathetic to the idea of affirmative action say it has been improperly thought out and that it has gone too far...
...That commitment was translated into a quota system in the federal and state parliaments, in higher education, and in government jobs...
...Once they move into the world of the upper castes, they forget those they left behind at the same time that they have a vested interest in perpetuating the division in society...
...Students, teachers, and government employees took to the streets...
...Some people have obtained false certificates to get benefits...
...Some Untouchables have moved up the economic ladder...
...After police joined the rioters, the army was called in...
...But the government argues that the measures are necessary...
...He said it would spread from the states to be a national issue "because people who had advantages over the centuries are now the dispossessed...
...The Hindustan Times editorialized in February that "in extending the reservation system to the backward classes, both the state administrations, not exactly known for their pro-poor inclinations, have practiced the old and venerable caste politics...
...They still go to inferior schools and, when they reach university, they are looked down on by the other students...
...Others, more concerned with the situation of the deprived, say the programs just don't work...
...Nirmal Mukarji, professor at the Center for Policy Research, even argues in favor of the creation of an Untouchable elite...
...One has got to accept the situation that a certain number of people have to move up so at least their children can have a better start," he explained...
...Buses were set ablaze, police were pelted with stones, strikes closed schools, shops and markets shut some out of solidarity, some out of fear mobs ranged through the towns stabbing and looting, and 30,000 rioters set fire to a slum colony...
...Caste tensions and conflicts have long been part of Indian society...
...After India became independent in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi and others pressed for a national commitment to uplift the Untouchables whom he named "Harijans," the children of God...
...Many of the beneficiaries are the children of men with good positions in government...
...Many say simply that it should be restricted to the Untouchables and tribals...
...A govCommonweal: 670 ernment spokesman said that high caste Brahmins had even gotten their children adopted by Untouchables to get them into medical school...
...It has affected the government very badly," he said, "but you have to decide on balance what is good...
...Some states have classified as many as 72 percent of the population as backward, though the courts have ruled that more than 50 percent of posts cannot be reserved...
...Devaraj Urs, former chief minister of the state of Karnataka, argues that, "It is only when government personnel are drawn from the backward classes that there will be effective implementation of socio-economic programs...
...He noted that Muslims and Christians don't benefit from the reservations at all...
...Untouchables could not go to school or hold other than menial positions...
...Hindus are divided into four major castes and dozens of subcastes, with the Brahmins at the top and the Untouchables at the bottom, divisions that for centuries determined what jobs people could hold, whom they would marry, where they would live...
...Job and university quotas for Untouchables and tribals there and elsewhere have gone unfilled for years because programs don't provide the remedial training that would prepare the disadvantaged for the reserved places...
...That is indeed happening...
...He has raised the question whether reservations, instead of integrating the Untouchables into society, are having the opposite effect by hardening and perpetuating their identities...
...There are Brahmins who are as poor as Harijans...
...Many people now argue that giving places on quotas that ignore merit will bring down the level of government and the professions...

Vol. 112 • November 1985 • No. 21


 
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