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Dear Privileged Lower Caste Folks, It's Time We Gave Up Our Quotas

26/02/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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INDRANIL MUKHERJEE via Getty Images
A man inspects a locket with an image of Bhimrao Ambedkar for sale on Ambedkar's 124th birth anniversary near the historic Chaitya Bhoomi memorial in Mumbai on April 14, 2015. Ambedkar known as the messiah of the Dalits and one of the key authors of India's constitution, fought for equal rights for the low-caste during and after British colonial rule, which ended in 1947. Dalits, once known as 'untouchables,' is the term used for those on the lowest rung of India's rigid Hindu caste hierarchy. In recent years things have started to change with the government taking steps to improve the livelihood of the Dalits by improving education and creating job opportunities. AFP PHOTO/ Indranil MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Violence and hooliganism won once again in India. Just a few days after 'nationalist' lawyers assaulted female students and elderly professors with impunity inside court premises in Delhi, and largely got away with it, agitators for 'Jat reservation' wreaked havoc in northern India. They received no punishment whatsoever for the loss of life and property caused. Such violent demands by affluent castes (Marathas, Patels, Jats) for caste-based reservations -- or their strange desire to be declared 'backward' -- are part of the vicious cycle of India's reservation policy: Dalits received reservations to lift themselves from centuries of higher-caste oppression in social life, and now higher castes desire reservations to lift themselves up from 'decades of lower-caste domination' in education and government jobs.

As was obvious during the Patels' agitation, people from upper castes resent what they consider the unjust misuse of reservations by affluent sections of the lower castes.

Whether this domination is real or perceived is a matter for experts to investigate. How to resolve this intricate issue is for politicians and intellectuals to work upon (although the coercive violence used in recent agitations must be censured). But we do need to ask ourselves, as citizens of India, if we have played our part well. Much social friction and hostility occurs due to building up of resentment over time. As was obvious during the Patels' agitation, people from upper castes resent what they consider the unjust misuse of reservations by affluent sections of the lower castes. The most common and spontaneous argument provided against this is: well, what about the injustice suffered for hundreds of years by the backward castes?

In my view (especially as an individual also belonging to a backward caste, but non-Dalit), that argument is indeed valid when used by lower-caste families who are still oppressed and live a life of unjust destitution. But with the funny way India runs, these people actually seldom get a chance even to speak. Those who do speak are often affluent and socially powerful lower-caste people -- those who have already come out of such destitution. It would also be appropriate if the latter spoke for the former, but as it turns out, the latter speak principally for their own sake. In my eyes, one of the most shameful aspects about our country is how well-to-do lower-caste families, despite having enormous privileges, still insist on utilizing their 'quota concessions'.

I find ethically wrong the argument that previous injustice is just cause for present injustice.

One embarrassing aspect about our education system is how, until the 10th to 12th classes, it promotes intermingling of children belonging to all castes, but how after that, through the reservation policy for admissions further ahead, it sows the seeds of acrimony among students. I remember how some 'reserved category' students from my class would be 'chilled-out' during the intense phase of studying for medical entrance exams, casually mentioning they need not study 'too much' to get admission. For instance, someone from a higher caste who scored 180 marks out of 200 could not expect to get into the top medical colleges. Yet, a person from a lower caste could easily get a place with just 130-140 marks. For a young student, 17-18 years old, who dedicates an entire year to work hard for their dreams, this particular anomaly is difficult to comprehend -- and almost impossible to forget if they become its victim.

I find ethically wrong the argument that previous injustice is just cause for present injustice. The upper caste student is left wondering what wrong she did personally to deserve this, and the lower caste one (when their families are well-to-do) is clearly (mis)using reservation for personal gain rather than community upliftment. Few safeguards are in place to prevent stuff like this from happening on a large scale, like the 'creamy layer' clause -- which also is unfortunately gamed by wealthy lower-caste families to, well, show themselves to be legally poor.

While caste-based reservations are indeed a necessary social justice policy, we must be vigilant not to let it transform into a vendetta policy against upper castes. In that, privileged lower-caste individuals have the most crucial role to play. Let us give up our quota privileges, folks. We know we don't have a moral right over them.

By helping dilute the general grudge against us, [giving up quotas] will decrease the number and intensity of future violent agitations for caste-based reservations.

Indeed we might not achieve anything great in the short term, but we should not underestimate the eventual additive impact of the majority of us doing it. For starters, by helping dilute the general grudge against us, this will decrease the number and intensity of future violent agitations for caste-based reservations. In the current damning national environment of resentment and hostility, let us light the candle of honesty and camaraderie, and give birth to a positive wave on the street hoping it soon reaches the doors of our policymakers and politicians.

Let us also give out a message to fellow upper caste citizens that we are not their enemies, that we wish for the government to treat them and us as equals, and not us as 'more equal'. We know that if privileged upper caste folks had made a similar gesture centuries ago, we the people of India would not have been so divided today. But just because they did not do it doesn't mean we shouldn't too: let us be the bigger person here. We possess such an extraordinary opportunity now to finally pull the plug on the vicious circle -- we surely must grab it.

For once let us unclutter our minds from dubious considerations like practicality and pragmatism, and do the right thing simply because it is right. We owe this to the nation, and to the future generations of Indians.

​​If you are/you know a reserved caste individual who refrained from using their quota privilege, we would like to know ​their story. Please email the author at 'kkbjmc@gmail.com'.

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