Monday, 2 June 2008

Much Ado about Caste

So the Gurjjars have been on a rampage lately--evidently, they want to be included in the list of Scheduled Castes, so that they also have a chance to get government jobs. Rajasthan saw a lot of violence, and Delhi saw a strike the other day. There are indications that this agitation will also affect neighboring states--Punjab, Gujarat and UP.

I think we need to take a long, hard look at the system of reservations. Has it actually helped castes (or just select families of caste leaders) gain social mobility? Is this mobility greater in urban or rural areas? Has this mobility enabled castes to change status over the last three generations? Is reservation a substitute for a good system of primary and secondary school education for the working classes (urban and rural) ? Has the system of reservation helped people who got jobs in the reserved quota feel more or less professionally competent than their peers from the general category? And this is not something that can be left to the political class, because this class is quite content to throw government money and jobs to the people in an effort to retain power. This is a job that those who now ask for inclusion in lists of SC, ST or OBC groups have to ask themselves.

Based on their findings, they will have to then decide whether or not the system of reservations is working. If only the families of caste leaders have gained social mobility, then there will have to be a cut off from the fourth generation--only three generations of an SC, ST or OBC family can benefit from the reservation system and the fourth generation has to be included in the general category. If it is found that SCs, STs and OBCs based in urban areas benefit more from the reservation system, then the place of residence and education has to be given due weightage. And at the same time, people have to set up schools for their locality--there's no point getting a seat reserved if education itself is unavailable.

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