India's Lower Castes

By Nishikant Waghmare

03 June, 2007

Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Social Reformer of India, stared the fight against castes exclusion in our education system . His book titled Slavery took the Marathi world by storm in 1873. It was Phule who told the Hunter Commission in 1882 that the British were collecting revenue from Shudras (Backwards) and Ati-Shudras (Dalits) to educate upper-caste Brahmins. This, he claimed, was atrocious and the remedy he suggested was universalisation of primary education. Later his disciple Dr. B.R.Ambedkar demanded equality of opportunity from the Simon Commission in 1928. It is from his memorandum one discovers that enrolment of lower castes in colleges was zero in 1882 and just one per cent in 1923-24. These facts have never been discussed in our mainstream discourses.

Government of India's decision to extend 27 per cent proposed quota to OBC (Other Backwards) in higher educational institutions. The attack by elites and the corporate sector against the proposed quotas for OBCs in the IITs, IIMs, and Central Universities, and reservation in the private sector for SCs and STs is deplorable though predictable. They condemn the proposals on the ground that quotas would jeopardize merit and efficiency, which are the two main planks of a globalize and competitive economy. It is distressing that the defenders of merit forget that they
are condemning nearly 80 per cent of the country's population as non-meritorious, inefficient and unworthy of occupying a due space in the overall structure of entitlements.

Note what M.K. Gandhi said about the Caste. And how shamelessly he defended it "Caste has nothing to do with religion. Varna and Ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with caste. The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling. It defines not our rights but our duties. The callings of a Brahmin- spiritual leader-and a scavenger are equal and their due performance carries equal merit before God and at one time seems to have carried identical reward before man. Both were entitled to their
livelihood..." The Harijan, July 2, 1936.

Occupation was the defining category that determined hierarchies in Manus's Varnaashrama. Manu assumed that economic and social orders complemented each other. Abraham Lincoln says; "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy." Various philosophers, political scientists and writers have given numerous definitions of democracy. A relentless champion of human rights and staunch believer in democracy, Dr B.R. Ambedkar says, "Democracy is not a form of government, but a form of Social Organization."

Dr Ambedkar believed that in democracy revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed. The conditions for that are as follows: (1) there should not be glaring inequalities in society i.e. privilege for one class; (2) the existence of an opposition; (3) equality in law and administration: (4) observance of constitutional morality: (5) no tyranny of the majority: (6) moral order of society: (7) public conscience."

Addressing the Constituent Assembly, he suggested certain devices essential to maintain democracy: "(i) Constitutional methods (ii) not to lay liberties at the feet of a great man (iii) make political democracy a social democracy."

Empowering India "Bring into the mainstream all those kept out"? It involves the establishment of a social-political order in which no discrimination takes place on the basis of race, caste, creed or sex and where all citizens enjoy equal opportunities and at least an acceptable minimum quality of living.

Dr. Ambedkar is one of the most famous Indians of the last century. Father of the Indian Constitution and one of the greatest Indian intellectuals and political agitators, Dr. Ambedkar was born into an "Untouchable" Caste. After 2000 Years of Man's anti-human laws when India needed a new lawgiver, she turned to one who was born an "Untouchable". On October 14, 1956 in Nagpur, Central India, Dr. Ambedkar, along with half a million other Dalits, converted to Buddhism- Dr.Ambedkar's interpretation of Buddhism is a modern and humanistic one. Such is the intensity of he problem and the yearning for dignity.

Dr. Amertaya Sen Said, The real reason why the erstwhile "untouchables" or the poorest of the poor have the freedom to argue today is that the working of democracy - with all its inadequacies - has created a real shift in power to the deprived and dispossessed.

"I tell you, religion is for man and not man for religion. If you want to organize, consolidate and be successful in this world, change this religion, […] The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with its o-religionists is nothing but a display of a force. The religion that teaches its followers to suffer the touch of animals but not the touch of human beings is not a religion but a mockery. The religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant and the poor to be poor is not a religion but a visitation!"----Dr. B.R Ambedkar. Today's UPA government got 80 Secretary's Post in New Delhi one SC and one ST holding a post as Secretary of Union Government, as per my reading goes in last 59 years not even 10 IAS officers being appointed to Secretary post in Union Government or Chief Secy. in State? In politics though 22% MLAs and MPs are from our lot, portfolios like Home, Finance, Industry, Commerce, Power, Revenue, Commercial taxes, excise, transport, irrigation, and H.R.D. and Communication are still the privilege of the Upper Castes. What we can achieve?

My fear is that when the State, the Central Government and the PSUs in the country could not achieve even 22% reservation in the last 59 years, how would affirmative action help? I wish to inform you that it is urgent need to revamp the administrative reforms and most of the government agencies in the county. "Reservations per se are not the Solution. The focus should be on high-quality education for all."

An empowered India bereft of the respect for women, values of civilised existence and morality will collapse in the face of the disaffection and discontent of those who have suffered for centuries. Day in and day out we take pride in claiming that India has a 5000-year-old civilization. But the way the Dalits and those suppressed are being treated by the people who wield power and authority speaks volumes for the degradation of our moral structure and civilized standards.

Education is a change agent. What kind of change and progress can we anticipate if the education system is burdened with stereotype of the inherited merit of the few? How do we expect Universities to flourish and compete so long as we keep them as islands of caste prejudices and vanities?

The only substitute to quota and reservation is to create a more egalitarian social order guaranteeing equal opportunities to all and, simultaneously, to fight against all sources of inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

The writer is a Government Officer, Views expressed are personal. Nishikant Waghmare can be contacted at


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