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Rediff.com  » News » How reservations fracture Hindu society

How reservations fracture Hindu society

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Last updated on: May 09, 2006 10:15 IST

The recent fuss about caste-based admission quotas to educational institutions, as well as the threat to force industry to adopt mandatory quotas, inflames people's passions. But considered in context, reservations a. are needed only because of poverty perpetuated by the establishment, and b. have become principally a tool to divide and rule Hindus.

The 'Lords of Poverty', that is the Congress party and the Marxists, are pushing this agenda. This alone should make the neutral observer pause. These groups need people to be poor, so as to seduce them with rhetoric about socialism and re-distribution. There is sufficient data about how they have ended up entrenching poverty, and we will come back to that later. (There is another reason, which is to pander to the Muslim vote-bank, but that is beyond the scope of this column.)

Caste shouldn't overwrite merit

But of immediate interest is what has happened in practice. Let me be clear that I am not against reservations. I believe that some sort of affirmative action is necessary and desirable. For instance, in the US the emergence of a black middle class, and the rise of Asians have both been helped by affirmative action.

This has succeeded so well that today there are reverse quotas: in an act pregnant with irony, the University of California, Berkeley, has been forced to impose limits on the number of (minority) Asians it accepts, because if admissions were purely on grades and merit, the entire incoming freshman class would probably be Asian, disadvantaging whites as well!

Similarly, it is indubitable that a middle class has arisen among OBCs, SC/ST and similar (historically) disadvantaged groups. Naturally, others have grumbled, and yes, there have been distortions, and there is a thriving trade in fake caste certificates.

And there is an extremely pernicious side-effect: the maintenance of fractures within the Hindu community, and this is the reason the establishment is enflaming passions, not because they genuinely wish to help the underprivileged. Divisiveness, in fact, appears to now become the primary objective of reservations as far as the UPA is concerned.

I have seen this first-hand in Kerala, and it is most distressing. Reservations in Kerala are no longer re-distributing wealth, but distributing poverty, as the wealth is in the hands of those outside the pale of reservations by diktat.

The Kerala experience has been as follows: before independence, much of the land was in the hands of the Namboodiris, a Brahmin caste, or of the Nairs, a Sudra Forward Caste. Most of the (landless) farmers were Ezhavas, a Sudra Backward Caste, Christians, and Muslims. Nairs were also active in government jobs; Christians and Muslims in trade.

As a result of Marxist-led 'land reform', the Nambudiris were decimated: they were stripped of their lands, and reduced instantly to dire poverty. As they are a small group, not of much value as a vote-bank, their plight has gone unremarked, much as that of the Kashmiri Pandits.

Because of reservations, some Nairs, being generally a Forward Caste (although some subsections of them, such as Chetty Pillais, are deemed Backward Castes), feel they have lost educational and employment opportunities. Therefore they have opposed reservations. Ironically, Nairs got Travancore government jobs a century ago only after an agitation demanding equal rights, because most of those jobs had previously been given to Tamil Brahmins!

The Ezhavas had been denied most access to education and jobs previously, despite their submitting an Ezhava Memorial memorandum demanding equal access. Ezhavas had been forced to seek jobs and professional education outside Travancore in the past. Some Ezhavas feel they have benefited from reservations and are loath to give it up.

Thus, there is ongoing tension between Nairs and Ezhavas, who together form the vast majority of Hindus in Kerala. This fragmentation has been a major reason behind the weakness of Hindus in the state, as Nairs in blind knee-jerk fashion oppose whatever Ezhavas want, and vice versa. Meanwhile non-Hindus have prospered by exploiting this tension. I am reminded of the Panchatantra fable of the monkey dividing up a chapatti.

Currently the Narendran Commission Report is the bone of contention between the Ezhavas and Nairs. Every Ezhava-Nair dialog, every attempt at forming a united Hindu perspective, has foundered on the Narendran Commission issue. So the fragmenting of Hindu society continues: a forced estrangement.

And exactly what is the Narendran Commission recommending? This is the good part. That more seats in government-owned educational institutions and more government jobs be made available to 'backward caste' people! This is what Ezhavas and Nairs are fighting over? It is the height of absurdity, as they are fighting 20th century battles in the 21st century, like generals re-fighting the previous war.

What is the incongruity? Government-run schools and colleges in Kerala are run-down and poverty-stricken. Almost all the colleges, including professional colleges, that have come up in the last fifty years are owned by Christians and Muslims. These, in the infinite wisdom of the 104th Constitutional Amendment, are not covered by reservations, and are free to sell at huge profit/give away their seats to anybody they please, which usually means to Christians and Muslims. Thus, seats in government educational institutions are a non-issue. The issue should be seats in the 'minority'-controlled institutions, but not one Ezhava or Nair is asking for these!

The 104th Constitution Amendment Bill is dangerous

Similarly, the Kerala government is perilously close to bankruptcy (once or twice it had to issue IOUs instead of paying salaries), and in any case 70 per cent of its expenditure goes towards salaries, pensions and other non-productive obligations, leaving very little for new projects. It is also reducing the number of government employees, as it is hopelessly overstaffed. The future, it would appear, is in the booming private sector.

So what is the point in getting 'reserved' government jobs? Granted, there is opportunity for graft and corruption in government contracts, but the interesting jobs are elsewhere. Therefore, why would anybody give a damn about reservation for government jobs?

This is the cruel fallacy: Ezhavas and Nairs are fighting, in Pavlovian fashion, over something that has practically no value. But it has poisoned the atmosphere in Hindu Kerala. They are not uniting over the outright apartheid against Hindus in all walks of life, as captured in a single stunning statistic: 92 per cent of all those committing suicide in Kerala are Hindus. And Kerala has the highest suicide rate in India.

It is clear that the agenda behind this divisive and polarising issue is to perpetuate this sort of status quo, pitting Hindu groups against each other. The Kerala example is being replicated all over the country: reservations are being misused to keep Hindus disunited. It is 'divide and rule' in a new incarnation.

Part II: Reservations: The Economic Factor

Comments at my blog at http://rajeev2004.blogspot.com

Rajeev Srinivasan
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