This paper attempts to provide a detailed understanding of the idea of caste in the Indian society. It focuses on the nuances involved in the nature of development of caste as an institution from the post-independence era. The changing degree of dichotomy between caste and politics and its reflection on the Indian society has been keenly observed in this paper. The backward classes commission has been thoroughly detailed with a critical standpoints on its benefits and limitations. We can also observe the importance of effectively balancing the social equilibrium in a way that the society does not fall apart in the debate between politics of recognition and politics of identity. The effect of mandalisation of Indian politics has also been constructively put forward.
INTRODUCTION TO THE IDEOLOGY AND MEANING OF CASTE IN INDIAN SOCIETY
Caste is primarily an institution which characterised the structure of social stratification in the Indian society. It also represented the core of India. It worked as an institution and ideology. Institutionally, caste provided a framework for arranging and organising social groups in terms of their status and positions in the social and economic system. As an ideology, caste was a system of values and ideas that legitimised and reinforced the existing social inequality. Moreover, caste also depicted a closed system whereby generation after generation the individuals did similar kinds of work and lived similar kind of lives. It was somewhat an opposition to the open system of the west. Thus, caste in the Indian society was a very comprehensive idea which dealt with the occupational division of labour, features of social structure, normative religious behaviour along with certain personal details about the life of a person within a Hindu caste society. Hence caste has been studied as an empirical as well as a civilizational idea.
The word Caste is originated from Spanish and Portuguese,’casta’ which means race, lineage or breeds and derived from Latin word ‘castus’, means pure. Caste basically refers to three different categorisations which are ‘varna’, ‘jati’, and ‘jati-clusters’. Varna refers to the framework of hierarchy which draws its legitimacy from the classical Hindu scriptures worked out meticulously by Manu. It is divided mainly into four categories-Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras depending upon the occupational identities of the people. Each of these caste groups contain a large number of jatis or endogamous caste groups There was another category known as the ‘avarnas’ or untouchables which did not fall under the Varna system and were considered to be the lowest in the hierarchy. In the modern times, multiple jatis which pursue similar occupations are often banded together in jati-clusters to maximize their numerical strength in hopes of gaining advantages in the public sphere.
Caste as a social factor is very significant and dominant in every nook and corner of the country. Moreover, it has different forms and practices in different regions. Whilst studying the Indian society one could not simply negate caste. Many scholars have studied caste and its dynamics in different parts of the country. G.S.Ghurye (Ghurye, 2016) in his work, ‘Caste and Race in India’ points out six distinct features of Hindu society.
(1) Segmental Division of Society: the membership of caste group is not determined by voluntary association but by birth;
(2) Hierarchy: one of the principal characteristics of the caste society, viz., the hierarchy of groups;
(3) Restrictions on feeding and social intercourse: There are strict rule from which caste person food or drink can be accepted;
(4) Civil and religious disabilities and privileges of the different sections: Segregation of individual castes or of group of castes in a village is the most obvious mark of civil privileges and civil disabilities;
(5) Lack of unrestricted choice of occupation: occupation are based on hereditary;
(6) Restrictions on marriage: the caste group are endogamous.
The caste system is undoubtedly one of the most unique characteristics of the Indian culture. Its intricate socio-religious relationships and complex network of hierarchies has enabled it to become the source of much confusion and fascination. According to Louis Dumont (Louis Dumont, (Nov., 1986),), caste was an ideology based on the central principle of hierarchy which was defined as the superiority of the pure over the impure. However, such theorizations of castes can be criticised for their ideological basis and weak empirical groundings.
Nicholas Dirks (Brun, March, 2010) in his book, ‘Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India’ has reviewed the missionary, orientalist and administrative writings as well as the government documents to track the changing analysis and understanding of caste from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century. He focussed particularly on the policies after the period of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 when the power was handed over from the East India Company to the British Crown.
The three central categories through which colonial rulers had to make sense of India were those of village, caste and religious communities. It was important for the British rulers to follow a policy of non-intervention in the caste sensitivities in order to prevent another rebellion. However, understanding caste was a challenge for the colonial rulers because of its inherent diversity and subtle nuances. Hence, according to Dirks, the British used extensive and detailed ethnographic studies to describe the characteristics of each caste. These ethnographic studies were accomplished by using the census (1872) as a key tool for the classification of social order with built-in assumptions about hierarchy and precedence. The orientalists has worked out the ethnographic details using other tools as well which included the first missionary reports along with the work of prominent scholars such as Dubois and Mill who translated the Vedic Manu. Thus we can see the census, built on these early writings and anthropological studies of religion and culture, created a categorisation of caste that had never existed before. Further, by forcing people to describe themselves for the first time as a member of a particular caste and having the characteristics of that caste, a new tradition and ethnic identification of the caste system was born. Moreover, the colonial rulers through this process of enumeration and ethnographic studies surveys, raised a certain degree of consciousness about caste and facilitated the conditions in which caste became the single term capable of expressing, organising and synthesizing India’s diverse forms of social identity, community and organisation.
CASTE DOMINANCE IN MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY INDIA
The entire institution of caste dominated heavily in the Indian society in the 1950s and 1960s.There was existence of structured inequalities which percolated through the hierarchical system. Some of the common features of the caste system that existed in India in mid-twentieth century were as follows: Firstly, the jatis tended to specialize occupationally and division of labour was strict and generational. Secondly, caste played a vital role in reproduction of norms through rules about the sharing of food, bodily contact and other interpersonal relations. Contravention of these norms led to conflicts with the upper castes. Third, caste also shaped marriages and practiced endogamy. Fourth, the notions of caste hierarchy had achieved a degree of acceptance in rural areas and there was lack of social mobilizations. Fifth, higher castes were often able to translate their local economic and political power into a wider dominance over state bureaucracies, representative government and local electoral outcomes. Thus, we can safely argue that fairly rigid and stable caste hierarchies existed in India during this period.
CASTE, IDENTITY AND POLITICS: DECLINE OF CASTE HIERARCHIES
During the congress system, the interplay between caste and politics was not very evident. After the watershed moment of Indian politics in 1967 when the congress lost power in the states for the first time, the issue of caste based representation came up. Many state and regional parties started to take up the issue of representation for all agenda to further their political support and interests. This led a certain degree of political awakening among all sections of the society. Further, in the post -1989 era of coalitions , it was quite evident that the regionalisation of politics had led to the secularisation of caste and through such a degree of political involvement, the traditional vertical systems of hierarchy within the castes had given way to new horizontal links among the caste members. According to an anthropologist, G.K. Karanth (Kothari, 2010), in the post-1990s era, the influence of caste hierarchies over people’s minds and social relations had declined considerably in many villages. There has been an erosion of the ideological basis of the Varna scheme. Material realities began affecting the character of caste hierarchies and inter-caste relations. The disintegration of the old jajmani system had led to a considerable reduction in caste hierarchies which in turn has reduced the ties of dependency of the lower caste groups on the landowning upper castes. Factors which provide a multi-causal explanation for the decline in power of caste hierarchies in the rural areas are as follows:
• Spread of education among the traditionally low status groups
• Penetration of capitalism into rural areas and development of cash economy
• Mechanisation of agriculture which severed the ties of dependency between the landowners and agricultural labourers
• Increasing occupational diversification which allowed the villagers to abandon their traditional occupations for new types of work
• Disintegration of jajmani system
• Rise of democratic upsurge and representational politics
Secularisation of caste- This is a process by which the traditional understanding of caste has changed and a new type of stratificatory system has emerged (D.L.Sheth, 2014).This process entails three dimensions-
• ‘de-ritualisation’- means delinking caste from various forms of rituality and now castes function as horizontal groups competing for power and control over resources in a society.
• ‘Politicisation’- means the development of political consciousness among the caste community. This has resulted in the radical change in the social bases of politics in India.
• ‘Classification’- means the structural differentiations within castes have led to different alignment with socio-economic networks.
These changes have resulted in castes entering into new and larger political formations along with a new form of collective consciousness which is different from that of a ritual status group.
CHANGING NATURE OF CASTE IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
Caste as a social institution is dynamic and continues to change in the present context. The socio-political and cultural nature of caste has changed throughout India and has taken many complicated forms. Sociologists such as Dipankar Gupta (Gupta, 2014)have argued that caste as a system has collapsed and a plethora of assertive caste identities have emerged which are discrete in nature. Moreover, the notions of purity and pollution have become insignificant. The jajmani system is rarely found at the ground level of the society. Another sociologist, Andre Beteille has argued that the state investments in rural development and agricultural growth is leading to the fading away of traditional hierarchies and old structure of dependency (Beteille, 2014). Surinder S. Jodhka has mentioned that the textbook view of the traditional ritual and occupational hierarchy in closed system of stratification does not exist in most part of rural India (Jodhka, 2017). According to M.N. Srinivas (Srinivas, 2014) ,the economic development, rise of education, protection of weaker section through affirmative policies, political mobilisation of the people and usage of new technologies leading towards the weakening of the hereditary caste-based occupation.
Moreover, the current social mobility for lower castes operates in a horizontal way, from traditional caste occupations in the village to the jobs at the lower end in the informal economy in cities. The old local-level systems of the hierarchy have indeed disintegrated but a new hierarchy of networks based on the institutions of caste and kinship appears to be thriving.
MANDALISATION OF CASTE BASED POLITICS
The Mandal commission has helped in the creation identities of the backward classes and led to class mobilisations. Post-Mandal recommendations, the identity of backwardness for the OBC has given psychological encouragement to the OBC for greater political involvement. Politics of recognition of a certain section of the society plays a key role in changing the dynamics of the political system. Caste based political mobilisation became prevalent in Indian politics. Mandalisation of Muslim politics (Jangir, 2013) also played a key role in shaping the political culture as the lower class Muslims became aware of the oppression done by upper class Muslims.
Moreover, the post Mandal era solidified the identity of the backward classes by cutting across religious lines. Famous slogans such as ‘Dalit-Pichada ek samaan, Hindu ho ya Musalman’ were chanted during these times. However, these identities are never fixed. Identities are indivisible and yet fragmented. The large umbrella of backward class identity has within itself many sub-identities which are meant for socio-political representations. Moreover, the issue of stigmatised identity should not arise because misrecognition leads to a feeling of self-hatred or lack of respect about your own identity.
CONCEPT OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND UNDERSTANDING KALELKAR AND MANDAL COMMSSIONS
Affirmative Actions by a State are a set of policies to provide special opportunities to a certain section of society, who have faced discrimination and socio-economic oppression through large part of history. In India, this kind of positive discrimination is implemented through reservations by government to improve the well-being of backward and under-represented communities – defined by their caste. The aim of this quota-based reservation system is to bring the beneficiaries in the mainstream of the Indian society. The Indian constitution reserved 22.5% of the Government jobs and slots in public universities for the Scheduled castes and Schedules Tribes. Mandal Commission set up in 1979 by the Morarji Desai Government then gave its recommendation to increase this exclusive access to 49.5% by including those weaker sections of the society in the target groups which are identified as ‘OBC’.
The Mandal Commission was established with an aim to identify the socially or educationally backward. It was chaired by the former chief minister of Bihar – B.P Mandal. The commission used various methods and techniques to form eleven social, economic and educational indicators to determine “backwardness” .There have been a lot of pro and anti-reservation arguments which have mainly revolve around the discourses of meritocracy and equality of opportunity.
First Backward classes commission: Kaka Kalelkar Commission
Article 340 of the Indian constitution provided the constitutional legitimacy for setting up the backward commission. Adhering to Article 340, the First Backward Classes Commission was set up by a presidential order on January 29, 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. (Report on the Backward Classes Commission( Volume I and Volume II), 1980)
For identifying socially and educationally backward classes, the commission adopted the following criteria:
? Low social position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Hindu society.
? Lack of general educational advancement among the major section of a caste or community.
? Inadequate or no representation in government services.
? Inadequate representation in the field of trade, commerce and industry
The commission submitted its report on March 30, ‘1955. It had prepared a list of 2,399 backward castes or communities for the entire country and of which 837 had been classified as the ‘most backward’. Some of the most noteworthy recommendations of the commission were:
? Undertaking caste-wise enumeration of population in the census of 1961.
? Relating social backwardness of a class to its low position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Hindu society,
? Treating all women as a class as ‘backward’;
? Reservation of 70 per cent seats in all technical and professional institutions for qualified students of backward classes.
? Minimum reservation of vacancies in all government services and local bodies for other backward classes on the following scale: class I = 25 per cent; class II = 33½ per cent; class III and IV = 40 per cent.
Shri. Kaka Kalelkar, the Chairman, took a rather equivocal stand on the issue, though he did not record a formal minutes of dissent, in his forwarding letter to the President he opposed the important recommendations made by the commission. But this report was not accepted by the Central government on the ground that it had not applied any objective tests for identifying the Backward Class. Thus, there was a need of second backward classes of commission.
SECOND BACKWARD CLASSES COMMISSION: MANDAL COMMISSION
The decision of the Janata Party Government with Mr Morarji Desai as PM to set up a second backward classes commission was made official by the President on January 1, 1979. The commission popularly known as the Mandal Commission, its chairman being B. P. Mandal. It submitted the report in December 1980. (Report on the Backward Classes Commission (VOLUME III ; VII), 1980)
Terms of Mandal Commission were to:
? To determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes
? To recommend the steps to be taken for their advancement.
? To examine the desirability or otherwise for making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in their favour.
? To present a report setting out the facts found by the commission.
The Mandal Commission adopted various methods and techniques to collect the necessary data and evidence to fulfil the above objectives. Some of the important measures taken in this connection were:
? Seminar of sociologists on social backwardness
? Issue of three sets of questionnaires to State Government and the public
? Extensive touring of the country by the Commission, taking evidence of legislators, eminent public men and sociologists
? Undertaking country wide socio-educational survey (A socio-educational field survey was organized under the panel of experts with M. N. Srinivas as chairman)
? Preparation of reports on some important issues by specialized agencies.
? Caste Study, village monographs and study of legal and constitutional issues, Analysis of the census data.
Of these three groups, different weight-ages were given to indicators of each group.
? Social indicators were given 3 points each.
? Educational indicators were given 2 points each.
? Economic indicators were given 1 point each.
Major recommendation of Mandal Commission
Reservation for SCs and STs is in proportion to their population i.e. 22%. But as there is a legal obligation to keep the reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the constitution below 50%, the commission recommends a reservation of 27% for OBCs. (Report on the Backward Classes Commission (VOLUME III ; VII), 1980)
Nothing in this article or in clause 2 of Article 29 (protection of minorities) shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes.
Nothing in this ‘article shall prevent the state from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class citizens which, in the opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the services under the state.
Other recommendations of Mandal Commission (Report on the Backward Classes Commission (VOLUME III & VII), 1980)
? Candidates belonging to OBC recruited based on merit in an open competition should not be adjusted against their reservation quota of 27 per cent.
? The above reservation should also be made applicable to promotion quota at all levels.
? Reserved quota remaining unfilled should be carried forward for a period of three years and de-reserved thereafter.
? Relaxation in the upper age limit for direct recruitment should be extended to the candidates of OBC in the same manner as done in the case of SCs and STs.
? A roster system for each category of posts should be adopted by the concerned authorities in the same manner as presently done in respect of SC and ST candidates.
? These recommendations in total are applicable to all recruitment to public sector undertakings both under the central and state governments, as also to nationalized banks.
? All universities and affiliated colleges should also be covered by the above scheme of reservation.
CRITICAL APPROACH TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING THE MANDAL COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS
The recommendations of the Mandal commission have generated a lot of controversy and need a deeper and nuanced understanding of their context and implications in the Indian society. The concept of reservation under the Mandal commission was developed to reduce the evils of the caste system which included inequity in the distribution of resources and active discrimination of the backward classes which denies them the fundamental rights and equality of opportunity.
The main objection to the recommendations of the Mandal commission came from the use of caste/community to analyse backwardness and that the reservation system has in turn reinforced the lines drawn by caste in the society. Critics have argued that only economic criteria should have been used for determining backwardness. However, both these criticisms fail to understand the real base of the recommendations and hence deliver flawed arguments. The reality is that when we say, India is a backward country, it is normally stated in terms of a mass of statistics about the number of people below the poverty line, the number of illiterates etc. However, the backwardness of the people is closely tied into the caste or community that they were born into, connected by thousands of threads by the work they do and the cultural, traditional practices they still follow into a structure that has come down to us since centuries. And we know that over 75% of our people live within these relations in poverty and backwardness.
Moreover, the Commission has identified many castes and communities as belonging to the OBC on the basis of three types of criteria – social, economic and educational. But even in those criteria, the differential type of work done by men and women of the community is questionable. Similarly, the rate at which school-going children stop going to school and who belong to a particular caste is related significantly to the economic conditions of the people and their socio-political consciousness. This clearly defines the degree of social, economic, political and cultural backwardness of the Indian society.
The lack of democracy does not only mean the lack of fundamental rights, rather the right to livelihood and basic amenities through accessibility to services is the need of the hour. In India, the degree of concentration of wealth and other resources in the hands of the few is a well-known fact and hence equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of resources should be the way forward. To reduce these inequities, the policy of reservation provides an opportunity for marginalised sections to come at par with the other sections of the society. Industrial resources are also within the hands of the top capitalist business houses. The caste system still operates along with social and economic power being monopolised by a small proportion of the population.
The scheduled castes and tribes and the OBCs live in extreme poverty and many of them are forced to sell their labour in order to survive. Some of them carry out their traditional occupations still in conditions of servitude to the rich. They command no social prestige and lack any significance in the political scenario except as vote banks. In the cities, most of them are found in the unorganised sector working as labourers, in petty trades, or carrying out their traditional occupations, while the well-paid, secure, government jobs and other professions are the monopoly of higher castes. It is in the context of this structure of our society that we have to evaluate the recommendations and accept their limitations.
Another extremely vital aspect of these recommendations stems from its inability to tackle the roots of backwardness in our society. The very criteria that have been used to define backwardness, like lack of equal opportunities, discrimination based on social hierarchy, lack of education at the primary level etc. are real problems and they cannot be solved through the implementation of job reservations. The backwardness of these castes and communities, as pointed out before, is rooted in the very socio-economic structure of relations at the village level. Without reflecting upon these, backwardness and poverty cannot be eliminated.
The other ignored recommendations of the Commission are related to the structure of backwardness and the expectation is that they can be revoked through the intervention of the bureaucracy. However, India has had more than one attempt at democratization of our society from above and it has led us nowhere. The proper implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission requires the participation and socio-political mobilization of people themselves which includes the vast majority of the scheduled castes, tribes and OBSs. Without this mobilization such recommendations, implemented using the top-down approach will only further negate the very process of democratization.
Another major question concerning these reservations is that will only providing benefits at the level of employment or senior education suffice the purpose in the real sense. The real growth of self can only be achieved through development of primary education so that the real essence of this benefit can be availed by those in need. Moreover, those people who argue that this system of reservations is not based on meritocracy are very wrong in their judgement of merit in the Indian society. In reality, meritocracy has no meaning without equality. As Amartya Sen has rightly argued that the need of the hour is the equalisation of people’s capabilities.
The recommendations of the Mandal commission have been widely criticised on the pretexts of degradation in quality of education and work and the divisive nature of caste based politics. However on the positive side, we can say the policy of reservations is just one of the means to achieve the goals of social justice and equality. It has also helped in the development of a culturally distinct and politically fluidic identity of the backward classes. Moreover, this policy of reservation needs to periodically update its data on the targeted beneficiaries to be successful because in such a diverse and populous country, the benefits should be meant for only those who need it.