This whole piece of writing is going to be based on personal experiences and what I have seen going around in my Brahmin family since I was a wee kid. They are in no way representative of the entire country, and also contain my personal take on why Reservation and especially academic reservation is painted as the evil of the society, with offhanded remarks and not thinking about what happened in the past. Blaming something is the easy way out, trying to figure out why that problem exists needs thought and time.
Vol 1: Seeds Sown
While appearing for my High School board exams, my Dad would repeatedly say this one thing to me which was “We need to work harder than everyone else, we don’t have the cushion provided to other people”. This is just a paraphrased version, but the gist was, I need to work harder because I’m in the General category. At the same time, when the topic came up about a friend of mine who wasn’t as focused as his mother would like him to be, my parents again said, “He can afford to relax, he has a caste certificate”.
To a 15-year-old, this injustice didn’t fit right, and just like how people blame reservation for putting a brake on the progress of the country by stunting the growth of so-called meritorious people, I started to despise this. I got decent enough marks in all my exams post my High School board exams, but at each big exam, the same statement was brandished to strengthen by the resolve of preparing.
Just like most people, I never asked WHY, why was it like this? Did I have to work harder just because of my surname or my caste? This was the opposite of what I had read in my school civics book that “Every Indian citizen is equal”. I started to form resentment just like my Upper Caste family without realizing what the real equation was. It was easy to have something to blame someone from the family who didn’t get a seat in the college of their dreams, instead of appreciating the effort put in by the child.
Vol 2: Probing Deeper
As I grew up, read more, consumed different sources of media, and started developing my own logic base and belief system, I finally asked the question, WHY does it exist in the first place? Obviously, the counterargument always was that reservations based on caste should be abolished and reservations based on economic power should be drafted. Again these arguments were made by people belonging to Upper Castes. There was no representation of the people who actually were benefited from this scheme and were left out of any debates or conversations altogether.
Coming across Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as something more than the “Architect of the Indian Constitution” and reading about his struggles, what he had done for the Untouchables and his fight against the caste system on which the entire Indian society is based was eye-opening. Schools had reduced his entire life’s work to one single sentence.
Vol 3: Answering the WHY question
If someone gets to this question, I really applaud them because the way people have created notions about how the reservation is openly abused and puts General category students at disadvantage is difficult to shake off, at least it was for me. I had to really dig deep and understand the basic caste system, which apparently is mentioned in the Vedas and Upanishads, the Hindu gospels if a parallel has to be drawn.
The caste system is not only a division of labor but also the division of laborers. A cold hard-coded rule which has to be conformed to whether they make sense or not which maintains the homeostatic environment in the society.
Also called Chaturvarna or Four castes, it is comprised of four castes named Brahmins — the priest caste, Kshatriyas — the warrior caste, Vaishyas — the trader caste, and the Shudras — the lowest caste of all. Below these castes in its hierarchical structure are placed the Untouchables.
This being hierarchical in nature, the word equality often had no meaning when it is practiced. The Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas often would impose tyranny on the Shudras and the Untouchables. There was a systemic approach used by the higher caste to make sure the lower caste don’t have access to basic necessities like education, clean homes, clean water, in short, no means to change their life for the better. This continued for hundreds and thousands of years and the upper castes kept accumulating and for the lack of a better word, all the resources required to lead a fulfilling life to themselves.
The Untouchables had to often live on the outskirts of the town, not mingle with people from a higher caste, not admit their children into schools, do odd jobs of cleaning or hunting for livelihood and the worst of all, if anyone rebelled against this system, they were exiled from the community. Humans being social animals and wanting to live in harmony had to abide by these draconian laws laid out by fellow humans just to survive.
Post Independence when the constitution was being drafted, the vision of New India laid out by its leaders was based on scientific temperament and free will of people. It was hence essential that the system of Chaturvarnya which was deeply imprinted into the minds of the people be somehow destroyed. A lot of Social reformers took this up but to no avail which left the policymakers no option but to safeguard the rights of the marginalized communities by assuring them a chance at a better life, an equal life, irrespective of their ancestral profession.
This was, in simple, the reason, why Reservation was introduced. It was initially only supposed to be around only for 10 years. The leaders seemed to be overly optimistic and estimated that in about 10 years, this grave social issue would be resolved, but alas it is still kicking about.
Vol 4: Hypocritical Foul Calling
By the narrative established so far, the upper castes, also called Savarnas have accumulated generational wealth over the years by abusing the inherently flawed system and crushing the dissent among the lower castes if any. This generational wealth and power are still yielded by several people who have no problem in pursuing education abroad when they don’t secure a seat in the country, yet are quick to blame those who need reservation.
Going by personal experience, my ancestors were all in the priest caste in the Konkan region of Western India. The closest genial line I can trace is to my great grandfather who lived in Dharwad, Karnataka. The family before that had a lot of land in Pune, in Konkan, and also in other parts of Western Maharashtra. The part where it all went down south for these priests can be highlighted by two factors
1. Population Explosion
Analyzing my family tree, one thing is clear that, there was no concept of family planning. People had children in double digits either to give birth to a lot of sons who could carry the family name forward and due to lack of medical expertise, a lot more babies were conceived in anticipation that the newborn may or may not live past its infancy.
This primal approach to make sure that your species carries on living came to bite the families in the butt. The wealth was divided into smaller and smaller parts with each generation coming into the picture and no one felt they had enough which led to years and years of court cases and family disputes over property and family land.
The whole fraternity became so caught up in these trivialities that the bigger picture was completely missed and everyone became myopic in nature. The effects of this we still see today.
The amassed wealth by the ancestors was either not taken care of and not looked after or it was recklessly and foolishly gambled and given away like it was nothing.
My own great grandfather allegedly started out a cloth venture in his days but due to lack of foresight or even business acumen, all the wealth he had received as a part of his share of the ancestral property was more or less gambled away.
Further his children, which included my grandfather had to live through some really tough days just to make ends meet. They spent their youth doing odd jobs ad further all their adult life working hard to provide a good life to their children and make sure the same mistakes weren’t repeated.
Given these circumstances, the advantage held over the lower castes like the Untouchables and the Shudras was willfully given up by those who possessed it. Yet these people call foul when a Dalit pursues his education by calling them genetically not cut out for academics.
Vol 5: Denial
People still live in denial that caste doesn’t exist anymore. If you ask anyone staying in any of the metropolitan cities in India would probably say that caste doesn’t play any role in their day-to-day life and yet while looking for suitable grooms and brides, these people are the ones to put their caste preferences in bold.
Moving to rural India where still the Dalits have to live on the outskirts of the city and are harassed by the politicians and the local leaders all the time except just before an election would have a different story to tell. These people are still forbidden from interacting with the upper caste families in the village, not given permission to enter temples because they are considered impure and often coerced into pursuing the same “ancestral” occupations like manual scavenging.
We need to open up our eyes to the fact that we conveniently play the caste card when it works in our favor and it is said to be “absolved” when someone is critical about it.
Vol 6: What Can be Done?
Academic seats need to be increased first and foremost. There are cases where people bagging AIR 1 in national level exams can’t find seats at the top institutes of the country and the solution to this can’t be reducing the reservation. We need to cut the cloth according to our size and not cut our size according to the cloth available.
There is also a lot of politics done around this, the Maratha Reservation Movement is a prime example. These policies are often abused to gain votes from different demographies and when the time comes to implement the promises made, no one is able to follow through.
Having said this, the problem being complex, there is no simple solution to it. People will continue to debate on whether the reservation is really necessary and continue to have their own views and opinions about it, but we need to talk more about it from a balanced perspective and understand why the lower castes of the Caste system had to devise the Reservation policy in the first place.
Hating blindly and not understanding the socio-political history behind it will just make us more ignorant as a society and we shall continue to lag behind in terms of economic development. For fast economic development, there needs to be a radical societal change in India.