THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
By M.V Kamath
The UPA government’s announcement of a sub-quota for the minorities within the existing quota of reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has understandably created a ruckus in political circles. It is bad enough to have quotas. The entire system has been turned into a nightmare. With about 3,000 recognised castes in existence, what has happened – but has mostly been ignored – is that a handful of the more vocal among the OBCs have hogged all reservation benefits. It is injustice at its worst form.
Giving reservations to OBCs – sixty odd years after independence – reflects poorly on the Indian social structure. What is worse is allotting a sub-quota of 4 per cent within the reservations for OBCs to Muslim OBCs. The very concept of Muslim – or Christian, for that matter – OBCs, makes a mockery of both Islam and Christianity. Once an OBC gets converted to other religion, it is expected that he sheds his OBC past and becomes one with his new co-religionists. But the reality is different. It is rare, for example, for an ‘upper caste’ Christian to marry into a lower caste family. Conversion does not erase the lower caste tag. This is for the ‘minority’ communities themselves to handle and not for any government to interfere in any way, or to appear patronising. Whatever our other faults we in India attempt to appease our ‘minorities’ but get no credit for it. One way is to assign quotas for them in various fields. Does that happen in Pakistan?
In India, Hindus don’t try to kidnap Muslim girls and convert them. In Pakistan that seems almost standard practice. In India the Muslim population is growing both percentage-wise and in numbers. In Pakistan the Hindu population has been reduced to a negligible single digit around 3 per cent. There are both Hindus and Muslims in Great Britain, both of whom, one presumes are treated equally by the government. How come, then, that Hindus have done well there while “Pakistanis and Bangladeshis live in serious poverty”.
As a website which discussed this issue noted “the explanation of Muslim backwardness is to be found in the very makeup of the Muslim mind”. Muslims should not blame Hindus for that in India. That would be ducking the issue. The average Muslim, especially the OBC among the community, would do well to indulge in some self-introspection. It may do him a lot of good. The issue was raised by the Second Backward Class Commission Report in 1980 – otherwise known as the Mandal Commission that identified certain groups among Muslims and Christians as ‘backward’ and recommended special dispensation in the form of reservation of seats for them in education and public jobs.
In a well-research paper published by Economic & Political Weekly (January 7) the point has been made that the Muslims in Maharashtra, for example “are internally heteroganous and differentiated” and because a good proportion belong to “local Marathi-speaking groups” they identify with the local backward caste communities. Who is to be blamed for that? Hindus? Aren’t all Muslims equal? Or are some Muslims more equal than others? This has been subject of much discussion and actually there has been a movement to rectify the situation but without the support of mullahs who have charged the social workers with “conspiracy against Islam”. Apparently the Muslim religious leaders do not want to divide the Islamic community into ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots’. The OBC Muslim movement received and impetus way back in 1989 with the formation of Akhil Bharatiya Muslim Marathi Sahitya Parishad under the leadership of Hasan Kamal and Shabbir Ahmed Ansari who found their efforts at the ground level “vehemently opposed by the established political and religious leadership of the community everywhere!” We learn, however, that Maharashtra is not the only state to witness the OBC Muslim movement.
According to the Economic & Political Weekly “It has gained momentum in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu”. No wonder that the Congress wants to cash in on this development. Actually, according to the EPW paper, “successive governments in Maharashtra have been open to, and accommodative of, OBC Muslim demands. Two points made by the EPW in this connection are worth attention. One is that the “emergence of an assertive OBC movement outside the framework of recognised religious organisations and institutions has not weakened the religious identity of its members”. The other is that “political parties have tried to win over some of the leaders of the Muslim OBC movement by giving them tickets to contest elections and have tried to consolidate their votes”. That is what the Congress is doing now. For both it is a win-win situation.
The Congress wins the Muslim vote. The OBC Muslims get jobs and other facilities and never mind if this perpetuates casteism even within the Muslim fold. In this case it is the role of caste that gets the upper hand and never mind what Islam says. Under present circumstances the more addictive one is to the caste system, the more richly one gets rewarded. So why fight for the abolition of caste as a disuniting factor? The OBC can thumb his nose at the upper castes. Instead of working for a casteless society, we are working for a casteist society in the name of fair play with the so-called upper castes forced to pay heavily for it and meritocracy being treated as an out-dated concept.
In his well-researched work India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics, Christophe Jaffrelot makes a significant observation. He states: “Three years after Laloo Prasad Yadav took over, seventy upper caste officials (in Bihar) sought and obtained their transfer to the Centre, allegedly because of the humiliation and ill-treatment they suffered… In addition to these ‘voluntary moves’ the state government has transferred 12 out of 13 Divisional Commissioners and 250 of the 324 returning officers in order to have lower caste people at the helm at local level. Many OBC bureaucrats were transferred from the sidelines to the main department… In 1993 an IAS from the Scheduled Castes replaced a Brahmin as Chief Secretary and an OBC took over charge of Director General of Police from another Brahmin… In 1996 the University Service Commission of Bihar recruited 1,427 lecturers for the universities and its constituent colleges in the state. Protests were immediately lodged because most candidates were OBCs and, more precisely, Yadavs”. That is what casteism is doing for the country. Need one say anything more? Those who support casteism and the quota system are enemies of the country and one cannot stress it enough. And to think that the Congress is for secularism? That is the cruellest of cruel jokes.