A dalit (untouchable) was killed. His house was destroyed and his
family, including a 10-year-old, was thrown out. The upper caste
members did not like his audacity to hoist the national flag on the
Independence Day at a disputed property which they had appropriated
The discrimination is the bane of India where the caste prejudiced
Hindus constitute 80 per cent of the population. The story of this
dalit came to light because one TV channel highlighted it. Otherwise,
thousands of dalits undergo similar rigours every day. They face the
arrogance and zulum of upper castes. And there is no light at the end
of the tunnel.
More than sixty years ago, the constitution banned untouchability. The
freedom struggle had promised to break the shackles of the caste
system after independence. First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru even
deleted the column of caste from applications, registers and forms for
admission to schools and entrance examinations. Yet the caste
considerations have not lessened. Mahatama Gandhi, father of the
nation, named the dalit, Harijan (son of God). But the dalits found
the nomenclature too patronizing and preferred to be called dalits.
A social evil or whatever the explanation, the feeling of
discrimination in the Hindu society has not abated. Even today a dalit
bridegroom cannot ride a horse while taking the barat (wedding
procession) to the bride’s place. Roads at many places are closed to
the dalits. As for their habitation, they continue to live in slums in
the urban areas and on outskirts of villages in the rural areas.
Some who claim to speak on behalf of Hindus seldom endeavour to
eliminate the discrimination against the dalits who are also Hindus. I
have not seen the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) criticizing the caste
system although the party is all for the Hindu Rashtriya (state). The
party’s attention is focused on politics, not on social reforms. Its
problem may well be the dictation by RSS, a group of Brahmins, the
Unfortunately, the caste has penetrated the thinking of Muslims and
Christians. The religion of both the communities forbids
discrimination. They preach equality. But when it comes to practice,
they are not different from Hindus. Both of them treat with contempt
the dalits, who embrace Islam or Christianity to escape the caste
hatred of Hindus.
However, there is a case for concessions to such dalits which former
UP chief minister Mayawati, a dalit has suggested. But her faulty is
that she has gone beyond. She wants a quota in promotion of public
servants. The demand has justifiably raised an uproar in the country.
I think that whatever reservations, they should be given at the time
of recruitment. Any reservation during the career would affect the
morale of other caste civil servants, who have come through a tough
competitive examination. The dalits wanting to join civil services
also take the examination but the reservations give them an edge.
The two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, are
supporting Mayawati’s amendment because they have their eyes set on
votes in the 2014 elections. The quantum of reservations has gone up
because the quota has been extended to the Other Backward Classes
(OBC). They too want reservation in promotions. Many others are also
want reservations. This is not possible because of a Supreme Court
judgment. It has fixed 49.5 percent as the maximum limit for
reservations. Even if Mayawati’s amendment is passed by parliament,
the court may consider it unconstitutional.
A constitutional amendment to introduce reservations in promotions is
sought to be passed in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha has already
passed it despite the opposition by the Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi
Party from the OBC.
It appears that the political parties in the opposition had their way
when the ruling Congress party, after putting up a brave fight against
the quota in promotions, caved in. True, the Congress did not have a
majority in the Lok Sabha. But it could have mustered the numbers if
it had stood firm.
The reservations have been spelled out in the constitution for the
dalits and the tribals. But as the Supreme Court has pointed out that
the benefits have been cornered by the creamy layer among the dalits.
So is in the case of OBC. The dalits and the OBC members should allow
the advantage from reservations to go below. The problem is that the
leaders, vocal as they are, manipulate to appropriate the maximum
My knowledge of law, however limited, tells me that the column of
caste in the form that the census enumerators ask violates the basic
structure of the constitution. They inquire about the caste. On basis
of such information the economic benefits are distributed. This makes
a mockery of the constitution. Its preamble says that the people
resolve to constitute India into a “sovereign socialist democratic
republic.” Democracy and discrimination do not go together.
My objection is also on another point. In the Keshvanand Bharti case,
the Supreme Court has said that the objectives in the preamble
constitute the basic structure of the constitution. It means that
Parliament, although elected directly by the people, cannot alter the
Surprisingly, the government does not realize the effect the
introduction of quota in promotions will have on the bureaucracy, the
sheet anchor of the administration. Divide and rule was the dictum of
the British who held India in bondage for 150 years. The nation needs
to be integrated however strong are the forces to stratify it.
The introduction of quota in services is an important policy decision.
The government should have called a meeting of the National
Integration Council which is meant to discuss such problems. Caste is
something that affects the nation on the whole. The country cannot be
pushed back to the dark ages. Affirmative action which America follows
to give benefits to the black is far better than the reservations
which see no end of expiry. But that is a different story, although
Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, a dalit, who outlined the constitution, agreed
unwillingly to reservation for 10 years only. EOM