The Fight To Become Backward
On the 5th of July, the High Court of Punjab & Haryana pulled up the Government of Haryana over the issue of rape committed during the JAT quota agitation at Murthal last February. The Court asserted that many rapes had been committed, a charge that the Government did not deny. It is said that several women were stripped naked and sexually assaulted during the agitation. This happened just less than 90 days before the next quota agitation wherein several public properties worth crores of rupees were damaged by the JATs. The Government had to deploy para military forces against its own citizens to prevent further conflict.
In less than two years, there have been similar disturbances in society due to violence related to being called ‘backward’. In early February 2016, the Kappus in Andhra Pradesh staged an agitation seeking ‘backward class’ status. Railway lines were damaged and other public road transport systems were burnt down. Similarly, the ‘Patels’ took to streets last year, with their sword-yielding ‘young leader’ Hardik Patel threatening the Government if they were not given the ‘Backward class’ status. Justice J.D. Pardiwala of the High Court of Gujarat had to face the wrath of politicians when he spoke against reservation. As many as 58 MPs moved a notice for impeaching him, the first time for a conduct not amounting to misuse of office or impropriety.
There is a wrong notion that all caste based reservation is aimed at uplifting the victims of ‘historical’ caste oppression. If anybody speaks against the reservation system, it is taken either as a remark against empowerment of the oppressed or as a part of the ‘feudal mind set’. But legally speaking, there is a glaring difference between the caste-based reservation system aimed at uplifting the ‘oppressed’ and the one aimed at advancement of ‘socially and educationally backward’.
Historically oppressed castes who were subjected to abhorrent practices like untouchability have been listed as ‘Scheduled castes’ by the President of India (read: Central Government) with respect to the ‘States and Union Territories', in consultation with the Governor (read: the State Government concerned). These are castes that are fighting oppression and inequality even today. This is apparent as community walls, two-tumbler system, and honour killings are still prevalent. Constitutional and other Privileges extended to them should be beyond any question at least till the mindset of people changes.
However, the other set of communities to which special provisions and privileges are extended by law are the ‘Backward classes’ to which JATs, Patels, Kapus and others seek inclusion. The Constitution of India classifies them as ‘Socially and Educationally backward’ for the purpose of prohibition of discrimination in general and as ‘backward class of citizens…not adequately represented’ in the matter of employment.
In the case of Indra Sawhaney Vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court had directed the Government of India to constitute a permanent Commission to study and investigate ‘backwardness’, the over-inclusion and under-inclusion of groups in the list of backward classes. The National Commission for backward classes Act, 1993 was then enacted to establish the Commission to recommend the inclusion of under-represented, and the exclusion of over represented from the list of ‘backward classes’.
Shockingly, according to the official figure presented by the Commission, it has decided 1221 cases. But ever since its inception in the last two decades, several hundreds of classes of persons have been added to the list of backward classes while not even one has been removed. If reservation to the ‘under represented’ classes had given them enough representation in the last two decades, they should have now achieved exclusion from the 'Backwards' list. This should either mean that reservation to did not give them the desired social results or the list is not made objectively. In other words, political considerations determines the ‘backwardness’ of a class of people.
In Tamil Nadu, members of the historically powerful caste that led to the formation of the Justice Party in the early 20th century (to beat the ‘Brahmin dominated’ Indian National Congress) is still classified as ‘Backward’. This caste had members in the legislature at all times even before independence. Some of them were English educated and were conferred with various titles including ‘Sir’ during the British regime.
Similarly, in his book ‘India after Gandhi’, Ramchandra Guha lists down the caste riots between certain ‘Land-owning communities’ and the ‘Land-tilling Dalits’ in the late 20th century due to the suppression of the former by the latter. The dominating caste that he mentions is still enjoying ‘Most Backward Class’ status in Tamil Nadu. Members of this caste own land, have businesses and dominate electoral politics in central-Southern Tamil Nadu even today. Irrespective of parties, only candidates from this caste win elections in the region.
This is also the case with three other castes (or cluster of sub-castes) that dominate the electoral politics in the Southern tip of Tamil Nadu, Kongu Mandalam (Western Tamil Nadu) and Northern Tamil Nadu respectively. These are also the castes that are also allegedly responsible for honour killing of Dalit youngsters ‘Ilavarasan’ and ‘Shankar’ in 2013 and 2016. Except the Chief Minister and a few others, the 15th legislative assembly in the ‘234 member’ legislature is also dominated by a overwhelming majority of those communities that have been included as ‘Backward’ and ‘Most Backward’ for more than two decades now. This was the case even in the 13th and 14th legislative assemblies.
As more number of communities are included in the ‘Backward Classes’ list without any communities being excluded, the purpose for which the reservation system is brought in place will be defeated. This is because the privileges granted will then be enjoyed only by the powerful castes in the lot. The ‘Backward’ list should be revised objectively on merits to exclude those classes of persons who have now achieved ‘adequate representation’ over the years, and include those whom have lost adequate representation. If political considerations take over in determining who is ‘backward’ for the purpose of privileges, then a socially just India a distant dream.