Report prepared by Kaustabh Sengupta, MPhil, Department of History, JNU
UK-SOUTH ASIA PARTNERSHIP SCHEME
JNU Conference on Inequality and Affirmative Action
9th-10th November 2009
Brief Summary of Proceedings:
This two-day event was the first of three conferences on the three-year British Academy UK-South Asia Partnership scheme on Inequality and Affirmative Action in India and Nepal. It was held at JNU. The purpose was to analyse some of the key debates in affirmative action policies in India and to invite Nepali academics and scholars to engage in these debates and share the key issues framing the debates around proposed affirmative action measures in Nepal.
Four main topics were considered during this conference: the history of the categorisation and classification on the basis of which positive discrimination rests; the controversies over Other Backward Classes (OBC) inclusion in reservation; the case of the minority groups – dalits, adivasis, women and religious minorities; and the prospects for alternative means of positive action such as in educational institutions (national university experiments and tribal schools) and the Equal Opportunity Commission.
9th November 2009 – Session One
Introduction to the British Academy Project
The British Academy team introduced their own particular research foci within the larger project in this session.
Dr. Alpa Shah (Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of Central London).
Dr. Rob Higham (Institute of Education, University of Central London).
Education and affirmative action policies in Jharkhand.
Protective discrimination measures in Jharkhand date back to at least the late 1800s when, following a series of adivasi rebellions, the Wilkinson Rules, the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Scheduled Areas Act were formed to treat tribal areas as a separate legal entity. In fact the demands for independence of the Greater Jharkhand region in 1928, when the Simon Commission was approached by Jharkhand’s adivasi populations, although rejected on linguistic grounds, can be seen as part of a broader struggle over the right for affirmative action measures to protect India’s adivasi populations. Jharkhand has thus been the focus of debate for the protection and assimilation of India’s adivasis, often centred on complex political agendas (from those of the Missionaries to the Hindu right wing) to secure an adivasi constituency. Against the backdrop of these complex historical and political battles, Alpa Shah and Rob Higham’s research interests in Jharkhand have focused on education.
In India, basic literacy rates and higher-level qualifications among Scheduled Tribes (ST’s) remain far below the national average. This reflects broadly and deeply ingrained socio-economic inequalities. In the Jharkhand 2001 census, literacy rates were shown to be 54%, but such figures are skewed by urban biases towards non-adivasis, and to adivasis in Christian areas. In many of the rural and remote regions of Jharkhand, including those in which fieldwork has been conducted, Shah’s own surveys (undertaken in the same period as the 2001 census) show that only 15% of the population is educated up to the level of ‘Primary Class Eight’.
The history of education provision for STs and its repercussions in Jharkhand are fascinating with at least three periods: the Christian Missionaries being the first wave of important providers; the post-independence attempts of the Nehruvian state to expand education; and then more recently, in the post-liberalisation period, the expansion of private education and contemporary attempts to universalize elementary education by the Indian State as part of a globally driven agenda.
Increasingly, educated adivasi youths are emerging from the Jharkhandi countryside. While many are reluctant to work their family’s lands and ending up engaged in various levels of political activities, there has also been an expansion of the State sector, in which jobs for adivasis are being reserved (especially in the police force and as para teachers). In this context Rob Higham and Alpa Shah are pursuing two specific research angles. The first is on the history of schooling in Jharkhand. The second is on the caste and class dynamics of on the one hand a new generation of educated adivasi youth rising and on the other hand the effects of increasing state employment for them.
Para Teachers and Education Provision in Jharkhand
This project explores the ability of a new generation of adivasi youths to challenge the historical domination of higher castes in rural Jharkhand. There has simultaneously been a rise of class differentiation among adivasis, followed by the formation of new inequalities within adivasi groups.
Dr. Shah and Dr. Higham are looking at the combined effects of increased educational opportunities and the policies of affirmative action in the State sector. With regards to education, they first investigated how the current ST 18-30 generation have benefited from an expansion of education during their own schooling, and the creation of thousands of rural para teacher jobs and Village Education Committees (VECs) under the State’s current drive for universal elementary education. They secondly investigated how affirmative action played a significant role in both of these generational opportunities, through enabling access to schooling, and the provision of jobs for women and ST’s in the education sector.
The data generated by this project indicates that the transformation of historical rural hierarchies is accompanied by the production of new divisions and inequalities amongst adivasis. Education and affirmative action may end up creating the beginnings of a new middle class of ST with quite different values to their poorer counterparts. The project focuses on how this new class of ST’s may be emulating the earlier dominant higher castes; sanskritising, and as a result of this producing new hierarchies and sources of tension between generations and genders, and in relation to their poor illiterate kin.
Secondary Schools in Ranchi City
This second project is immersed in debates over adivasi access to high quality secondary education, as a prerequisite for university entry. As a result of affirmative action, educational access for adivasis has significantly increased since the 1930’s. There are not only more secondary schools, but more adivasis passing Matric and Inter examinations (proportional to the rest of the population).
This project is exploring how despite a broadening of access to education, recent statistics show a narrowing of adivasi access to the highest quality secondary schools. There are a number of potential reasons for this.
Firstly, the numbers of state schools in Jharkhand have grown substantially since independence from Bihar, which has enabled the expansion of adivasi education. Few state secondary schools match the quality of education provided by the Catholic mission schools, which have set the standard of education in Ranchi. Originally these were set up specifically for the purpose of adivasi education (and religious conversion), and in the 1930’s the adivasis had preferential access to the best schools.
Secondly, the traditional high quality status of mission schools has been challenged more recently by the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic Schools (DAV), which primarily serves non-adivasi populations. Since the 1980’s, the DAV movement has grown rapidly with the construction of 70 new schools in Jharkhand’s steel and mining colonies, which primarily catered to outsiders from beyond Jharkhand who were employed in these sectors. As well as being English Medium schools, DAV schools in Ranchi became early providers of intermediate qualifications. This affected the perceptions of the middle class parents, who often now see DAV as a high status schooling choice. These are private schools which charge high fees which few adivasi can afford.
A third reason is partly a response to the challenge that the DAV poses; many missions started charging fees for their English Medium schools. They admitted middle class students who were able to bear the costs of the schooling fees from a wide range of backgrounds and religions. Few of these mission schools serve a majority adivasi student population.
In recent years, as Hindu right-wing Governments have sought greater control over mission schools, the response of these schools has been to defend their autonomy with reference to minority rights legislations in the India Constitution. In order to do so, they would have needed to prove that they serve a majority Christian student body. In Jharkhand this typically means the adivasis. This new politics of education has inadvertently created new forms of affirmative action for adivasis, who now have the opportunity for intake into high quality English Medium missionary schools.
Dr. Mukta Lama (Sociology, Tribhuvan University).
In 2006, a 12 point agreement in Nepal ended twelve years of violence between the Communist Party and the Government. An Interim Constitution came into force in 2007, whereby Nepal vowed to end discrimination, and started devising schemes for implementing affirmative action. This generated many debates throughout the country.
There has been a national consensus that the State should take major steps for change. One of the views suggests that the federal structure of Nepal should be based on a regional, linguistic and ethnic basis. The Indigenous People’s Movement as well as the Dalit Movement demands affirmative action for the respective communities. However, there is an opposing view to this that sees affirmative action as generating inter and intra-community divisions.
Despite the opposition the Government amended the law, and special quotas in the civil service were put in place for women, Dalits and IPs. In 2008, ordnance was passed requiring the inclusion of these quotas in the educational services, army, and police force. India has remained an important reference point, both for the groups in favour and the groups who oppose these quota reservations.
Dr. Sara Shneiderman (St. Catherine’s College, University of Cambridge).
Dr. Shneiderman introduced the project aimed at understanding the current situation in Nepal, with the possibility of implementing effective affirmative action policies under the new Government. Pursuing an ethnographic approach, the project brings forth realities and does not restrict itself to the discursive levels of policy formations and continuous public debates. This is a difficult task as there is no comprehensive or national classification. In the past, there have been uncoordinated and isolated attempts in Nepal to implement affirmative action, which took place in the civil service, armed forces, police force, and within the education sector. Two particular projects examine the results of affirmative action in the civil service and in the education sector, undertaken by Tek Bahadur and Anju Khadka.
Tek Bahadur (Tribhuvan University).
Classification and Implementation of Affirmative Action in the Civil Service.
In 2008, Nepal was declared a Federal Republican State. Previously to this, there have been attempts at recognising various indigenous groups; 101 caste groups were first identified in the nineteenth century, which were subsequently divided into four hierarchical orders. In 1997, the first modern classification was completed, which recognised 61 groups and Indigenous Nationalities (IN). A more recent survey in 2001 only mentioned 59 INs, which were then subdivided into five distinct categories.
There have been persistent demands by several groups including the Brahmins and Chhetris for new classifications, on the basis of different registers such as caste and language. The motive behind this was to avail themselves of the Government’s reservation policy. On behalf of the Janajatis, Madhesis, Dalits and the women, the Government has undertaken affirmative action. Specifically, in the civil service sector, reservation was introduced in 2001. However, political turmoil has hindered the successful implementation of these policies. The current Government is now encouraging affirmative action. This project examines the many aspects of this situation.
Anju Khadka (Tribhuvan University).
History of the Education Policy in Nepal.
This project analyses the role of the Government in the history of education from the 1950’s. In the mid 1990’s, the Government attempted to encourage education among the socially and economically disadvantaged groups, by introducing scholarships. In this scheme, the ‘10th Plan’, the Government gave priorities to marginalised groups, especially that of females, and announced a ‘Girl Students Scholarship Fund’ in 2006. There was a united consensus across political parties that there should be affirmative educative action.
Government policies have been reviewed with insights taken from fieldwork in Kathmandu and Bardiya. These insights reveal that the scholarship is often not available for all the students, and is dependent on the performance of the student in class. This means that many students are not able to pursue their study. Two basic problems have been identified in this scheme: firstly, the scholarship is only for girls, and secondly, students from many communities cannot regularly attend schools as they have to contribute to household maintenance tasks, such as in the Tamang community where domestic chores are unavoidable responsibilities.
Dr. Sanghamitra Misra (Jamia Millia Islamia) and Dr. Alpa Shah (Goldsmiths, University of London).
Reservations and the Controversies over Classification for ST Status in a Federal Structure: The Case of Adivasis from Jharkhand in Assam.
The context for this theme was provided by recent demands for ST status by the Santhal community in Assam. These demands violently culminated during a protest march in November, organised by the All Adivasi Students Association (AASA) and the All Adivasi Students Association of Assam (AASAA) in Guwahati that resulted in the deaths of at least two people who were shot by police. Over two hundred people were injured, and this event became part of a larger history of movements and negotiations for a ST status, which is a status present in many other States including Jharkhand.
This project studies these movements, as well as the accompanying contestations around issues of ST classification, and the repercussions of differing state decisions regarding affirmative action. A key aim is to understand why Santhals came to be classified as Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand but not in Assam, and to understand the role of Jharkhand’s indigenous activists and politicians in mobilising the demands. The project recognises these issues within a larger history of the colonial project of classification and categorisation in Assam and Bihar. The Santhals were part of a large scale migration of various communities during the mid-nineteenth century onwards. They migrated with the purpose of working in the tea plantations of Assam as well as extending sedentism from parts of the Central Provinces, Bihar, and Bengal. This study represents the changes in the political economy of Bihar and Assam during the colonial period. The colonial spatial ideologies in this part of eastern India are conceptual arguments that need to be kept in mind. In particular this includes the creation of a hill-plain dichotomy that fixes ethnic groups to specific physical places, and the continuing hold over the thinking of the post-colonial State and its implications for identity movements such as those in contemporary Assam.
Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy (Centre for Political Studies, JNU).
OBC’s and Overcoming Stigma.
This project is aimed at discovering why affirmative action is often accompanied by an objectification from the groups that would most benefit from the change. Within the process of change occurs an undignified and perceived reification of these groups. There is also a recognisable shift in the moral language that is used when discussing political movements. Though political society is based for the most part on a claim to morality, feminism is more often founded on the question of gaining rights. OBC reservation is the only example of a movement based on a discussion rights. So one might ask, what makes certain groups claim affirmative action policies whilst avoiding indignity? In the case of OBCs one of the major obstacles is the shifting dynamics of the category itself which implies that the relationship between sub-caste movements and affirmative action is ever changing. The complex processes of recognition, redistribution and representation involved in affirmative action policies for the OBCs are what this project aims to understand.
Theorising Inequality and Affirmative Action
Professor Neera Chandoke (Political Science, DU).
Equality for what?
Why should people not be poor? The answer to this can only be found after looking at the issue of reservation. Everyone in society is equal, and action should be taken to establish this equality. However, in an unequal society, how can one have distributive justice? Does distributive justice even ensure equality of status? As an example case study, the late Professor I. P. Desai conducted fieldwork in Gujarat 33 years ago, and he found that in public areas, discrimination was marginal. In private spheres however, discrimination was as high as 90%. In all areas, including villages, homes, shops and temples, the Dalits were observed to have faced discrimination, and Professor Desai concluded that Dalits had advanced more in the public arena, but not in the private sphere.
The private sphere is connected to the public sphere. For the Dalits, have they come into their own with moral status equal to that of other groups? A survey conducted by G. Shaw in 2006 of 565 villages points to the conclusion that discrimination is still a major and continuing issue. Tensions exist between distributive justice and equal moral status; equality in material goods does not ensure equality in moral status. As well as this, it does not assure respect; politics can grant equal moral statuses but it cannot always command respect.
So what is required for equality? As a human being, everybody shares the collective resources of society by virtue of right, not as a victim. ‘Fair sharing’ can be seen as the ownership of resources which allows human beings to make their own history, even if that history is not what they wanted. Poverty is a violation of our basic human rights, and compensation is an inadequate repayment for suffering this. Affirmative action is part of a political policy, and there should be a political consensus regarding social shares.
Dr. G. Aloysius (freelance journalist and social activist).
The Reservation Discourse, as viewed from within its Historical and Ideological Contexts.
All social movements trigger a counter movement that operates from the vantage point of hegemony. Proper understanding of any social movement is therefore only possible if one studies the counter movement as well. There is often dominance within society by the majority, and a demand of this majority is to have a share in all sectors. Counter movements have a sporadic display of violence, but alongside this at work is a more subtle manoeuvring that is not easily identifiable.
During the second half of colonial rule, culture was neither inclusive nor egalitarian. It was overtly brahmanical; castes were excluded from various activities. There were also religious minorities, where the mass of people were marginalised in the traditional sphere and also in new institutions. A foundational premise of the reservation movement was thus laid in the cultural exclusion during colonial rule, which was also the formative process of the nation state. The reservation movement was triggered by this exclusion, and it appeared that excluding the dominant meant that they tried to resist the rise of the masses. In the end the dominant forces in society had to agree, albeit unwillingly, to ‘tactical concessions’, whilst having no intellectual, moral, or national consensus backing this. Today, discrimination is an ongoing ideological and discursive reality. The Indian Statute Book provides provision for reservations, but each individual state forms different tactics, for example the executive branch (which includes educational institutions) devises subtle methods to avoid the constitutional mandate. No other provision of the Indian constitution is so defunct.
The single most crucial ideological confusion is the consistent conflation of principle and practise of reservation for culturally differentiated discriminatory collectivities. This is shown with example to those of the uniform welfare measures that a nation state has a mandate to undertake for its individual citizens: the concept that reservation should be cast in the image of welfare policies. The principle of reservation and affirmative action elsewhere is based on the recognition that the society is discriminatorily constituted in itself. Alternatively, welfare measures of state are there for all people, and this principle leads to the issue of historical injustice, and therefore will lead to the solution of reservation.
Within the Dalit movement, reservation is regarded as the minimal addition that has been done to achieve caste equality, but the hegemonic discourse has exerted such pressures on this that the target discourse has been transformed beyond recognition. The minimal addition has been turned into the maximum ever managed by the excluded groups, which has been transformed into a permanent idea. It must be noted that this legal inclusion can never be treated as a social inclusion, which is how the dominant bodies in society wish to view the issue. The most debilitating move of the counter movement is the discourse on merit, whereby some characteristics of dominant groups are transformed to the general criteria for change.
Professor Gurpreet Mahajan (Centre for Political Studies, JNU).
Affirmative Action and Historical Injustices.
Regarding the policies and practices of affirmative action and reservation in India, there has been a marked shift in the framing of the issue, from ‘social justice’ to ‘inequality’. Focusing on this shift, this project aims to map the different values among different social groupings, including literacy, housing, jobs and healthcare. It is important to note what is left out of this framing. Statements highlighting differences do not remark about or consider obligations and responsibilities. Due to a primary focus on the redistribution of resources, ‘non-material goods’ such as respect and dignity are often left out of the broader picture. The language used (such as ‘compensation’ or ‘rectification’) is not enough to capture the complexities of the situation, and a wider term is needed to replace that of ‘inequality’.
One needs to acknowledge the wrongs done to members of society, but acknowledgement is still not enough. It is crucial to not only recognise diversity, but also to address past injustices. Therefore affirmative action needs to be framed within the larger concerns of justice rather than just inequality. One of the major problems with the new frame of inequality is the fact that the present situation differs to existing differentials. Differentials place obligations which are not always on the same level or of the same nature. One needs to recognise the different kinds of obligations which arise out of various situations.
How are these differentials produced and continued? There are three such processes: the collective actions of the society (for example the law, and other institutions); forces beyond individual control (technological changes, natural disasters); and community inheritances. However, the nature of obligations arising from the differentials is different in multiple cases, as mentioned above. Historical injustices place the strongest obligations upon us, and the term itself is deeply differential in nature. Differences in obligations arise from certain situations, and each individual case demands individual treatment. What happens when the oppressors leave? What will the nature of obligation be to groups who have managed to overcome historical injustices?
The strongest obligation is towards groups who have suffered lasting harm. Arguably, these groups have no socially valued assets, and therefore material wellbeing cannot be a criterion for overlooking past injustices. There should be a strong effort to rectify imbalances in society.
– It was pointed out to Professor Chandoke that in an Indian context, Gandhian discourse would argue for equal moral status in lieu of material equality. Politics and morality have very different paths in this country, and in that respect, perhaps one has to consider the present scenario.
– In the current neo-liberal atmosphere, is it possible to distribute basic goods outside the market?
– What will be the kind of state that can go beyond the market?
– How can a state build up a moral consensus?
– Dr. Aloysius was asked whether it was the case that in an Indian context, Dalit representation and contribution to the labour market was completely neglected.
– Professor Mahajan was asked to remark on the difference between having responsibility and having obligation. It was pointed out that often differences in society are transformed into hierarchies of society.
– As social injustice only talks of one history, which history is to be taken into account?
– Professor Chandoke: The trouble with policies of protective discrimination rather than affirmative action has been the fact that they have failed to achieve both the distribution of resources and the creation of respect. The issue of equality and respect are disconnected. Political moves have to be justified to the wider society; the process has to appeal to shared understandings. It has to appeal to the core moral principles of human beings. Therefore, rather than looking at redistributive justice, one has to move toward more fundamental questions of poverty, and one has to think of redressing it. The debate on historical injustices has run its course. As an alternative, perhaps people should approach the system as agents and not as victims. For this, there is a need to create a wider political consensus, which sees equality as a foundational principle.
– Dr. Aloysius: The contributions of the Dalits have not been recognised in the process of making a nation. The whole discriminatory social imaginary gained the legitimacy of being the national imaginary. Equality was not considered as an ideal in the creation of a nation where traditional forms of inequality were reconfirmed with new state and societal power.
– Professor Mahajan: There are indeed some problems with the term ‘historical injustice’; it is however still important for the discussion in South Asia. We need to recognise that we do not wish to repeat the same actions that the society has got wrong in the past. Regarding the common pooling and redistribution of resources, we have to justify why these are ‘common resources’ and why there is a need to redistribute them. This is why ‘historical injustice’ needs to be brought back and applied, even if doing so there are other implications.
The Histories of Classification
Dr. Kamala Shankaran (Law Faculty, DU).
Constitution, Reservations and Courts.
At the time of the framing of the constitution, did the courts look at equality and non-discrimination as the conceptual reverse of each other? In Article 15 and 16, there is a great deal of discussion on equality and non-discrimination. There was a fair amount of consensus within the advisory committee and the draft constituting body about the need for reservation and affirmative action. When one looks at the difference between Articles 15 and 16, and Articles 29 and 30 (dealing with minorities and their rights), the need to celebrate diversity comes out very strongly. However, in the case of Articles 15 and 16, the idea was that the caste system in India prevented the pressure to homogenise, as every community or group had its specific niche. The reason for this because the legal framework that has framed castes in the past and present, is now custom and tradition which allows for caste differences to operate within ‘Hindu’ society, for example personal law and modes of marriage. Custom has framed the way caste is understood and the constitution had recognised this custom as a source of law.
Recognition of non-discrimination does not necessarily mean a respect for diversity. The recent Ashok Kumar Thakur case in 2005 is an example for this. Justice Bhandari said that the aims of Article 15 and 16 is to move towards a casteless society, whereas in two judgements from Article 30 the court says that the greatest vehicle for maintaining your lifestyle and diversity is through educational institutions, which is exemplified in the St Stephens case, regarding why the minorities should have the right to set up educational institutions. One of the judges actually said that black men do not wish to be white and assimilation is not the goal; the goal is to maintain diversity. Justice Kripal in the TMPAI case described India as a mosaic. Whether diversity issues are by-products of the Articles regarding non-discrimination (15 and 16) is something that one cannot be completely sure of. Both at the time of the framing of the constitution and the subsequent court judgements the issue of diversity was handled differently from the issue of non-discrimination. The important point to note is the fact that religion and custom are differentially treated; religion is something the court will not interfere with while custom is a domain where the court would.
Is there a right to reservation or is it a policy question? During the framing of the constitution there was an implicit understanding that there has to be reservation considering the history of deprivation. Now the Indian courts have moved from both extremes. Since the 1990’s there have been a series of decisions where the court says that once there is a provision like Article 16 (4) and Article 15 (4) where there is an implicit right, one has the right to go and demand reservation if the State policy does not provide for it. In the case of M. Nagraj versus Supreme Court of India, it was unanimously declared that there is no right to reservation in the constitution, and Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) are merely enabling devices. The decision regarding reservation is ultimately an executive one. This is a significant decision, and as far as reservation is concerned, it can be observed as judicial deference to the executives. It also put the matter out of court domain, and it is in this light that the amendment in 2005 can be looked at under Article 15 (5), where it is stated that the Parliament may by law determine the reservation to OBC and SC/ST’s. The court, it seems, passed the burden on to the executives.
Why is there is an ability of the Justice system to define who is of an OBC but not of a SC? If one looks at the case of N. M. Thomas, Justice Krishna had called the SC a ‘super classification’ and because of this they did not require an executive to do anything about it. This means that if it is there in the constitution, then one does not need to worry about particular or specific classifications in the SC reservation. However if there is constant mobility in the category of OBC then there need to be a constant re-evaluation. This is a little ironic, as the judiciary has paid such deference to the constitution in the case of SC (Article 341), but in the case of a woman who marries into a SC family, the court does not recognise this. It is normally considered that the woman takes the caste and the gotra of the man. It appears that there is a great deal of judicial restraint, with regards to the issues discussed above.
Professor Om Gurung (Anthropology, Tribhuvan University).
Indigenous Peoples of Nepal: Problems and Issues of Identification and Classification.
Nepal is a small county, yet despite this size, it is incredibly culturally diverse. This diversity was only recently recognised. Indigenous people were not recognised as being indigenous, because they were often seen as ‘drinking people’. For the last decade, Professor Gurung has been involved in social activism regarding the indigenous identities of the people of Nepal, and discovered that in recent years there has been a rise in identity politics. The Government of Nepal has appointed a task force to look into matters regarding the new indigenous identities of the people of Nepal, with Professor Gurung heading this specialist team. He has come to India with the aim of learning from Indian experiences, with the one dilemma in how he will apply his theoretical knowledge to the practical reality.
Until recently there has been no splitting between ethnic groups, but there are chances of this happening in the near future. The first national court of Nepal named the indigenous people as ‘Matwal’, or ‘drinking people’, and they were divided into two groups: slaveable and unslaveable. By doing this, the national court degraded them to the status of lower castes; the monolithic nation state excluded them. Diversity was considered a great threat to national integration, and those who spoke of diversity were punished by the law. The 1990 democratic Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) gave indigenous people a sense of identity. They created strong pressure on the Government to be recognised. In response, the constitution said Nepal was a Hindu State and Nepali the national language, and the State continued to be discriminatory.
In 1996, the Government of Nepal formed a task force to enquire into the issue of indigenous people, and they found 61 groups that they recommended for official recognition. Only 5 of these were recognised by Parliament; those which Parliament classified as having orality, distinct social, economic, political structure, and those that lie outside the four varna. Another task force came up with 5 more classifications: endangered, marginalised, highly marginalised, disadvantaged, and advanced. The first decade of indigenous movement focused on cultural rights, later this shifted to political issues. Reservation is one of the many demands of the movement. In 2007, there was a 20 point agreement, where each indigenous group had at least one claim forwarded in the pact.
Suvash Dharnal (Dalit Rights Activist).
Dalit and Affirmative Action in Nepal: Issues and Contestations.
Dalits in Nepal amount to 13% of the total population at present. This amount has decreased from 15% in 1991, which suggests an existing politic of population.
Every district in Nepal contains a Dalit population, but this is not officially represented. They face many problems, including a lack of education, middle class, and untouchability. Dalits in Nepal all face prejudices, and a list containing 205 ways of discrimination has been drawn up. This list includes prohibited entry to temples, denial of access to common resources like water, denial to jobs in certain sectors, and no allowance of inter-caste marriages. The Government once made a decree that a person marrying into a Dalit family would receive one lakh (100,000 NPR), but this decree no longer exists. The Ninth Plan of Nepal made provisions for teachers from the Dalit community, but this has not worked. The annual average income of the Dalits is the lowest out of all of the castes; more than 40% live below the poverty line. The Brahman and the Chhetri have access to all of the privileges of society, and have a much higher life expectancy.
Another issue of many contradictions is that of the social inclusion policy of the Nepal Government, which began in 1993. The Ninth and Tenth report of the planning commission identified four pillars of poverty, one of which was social exclusion. They set off new institutions, and poverty decreased by 10%. Ironically, out of this 10%, mostly ere from the upper caste (Brahmins and Chhetris), so even at the time of social inclusion, the Dalits remained discriminated against. In the 1990’s, caste discrimination was deemed illegal in the presence of the constitution.
In the 1991 elections, out of the 205 seats available, only one Dalit got elected. In 1995 and 1999, no Dalits were elected to the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives, ironically, became an untouchable area for Dalits. After the Maoist movement in 2006, there were 83 seats for the Maoists and for the first time in Nepalese history, there were 12 Dalit seats. Even in this scenario, the Dalits only had 8% of the total seats, in terms of proportional representation. After the Maoist movement, Dalits still remained the most deprived members of society. In 1965, the first demand for reservation was made in Nepal. However, the King’s Government refused to use the term ‘Dalit’. After 1991 the constitution provided Dalit protection, and in 2004, a high level commission formed to look into reservation under the Minister of Finance.
– An important question was raised regarding the difference in the legal nature of SC/ST and OBC reservation. It was argued whether or not it is possible to have a coherent ideology towards reservation. Dr. Shankaran was asked to comment on if she thinks there was a crucial break in the history of Indian judicial policies.
– Regarding the presentation on Nepal, it was queried whether a linguistic survey will serve the purpose of classification, why Nepal was so anxious to categorise the IPs, and if the economic situation will be the only criterion for IP status.
– Suvash Dharnal was asked to comment on the term ‘Dalit’, the origin of the term in Nepal, and whether there was any opposition to the term being applied. A question regarding the link between the Maoist movement and the Dalits was posed; how did the Maoists view the Dalit problems, and did the Dalits themselves organise any movements?
– Dr. Shankaran: The basis of SC/ST reservation was compensatory justice, while that of OBC is distributive justice. The nature of compensatory justice is frozen in time, whilst distributive justice is often up to the courts to decide, who do not often want to upturn the set pattern. Whilst referring to the importance of ‘emergency’ in the Indian judicial system, perhaps the new break was brought about by the liberalisation in the early 1990’s, with the emergence of new categories and new priorities.
– Professor Gurung: The concerns of the Nepal Government are based on the demands of the IPs. Everyone wants to be categorised as an IP to receive benefits, and this is a challenge to the Government. It is also important to note that just economic criteria will not serve the purpose as the IPs think that they are culturally, socially and politically poor.
– Suvash Dharnal: Although there have been some disagreements, the term ‘Dalit’ has been more or less accepted by the general populace. There have been no violent movements organised by the Dalits themselves, though they participated in the Maoist movement. The Maoists, in a sense, politicised the Dalit issue in Nepal.
OBC’s and the Current Debate
Professor Dipankar Gupta (Sociologist).
Reservation of Affirmative Action? The Case of the OBC’s.
Scheduled Class reservation was accepted because it was based on the solidity of social oppression. People were being kept out from the system through no fault of their own. The idea behind SC was to remove the caste order from society, with no compromising. After this came the Mandal Commission, and the rationale behind this was very different; it was not about removing caste, but representing caste, not on the basis of oppression. All of this relates back to the constitution, where the OBC is mentioned. Here, the ‘C’ is not caste, but class. What is the distinction between caste and class, and why do most people interpret ‘C’ as being caste?
There have been many early efforts to identify the OBC’s, but such efforts failed due to the confusion regarding what defined backwardness. The Mandal Commission found a number of OBC’s because of the way they established markers of backwardness. There can be three categories: social backwardness, educational backwardness and economic backwardness. One had to score 11 points to achieve this status. Looking further into these categories, there are 4 different types of social backwardness in the Mandal Scheme. These revolve around the questions; do members of the community perform manual labour, do the women work, what do the other castes think of them, and do the boys and girls marry before their legal age. If one travels to Maharashtra or Jatland, however, many people pride themselves on manual work, and the women often work at milking the cows. No caste thinks well of the other castes, and one has to marry their offspring off before the legal age and in doing so, break the law. This earns three points and means the group is classified as backwards. The Mandal Commission was devised in such a way that its ramifications were to look away from actual cases of social, economic and educational backwardness.
Reservation is not an anti-poverty program. It was meant to provide people with a sense of dignity and remove bigotry from the public sphere. OBC is a faulty categorisation, so how can it therefore be made respectable? Today there is reservation for the OBC’s when there should be affirmative action. Affirmative action is not a quota; it is representation and change for those who are seen as disadvantaged. For this, an element of trust in the institutions is needed, but this element is often lacking. There has to be affirmative action (apart from Scheduled Class reservation) where one can address discriminations and create a system adaptable to the given context. Affirmative action not only preludes quota but assures that the people who benefit from it are as good as any other candidates. This is where OBC action can take place; the only way OBC reservation can be supported is with the collapsing of poverty and reservation – two very different things with very different political requirements. The argument would end with a plea for a common minimum as a citizen, irrespective of caste, creed and individual rights, which makes sense only if historical injustices are considered. Reservation should support this process, and ensure that these injustices are addressed and removed, and this will allow in the near future access to the public services which have previously excluded them. One cannot give reservation to classes who do not have a historical trajectory to substantiate that claim; this includes groups that do not have a history of deprivation but are only statistically not as well off as other castes. If there is room at all of OBC orientated policy, then it has to be in the scope of affirmative action.
Professor Satish Despande (Sociology, DSE).
Empirical Injustice, Practical Politics and Theoretical Justice.
Untouchability is a central issue, and brings with it the question of the practise of restitutive and compensatory thinking, and policy measures in Indian politics. The struggle against untouchability is a political struggle, which is one reason for its centrality; it is not something that can be fought with reservations or Government policies. Castes have made people materially impoverished and socially disadvantaged. Part of this is due to the anxiety of modern Indians, and part due to old patterns of thinking through changing times where mental attitudes around the world are shifting. As a category, the OBC does not have a long political future but serves a good and interesting purpose at the present.
It would be perfectly legitimate to remark that one has passed through the ‘age of simplicity’; patterns of thinking have multiplied in complexity to try and accommodate for a divergence in the views of society. The political rhetoric however, desires to go back to a far simpler age. In the post-innocence complex world, there are three recognisable spheres that interweave: empirical reality of social injustice and practical politics; identity and electoral politics; and legal juridical thought of justice. Today, it could be said that these three things are out of line, and injustices now are far more complicated than in the past.
On an empirical level, every group is internally differentiated. At the same time, the presence of social differentiation goes against the social justice. There is homogeneity of poverty; because of such thinking, one begins to question the categories. This kind of thinking is unrealistic, yet remains socially and politically relevant. Admittedly, statistical correlation cannot be made irrelevant; at a practical and political level, electoral politics is driven by numbers, and the correlation between caste and numbers have been destabilised. Castes and numbers do not work in a simple manner, and politics is now a complex set of regional and national aggregations. Justifications that circulate (historical deprivation, power sharing, and arguments for diversity) unsettle philosophical thinking.
We have to think of another justificatory framework, and each of these frameworks will have different sets of evidence, when the meaning of the evidence changes. The connection between the three spheres mentioned above is action; the way in which they are coordinated is no longer pertinent to the present time. OBC’s take us away from thinking about things in homogeneity, because of its complexity. To understand it, one therefore needs to change patterns of thinking. OBC is the single most important reason that has brought back the region into Indian politics, and has given momentum to not just society, but language.
Professor Ronki Ram (Political Science, Punjab University).
Struggles for Reservation: OBC’s in Punjab.
Dr. Lucia Michelutti (Oxford University).
Dilemmas of OBC’s in India.
– Focusing on the interaction between the rural and the reservation policy, the rural has collapsed and the debate about OBC reservation has to be connected to this collapse. It can be understood in terms of what happens when the urban is brought into the debate as a space of its unfolding.
– Considering the automatic connection between dignity and material possessions, does it always happen by like this, and if so how long does it take for this to happen?
– Why can the assumption behind Scheduled Class reservation policies not be applied to the OBC reservation issue?
– When accountability is brought into focus by one section of society (when the group has to push beyond what is expected of them), whilst the other sections of society escape the scrutiny, the question of accountability becomes very lopsided. The top half of society can evade such questions due to the privilege of their social assets. In Bihar, only after the implementation of OBC reservation (the Mandal Commission) could people from certain sections be able to participate in political and social aspects of life. Therefore it would not be practical to reject the reservation of OBC’s as impractical. There are certain castes in the OBC with debatable levels of inclusion and exploitation, but generally reservation has been embraced in the fight against upper castes. It can be seen how villages in Bihar have complete upper caste domination, making life difficult for the OBC’s.
– Professor Gupta: Rural India is not the same as it was in the 1980’s, and one reason why there is a clamour for OBC reservations is precisely because rural India is collapsing, and people are leaving to look for urban jobs. The system giving into this pressure is however the wrong thing to happen; the republican spirit was sacrificed in giving reservation. The Mandal Commission is a result of the OBC assertions, not the other way around. Eradication of caste is what is most important, but Mandal was not about that, but the representation of the caste. When looking at accountability, one cannot help but agree that all are responsible for that. Accountability has to begin from the top, and then one can have institutions that can make a difference.
10th November 2009 – Session One
Women and Religious Minorities
Dr. Nivedita Menon (SIS/JNU).
Women, Identity and Reservation.
This paper seeks to look at the ways in which identities and affirmative action can be thought about from the perspective of feminist politics. The primary focus is identifying and locating the subject of feminist politics. There seems to be an assumption in women’s movements and policy making, that ‘women’ as a category is a recognisable subject which can be mobilised for one’s own politics and can be inserted as a subject of policy. It has been further recognised that this subject has been proved to be remarkably headstrong; to be hailed by feminist politicians and contained within the drive of Government policy. There have been various contestations within feminist thought with regards to indentifying the location of the subject called the ‘woman’, and one of the ways in which this problem has been addressed is through the idea of ‘intersectionality’. This idea refers to the way in which different kinds of identities converge upon an individual’s personal identity. This makes the individual a part of multiple communities at once, for example a woman can be a labourer and a Dalit at the same time. However, through discussions of the problems around the Women’s Reservation Bill, Dr. Menon has attempted to show how both ideas of ‘women’ as a well defined and pre-existing subject location, and as an idea of intersectionality, are both problematic and ultimately seek to move to a different position altogether.
There have been many discussions on the issues raised in the ‘Women’s Reservation Bill’ over the last forty years, but these discussions have been rejected time and time again by the ‘Report towards Equality’. It is only now that there appears to be a consensus on the need for the Bill across the spectrum of political opinion, from the Communist Part of India (Marxist) to the Bharatiya Janata Party. It would be misleading to assume that the ‘Women’s Reservation Bill’ is simply for women. There was a need to contextualise the bill in the political scenario of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the current version of the bill emerged. The drive of legislation and the forthcoming support for the bill seem to have been directed towards countering the increasing OBC assertion that has transformed Indian parliamentary politics through the 1980’s; there seems to have been an attempt at playing off the category of ‘women’ against the category of the OBC.
Rather than signifying a biological category, the bill has always conceptualised ‘women’ as a social location in the patriarchal social division of labour, which is central to the patriarchal domination. However, feminists and political activists fighting for the bill have always disapproved of a ‘quota within quota’ system, on the sole argument that it is a ploy to stop the bill from being passed. This has generated endless controversies: Sharad Yadav described the bill as an instrument for the domination of ‘par kati mahilayen’, suggesting that it would only benefit the upper caste, English-speaking, westernised women. Debates also emerged from within the BJP, with Uma Bharati supporting the ‘quota within quota’ proposition, and Sushma Swaraj opposing it, making an impeccable liberal feminist argument. The bill may not be passed at all if the ‘quota within quota’ argument is not accepted, and there does not seem to be any theoretical or political contradictions within the argument that would make the proposition unacceptable to the feminists.
Feminist theory is increasingly recognising that the subject of feminist politics is not waiting to be mobilised and called into being. Mobilising the category of ‘women’ is the ultimate goal of feminist politics. This goes beyond the idea of intersectionality. When a Dalit woman is politically mobilised, it is the character of the politics that determines which of the two subject positions of that individual is used. If she is mobilised by Dalit politics, her identity of being a woman becomes irrelevant. Therefore it could be said that the argument of intersectionality that presupposes the subject position as ‘women’ as the fundamental premise on which other identities converge (for example caste, race and religion), is unsustainable.
Given this understanding, the debate on affirmative action, as articulated in mainstream political theory in India is not particularly useful. It is difficult to think about affirmative action in terms of communitarianism and individualism. In theorising modernity, Sudipto Kaviraj identifies several features of modernity that unfold in a sequence. It is the order in which these features emerge in a society that characterise the particular conjuncture of modernity in that particular society. In this scheme, European modernity becomes one among many specific histories of modernity. In the way that European modernity unfolded, communitarianism was a development upon individualisation. The individual had never been at the centre of anti-imperialistic struggle in India; rather the individual was always inflected through communities. Instead of accepting the set standard of European modernity, Indian modernity can be conceptualised as a specific configuration of modernity, created by a particular history that produced individualisation after communitarianism, through the articulations of anti-imperialist struggles.
Professor Surinder Jodhka (Indian Institute of Dalit Studies).
Affirmative Action and the Question of Religious Minorities.
Majorities and minorities are not purely numerical categories, but they are ‘relational’ and socio-politically produced. They were constructed in relation to the nation state, and they emerge with the modern practices of democratic politics. Within the context of the freedom movement, the term ‘minority’ did not solely refer to a religious minority, for it denoted other social groups such as the ‘depressed classes’. It was the colonial census that was crucial in cementing these social identities into distinct categories, making them more permanent in the process. However, such colonial instruments were not fully successful in containing these identities into categories, and even in post-colonial times, ambiguities regarding identities still persist in many communities. In a certain sense, the Indian Constitution often over-determines how citizens are to classify themselves as members of one religious community or another. Historically, the Partition of India was crucial in shaping the idea of a religious minority. This idea, within the context of the partition, was often articulated by putting a binary between a ‘Muslim’ and an ‘Indian’. On the whole, it was the ‘churning’ of Indian society through a democratic political process that transformed religious identities and their relationship with the nation state.
After over sixty years of the partition, the Muslim community has begun to look at political participation in different ways. This has involved different sections of the community mobilising themselves in a variety of different ways. It is in this critical context that the Sachar Committee was appointed by the UPA Government, and headed by Justice Sachar, a trustworthy Punjabi Khatri. The Committee’s report was celebrated by the Muslim community, and there was no accusation of any conspiracy of the Indian State. It is one of the most debated and well-circulated document that has been produced by the Government of India, and consists collected and compiled data and evidence from a variety of sources. The most critical aspect of the document was its classification of the Muslim community into ‘OBC Muslims’ and ‘non-OBC Muslims’. This transformed the politics of categorisation by joining the entire Muslim community together into a statistical category, for example OBC Muslims became a pan-Indian statistical group. It transformed communities into populations, devoid of all their cultural, social and regional specificities, rendering them accessible to the state through the language of development. Accordingly, perceptions within the Muslim community also underwent a crucial transformation; perceptions shifted from identities, to development and citizenship.
After the report was printed, nothing much happened. The Government of India appointed several committees and numerous initiatives were proposed, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, Assessment and Monitoring Authority, Adversity Index, and the National Databank, but the progress made has seemed unsatisfactory to many. The Indian Government has dealt quite successfully with affirmative action and reservation regarding untouchability, SC’s, ST’s, and OBC’s. The State seems to be unable to handle issues of religious minorities. Addressing the problems of Muslim minorities is not overly difficult, and maybe the OBC Muslims should be clubbed with the OBC category. Political parties may be compelled to give representation to religious minorities, but the Government finds it difficult to address the issue of religious minority because of the very contemporary nature of the problem. The Indian State seems to be able to deal with injustices of the past, discriminations, and oppressions that have come down to us historically. In order to deal with Muslim minorities and deprivation, the state has to focus on the discriminations and injustices of the present; the way in which the corporate sector hires their work-force, and the way in which present-day democratic politics discriminate against the Muslim minorities and deny them political representation. These structures of deprivation that operate are problems that the state seems unable to address.
Professor Zoya Hasan (Centre for Political Studies, JNU).
Politics of Inclusion: Castes and Minorities.
Since the 1960’s, it has become extremely important to examine the state’s approach to disadvantaged people, and the official categories that have been used to address target groups for the purpose of creating public policies. There is a distinction between reservation and affirmative action, and public policy, and importance should be given to opening up the debate to a broader framework, 62 years [at the time of writing] after independence. Many academics, activists and intellectuals have been deeply concerned with issues of disadvantages and inequality, and have taken to accept that deprivation and discrimination in India is not only widespread, but multifaceted and not restricted to any one community or social group.
This framework is distinct from the official discourse on discrimination and inequality that has, for a long time, always fused together the categories of discrimination and caste-deprivation. There is no doubt, however, that caste has always been and still is the major axis of discrimination in Indian society. It is time for us to widen our perceptions and recognise the multiple registers through which discrimination operates.
For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a perceptible shift in both academic and official discourses in debates surrounding inequality. There seems to be some rethinking on these issues that are reflected in the framing of the Common Minimum Programme that was adopted by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) during its first term in office. Until recently, the deprivation of religious minorities has never figured in the debates, for it was always seen as divisive. It seems that now there has been politically motivated rethinking, dictated by the Congress Party and their attempts to win back the disaffected Muslims (the world’s largest minority), who make up 20% of the total population. The Congress Party lost their support long ago, and there has been a definite indication of a significant conceptual shift, which has not yet been translated into their policy.
The agenda for the Sachar Committee was to look at the socio-economic status of the Muslims in India, which is very much unlike the Gopal Singh Committee, appointed by Indira Gandhi in 1982, to look at minorities and SC/ST’s. For the first time, the Government of India was bold enough to focus exclusively on the Muslim minority, and when the Sachar Committee released its first report in November 2006 it was supported by all sections of the Muslim community. Until today, the report has not been discussed in parliament, despite of the efforts of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. There seems to be an official recognition that Muslims are deprived and under-represented.
After the Sacha Committee report, other groups have been appointed by the Government, of which the Committee on Diversity Index and the Equal Opportunity Commission are the most important. These three constitute the first attempts to look at the multiple groups of inequality, and thus they deserve an integrated reading if we are to understand the new debates on the issue. These three represent a visible shift towards the conceptualisation of deprivation, and the recognition of the diverse grounds of inequality, going beyond an exclusive focus on caste. The new approach appears to be more holistic and would potentially provide a fairer distribution of social advantages; theoretically they cover a wider population in contrast to the caste-driven policies of affirmative action. There were concerns that these new policy initiatives might undermine the interests of the SC’s/ST’s/OBC’s. This anxiety was unfounded; the existing reservations did not dissipate, but were supplemented by more inclusive measures, through a more inclusive approach to social equality. This not only benefited the already existing beneficiaries, but incorporated a more diverse range of deprivations within the ambit of public policy.
– It was pointed out to Dr. Menon that the spokesman of a communist party suggested that if quota within quota was becoming a barrier, it would be practical to deal with the Women’s Reservation Bill in two parts. First, the bill could be passed in its present form and second, a fresh struggle could be waged for making the bill more inclusive by providing quota within quota. There was another argument which suggested that OBC assertion in the country has now reached a level when all major political parties have to nominate a woman candidate in the OBC seats, thus negating the need for a quota for women within the caste-based quota system.
– Dr. Menon was asked whether she believed that the Women’s Reservation Bill would bridge the gap between men and women in society. This was argued by another, that at a basic level, situations in many villages of our country show that those women who become Mukhias in villages do not exercise any power. They are manipulated by the male members of the villages; how can the Women’s Reservation Bill help under such circumstances?
– Today, almost all political debates result in reductionism to caste. When we talk about women’s issues, we inevitably fall back upon caste; how is this helpful?
– It was suggested that Dr. Menon’s presentation was collapsing the categories of modern, modernity, and modernisation.
– Dr. Menon was asked to explain in a greater detail what is actually at stake as far as the Women’s Reservation Bill, due to the confusion over the optimism shown by Professor Hasan and the pessimism displayed by Dr. Menon.
– Professor Jodhka was asked to reflect on how all commissions of enquiry for minorities, in order to gain legitimacy, have to be either constituted by people who belong to the minority in question, or have to be perceived as those who are sympathetic to the cause of the minorities.
– The argument that the Indian State is capable of dealing with injustices inherited from the past through tradition while it is incapable with dealing with injustices prevalent in present day society is unsustainable. Injustice towards Muslims is a matter pertaining to the past and to tradition. The argument that the state is capable of handling caste-based inequality cannot really be sustained.
– It was suggested that Professor Hasan’s presentation had a strange paradox; on the one hand concrete suggestions were made, and on the other hand the lack of a political consensus on the issue was mentioned, and how these proposals were obstructed by differing political opinions.
– Dr. Menon: Taking up the Women’s Reservation Bill in two stages takes for granted that the quota within quota system involves an obstruction, which exists only as long as we treat it as an obstruction. Past experiences have shown that such processes do not work in our legislative system; it simply evades the question. If it is true that in today’s politics, an OBC seat will inevitably be filled by an OBC woman candidate even if the bill gets passed in its present form, then what is the problem in having the quota within quota?
Feminist theory today does not necessarily see men and women separated by a ‘gap’. It has to be thought of as a transformative process, and there is no doubt that if the bill gets passed, it will have an enabling effect. There is no doubt that the bill will be passed, with positive result.
– Professor Jodhka: There is a need to study the reception of the Sachar Committee Report by the Muslim community, and it could actually demolish the myth of the Muslim community of being an appeased minority. The question as to why the Indian State is unable to deal with the minority issue in spite of the fact that they have made attempts at addressing caste-based inequalities, is incredibly complex. The idea of ‘equal opportunities’ is outdated and unclear, so perhaps the Equal Opportunities Commission should be called the Equality Commission. Finally, it is important to think why Muslim and Christian OBC’s were not included in the OBC quota, though Buddhists and Sikhs were, though none of these religions upheld the caste system as a doctrinal principle.
– Professor Hasan: A minority sub-plan now seems extremely unlikely; there would be little use in pushing the idea further. Despite this, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Diversity Index are very positive actions. Her concern with the Equal Opportunities Commission differs greatly with those of Professor Jodhka’s, and finds that the Commission focuses too greatly on issues of research and on the importance of minority deprivation, instead of looking at remedial measures. One should not underestimate the oppositions from within secular political formations as well as the existing beneficiaries of reservations; the latter also has an interest in opposing the idea of expanding the scope of reservations to include other communities. Although the Muslims complain about the injustices they have to suffer, they do not do much for their own community, nor do they make much of an attempt to mount pressure on the political system for change.
Reservation for Dalits and Indigenous People
Professor Gopal Guru (Centre for Political Studies, JNU).
What is the biography of an argument? The biography can be described as a ‘moral significance’ attached to an argument, and therefore the biography and moral significance are two attributes that are always tied together. Of course, an argument also has a ‘chronology’, which follows without any relation to the two attributes. The theme, ‘Inequality and Affirmative Action,’ is significant to our intellectual thinking and our politics. However, how can someone invoke both inequality and affirmative action at the same time in politics? These concepts are used right across the political spectrum, and we cannot use these ideas as a variable by everyone for intersecting purposes.
There is a conceptual problem with the idea of inequality, as this category does not have the conceptual resilience to sustain a discussion of historical injustices. Politics and history are intertwined in such a way that it is impossible to ignore history for conceptualising the future. There is a politics in avoiding history, for it serves certain vested interests of the upper castes. Adivasis, women and Dalits should take serious objection to the politics which discard history; everyone is the produce of history, and we all live with this. The upper classes avoid history in order to avoid their historical responsibility for the injustices in which they have inflicted upon the Dalits.
Inequality does indeed represent the language of deprivation, but there are realities that cannot be captured by the discourse of inequality. There are political realities that exist beyond the realms of inequality that deal with normative issues of humiliation and repulsion. The biography of the argument that moves through the anthropology of the argument produces certain ‘tormenting insights’. Upper caste reactions to inequality produce not so much rage as repulsion, and no discussion on inequality can capture this reaction. A lower caste candidate campaigning for election in an upper class neighbourhood produces abhorrence and disgust in the hearts of the residents. In the case of Muslims, it would have produced rage because there is a qualitative distance, which leads to the question of justice. Justice is more helpful in understanding and describing realities. Inequality cannot capture these descriptions as they lie outside inequality itself. The upper castes deal with their repulsion by converting their words into figures. Since repulsion resides in a real and concrete image, the abstract image of figures is made available as the target as upper caste repulsion. This process involves transfiguration, through which an argument is reduced to the body of a person which is made amenable to repulsion. Consequently, the idea of social justice is converted into the body of a Dalit. This enabled the upper castes to refer to the Dalits, not as Dalits, but as a ‘social justice person’.
Pure arguments are those that belong to the realm of the ontological and the universal; it is not anthropological. The upper castes do not give any concrete arguments against reservation; when they talk about caste reservations they become completely emotional. The argument is converted into the identity of a person through the processes of transliteration and transfiguration. Therefore, reservation is reduced to the body and thus it is rendered available for repulsion. Even if inequalities are corrected somehow, it cannot guarantee that it can abolish the repulsion and humiliation attached to a Dalit, and the question of justice becomes important.
Dr. Clarinda Still (Contemporary South Asian Studies, University of Oxford).
Reservations and ‘Caste Feeling’ in Rural South Asia: ‘They have it in their stomachs, but they can’t vomit it up’.
Studying the effects of caste reservations in Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Still attempts to understand the impact of reservations and state policies on caste feelings in a village called Nampally. Through interviews with elderly men in the village, it can be shown how in the lower class, perception of the situation seems to have improved a great deal since reservations were introduced. The interviewees discussed how they can now go to upper caste areas in expensive shirts and trousers and not get beaten up by their caste superiors. However, this does not mean that caste distinctions have evaporated completely from the village. Castes seem to be within the ‘stomach’ of every upper class resident in the village, often hidden from public view, like indigestible food they cannot vomit.
Kamas constitute the dominant caste in the village. Though they have caste feelings in their hearts, they are cautious about how they articulate low caste inferiority. Their superiority is hardly articulated through a discourse of caste; rather, caste distinctions are justified in terms of reservations, habits and cleanliness. However, reservation becomes the principle category through which dominant castes openly express their resentment towards the lower castes.
Reservations, on the whole, have become the matter of debate even within the Dalits themselves. An organisation of the Madigas, who constitute the largest Dalit caste in the village, have previously carried out a campaign against certain sections of the Dalit community monopolising all of the benefits of reservation. The debates surrounding reservation have fractured the Dalit communities from within; caste distinctions exist both inside and outside the Dalit community. Dalits are no composed of divided entities with divergent interests. The Malas and the Madigas inhabit different territories and different spaces inside the village. The Madigas prefer division of reservation benefits, while the Malas oppose it. This has become inimical to Dalit unity; reservations have exacerbated caste-conflict within the communities at the level of state politics.
Land is owned by the dominant castes, yet a few of the Dalits have managed to acquire small plots of land. A section of the Dalits seems to be highly politicised with a high degree of awareness of the opportunities provided by reservation. The poor Dalits, however, are hardly aware that reservations exist. Even if they are, they are not in a position to do anything to use these facilities.
Many Dalits rest their hopes on the state. Government jobs are highly sort after, for they represent a good life, security, physical comfort, a decent salary supplemented with bribes and an escape from hard manual labour. The upper castes see these advantages as unfair, and thus attitudes towards reservation harden the dividing line between the Dalits and the upper castes. This represents, most importantly, a policy of favouritism by the state, and many Kamas argue that reservations should be given according to economic backwardness, rather than caste status. It is often seen as unfair that all SC’s enjoy reservation yet poor Kamas do not. In an interview, a women belonging to the dominant caste protested some Malas have crores, yet they get reservation, and there is no reservation for the higher castes. This sentiment is widespread, and such views often become prejudices. The Kamas complain that the Dalits do not work anymore for they have become lazy; they can afford to be lazy now because they have reservations available. They argue that everyone is the same now, and there are no castes any more. Dalits also argue the same, but they do so in order to assert that today the lower castes cannot be oppressed or discriminated against. There seems to be a widespread problem that the system of reservation is politically motivated.
The benefits that the Dalits have received from Government policies are undoubtedly exaggerated by the dominant castes. Dalits occupy the same position of servitude and subordination in spite of the material improvements. In realistic terms, the lower castes have hardly been able to threaten the position of the dominant castes. However, these resentments find expression in the everyday life of the village. Benevolence and charity towards the lower castes have dried out. Caste boundaries seem to have hardened as reservation becomes the pivotal point of resentment.
On the whole, upper caste animosity has been seen to be voiced through the discourse of reservation. Despite the fact that very few Dalits have actually benefited from the reservations, upper caste resentment is channelled into one particular policy issue that provides a useful and legitimising language through which the Kamas articulate a more complex antipathy. Dalits face upper class hostility on an everyday basis. Moreover, the policy itself has become an obstacle to Dalit unity. With the decline of public sector employment, the lower castes are fighting more vigorously for reservation.
Professor Manoranjan Mohanty (Centre for Political Development).
Reservation and Self Determination.
There are several adverse currents that threaten to make just small claims to reservation, which are most likely to be neutralised and defeated in the process. It is important for us to relocate the discourse on inequality. The discourse on equality has put a limit to the possibilities of our politics. If, instead of talking of equality in terms of equality of opportunity, we conceptualise equality as a power-relation, as a comprehensive framework of transformation that enables individuals and communities to emancipate themselves from the structures of deprivation, then the idea of equality can have more relevance. The discourse of justice can equally be limiting, if we see how it has been structured by liberal politics. Bringing back conceptions of equality and justice to the centre of our discourse can therefore have some enabling possibilities. In this context, self-determination can be viewed as an alternative vantage point to the debate surrounding reservation. Reservation is a necessary and important strategy of movement towards equality and justice, but we need to focus more attention on a process called self-determination.
Self determination is the process of the full realisation of the potential of individuals, groups, and regions that are contained by caste, class or patriarchal structures. Like affirmative action in the West, the reservation discourse has become the main instrument for achieving egalitarian progress. This fact takes us to false dichotomies, for example the equality of opportunity. Arjun Singh, who introduced reservations in higher education for the OBC’s in the first term of the UPA, was appointed to the Commission on Economic Backwardness. There was a campaign to amend the Article 16 from ‘socially and educationally backward’ to ‘socially and economically backward’. This is because of several reasons. Firstly, we tend to focus on reservation as being the single and exclusive instrument of egalitarian progress. Secondly, there is a trend for globalisation, a neo-liberal economy, and production for profit, and these have led to a shrinking of opportunities available.
The goals for growth that have guided the Knowledge Commission have carefully reorganised the entire strategy to centralise education, to ensure that the system serves the interest of high growth. This has had an adverse effect on deprived groups, especially adivasis, Dalits, women, and backward regions. The third difficulty lies at the level of discourse itself. Discourses have been designed and redesigned to hide oppression, and new terms of discourse have replaced old ones. It was first thought that the idea of empowerment and development was about the notion of power to the oppressed. Thus the issue of governance and the state itself was at the centre of discourse. Now, terms such as equality, freedom, justice and exclusion have come to replace the term oppression.
In the context of the three adverse trends, the question of how we are to regroup ourselves remains if we are to pursue our goal towards equality, justice, humanity, and self-determination. There are two important resources, one of which is our knowledge of the depth and dimension of oppression on deprived groups, and the other is the growth of autonomous politics of the oppressed. In conclusion, the reservations for the SC/ST categories are also used as a form of tension measurement. We essentially have to go back to the basics of gender, caste and ethnic violence, to understand how everyday life is full of oppression. The cultural and ideological sides of this are also important, and so are the issues of employment and land ownership. We have to emphasise the right to dignity to be on the same level as the right to history and the right to resources. It is important for us to relocate the discourse on equality to a framework if self-determination.
Dr. Anand Teltumbde (Independent Researcher).
Reservations within Reservations: A Case Study of Sub-Castes.
Once implemented, reservations do not appear to have brought about social equality, so the question must be asked again; what is reservation meant for? Reservation is nothing more than a strategy of ‘containment’ and an exercise in ‘tension management’. When caste based reservation was brought about, it was a countervailing measure which attempted to conceal the inability of society to treat its own members equally. However, the simultaneous phenomenon of a proliferation of reservations is doing far more harm than good. To understand this point, we first need to be clear on what a caste actually is, yet ironically the more we discuss castes, the more we misunderstand them. Caste is essentially a hierarchy-seeking and divisive mentality, and this point is missed out in nearly all social discourses. Caste division is infinite and no one can be confident about the exact numbers that exist in society, for there appear to be innumerable number of sub-castes within the castes that exist within society. When reservations began, Dalits were thought of as a cohesive unit. This was a totally wrong conception, because even sub-castes have an infinite number of units. A caste is essentially a divisive unit and it renders itself obsolete for any sort of action, especially emancipator politics.
The limitations of reservation should be critically assessed. Over the past few years, there has been a negative rate of growth in the public employment sector. Accordingly, the enabling effects of reservation also seem to be diminishing. Caste does not seem to be the basis for action, and there is a need to discover other ways of transcending caste differences, if we seek to bring about any radical change within society, including the liberation of the Dalits. The benefits that the Dalits have acquired from reservations are extremely limited, and structurally they have only perpetuated inequality. Reservations may well have benefited Dalits in terms of social motivation, but the few Dalits who have benefited from this system have consequently hijacked the larger agenda of opportunities from the Dalit community as a whole. Dalit issues fundamentally revolve around rights of land, which is an issue that has been thoroughly marginalised in the whole discourse around Dalit reservation, for it has always primarily focused on education and public employment. Admittedly, reservation has never been a solution, and the issue of caste can be conceptualised through the interactions between Dalits and non-Dalits.
– If caste based reservations have produced a layer of Dalit beneficiaries who have transformed the discourse of caste, does Dr. Teltumbde suggest that class-formation itself has to be arrested among the beneficiaries of reservation?
– Dr. Mohanty was requested to elaborate on the idea of transcendental justice.
– It was pointed out that the idea of caste has become so endemic in village society, that even Maoist politicians confess that mobilisations on class lines are becoming increasingly difficult. Under such circumstances, is transcending caste for mobilisation useful, and is going back to class at all feasible?
– Even today we still seem to be in the process of understanding what exactly what it means to be a Dalit, and we are slowly coming to recognise the embodied aspects of caste relations by taking into account humiliation, repulsion and hatred. However, most policies on Dalits focus exclusively on economic development or educational opportunities, as if these would be sufficient to negate the embodied notions of caste.
– It was pointed out that while reflecting on the debates surrounding affirmative action in Nepal, there are two distinct schools of thought. One of these deals with the issues of reservation similar to the policies followed in India, while the other talks about special rights in the nature of fundamental rights that need to be guaranteed to Dalits. The latter argue against the ways in which reservation has been provided to the Dalits.
– Professor Guru: Whilst not wanting to dissociate history from equality, the point needs to be reiterated that the idea of equality, in the way it has been invoked in this conference so far, is insufficient to understand the full scale of realities. This is because many of them lie beyond the realm of inequality. As far as the embodied notions of caste go, caste discrimination is often expressed and articulated through the body, but the conceptualisation of caste mostly remains outside of the body. In India, we often tend to reduce the body to the argument. A non-Dalit would always reduce the argument to the body. The body therefore becomes an easy target of attack, rather than the argument itself. Though the Dalit discourse is mostly focused on the socio-economic aspects of caste, issues of dignity and humiliation are also addressed.
– Dr Still: The historical differences between the Malas and Madigas are recorded in Missionary writings from the 19th century and possibly before. The Madigas were historically more closely related to upper-class patronage, unlike the Malas. When the Dalit movement strengthened in the 1980’s, the Madigas were dissatisfied because the movement was largely dominated by the Malas. These conflicts were more aggravated reflections of earlier differences between the two communities. Many of the debates surrounding castes are located in the concepts of humiliation, dignity and respect. Untouchability is very closely related to the body.
– Professor Mohanty: Amartya Sen’s idea of social justice seems to be amenable to public policy, and it is this that he was trying to challenge. Everyone belonging to an oppressed community should be able to read through the processes that the upper castes have developed, in order to counter the larger agenda of Dalit politics. The state’s strategy is to divide and isolate the different Dalit groups, and we have to look for ways in which the autonomous processes of Dalit groups could emerge for their self-determination. Self-determination should be a process that can be applied to all.
– Professor Teltumbde: The layer of communities who benefited from the reservation politics are blocking the same kind of progress for the other members of the community. This group of benefactors has a vested interest in keeping the caste system alive, as it is only this pre-condition that ensures the benefits that they have derived from Government policies. The caste-class debate is largely the result of the mess that the Communists perpetrated in their earlier days. This duality of caste-class would not have existed if we had embedded caste in a discourse from the beginning. Recently, we tend to assume that the differences between caste and class are sacrosanct, but we seem to forget that there are overlaps. The fact that today we only have Dalits and non-Dalits shows us that the classical caste system has died away. Caste exists at the fringe of classical caste-divided society. Though caste-based reservation does act as a motivator, it sometimes acts as a disincentive as well.
Education and New Dimensions
Professor B. S. Chimni (Knowledge Commission).
Legal Education: Emerging Dimensions.
The history of legal education in post-colonial India can be broadly divided into two phases: pre and post National Law School. This paper focuses on the post National Law School, and its impact on social justice. There are three alternative theses that capture the place, role and contribution of the National Law Schools in legal education in India. The first thesis describes how the National Law Schools provide competent legal graduates who can facilitate the realisation of our national interests through meeting the challenges thrown up by globalisation in the rapidly changing Indian legal system. The second thesis argues that the National Law Schools are providing graduates with a holistic legal education grounded in a perceptive understanding of the location of law in society. These graduates have a serious commitment to the welfare of the Indian people, with a focus on the deprived, disadvantaged and marginal sections of society. The third thesis puts forward the notion that the National Law Schools, given the profile of recruitment of its graduates, are producing a cadre to serve global capital. They are producing hierarchies within legal education, as well as strengthening class fractures within Indian society. The third thesis is the one that shall be considered, although it is true that the first thesis is equally valid. If the first thesis was not valid then the third thesis would be difficult to sustain.
The National Law Schools reproduce class hierarchies in two ways. First, they are produced within legal education, between law schools. They are seen as elite law schools as opposed to the ‘regular’ ones. These are not merely matters of perception, but are reflected in the recruitment profile of the graduates and equally in terms of the resources that these law schools possess in comparison to others. Secondly, they reproduce hierarchies within society itself. This is the outcome of the background of the graduates, as well as the fact that their principal employers are established law and corporate firms that serve the interests of the global capital. These dominant characteristics do not, however, exclude a smaller minority of graduates who join research institutions, universities and NGO’s and they seem to provide a sense of social legitimacy to these law schools.
In this context, we need to examine three factors: the factors that facilitated the rise of the National Law Schools; the nature of legal education provided by these schools; and the general role of the middle-class in India. Reflecting on the first factor, when the National Law Schools first began appearing the old law schools were in a crisis, except for a very small number of institutions including the Delhi Law Faculty and the Government College of Law in Mumbai. Consequently at this point in time, any new ideas to rejuvenate legal education were welcomed. Regarding the second factor, the first graduating class of the first National Law School was just after economic liberalisation in 1992. The graduates of these schools emerged at a time when the legal services market was expanding, and there was the entry of global capital in the legal market. In relation to the third factor, the National Law Schools were extremely expensive to attend, and only a small section of society with a certain class background could afford this kind of legal education There were however scholarships, and attempts were made to make the institution more inclusive. An examination of the of the general class background of the students in these schools shows that they predominately come from the middle and upper-middle classes.
There is also a lack of serious engagement in social sciences with the pragmatic nature of legal education, the pedagogic method used, and the absence of a democratic culture in these law schools. The role of the middle class is well researched in social sciences, and these studies show that they played a unique role in articulating the interests and aspirations of the Indian capitalist class, especially in the neo-liberal era that has seen the left movement weaken in the country. There are a few possible steps that one could take to correct the scenario. Firstly, the admission policy should be changed. Secondly, we have to find alternative pedagogic methods. Thirdly, we have to try and encourage serious research in these law schools. Finally, there is a serious need for a documentation of a critical history of legal education in India. The fundamental problem was that we came out with alternative structures of legal education without reflecting upon what was essentially wrong with the legal education already in place. This is why the writing of a critical history is so important.
Professor G. Haragopal (Political Science, University of Hyderabad).
The New Tribal Universities and Higher Education in India.
Inequality and affirmative action, the principal categories being discussed in this conference, constitute a contradiction in terms. This is because we are pursuing a model of development which has an intrinsic propensity to generate and widen inequalities. We talk of affirmative action in order to undo what the model of development does before getting into the basics of the model of development itself. This constitutes a major limitation of any conference of this kind.
Recently there was an act on the rights of children for free and compulsory education. It was believed that this kind of affirmative action would have a long lasting impact on democratising education in India. However, it later became clear that it was part of the very long process of widening inequalities, as this act in principle accepted private education in schools. Once this was accepted, there emerged the dualism of filtering children; the inequality between those who can afford to go to a better English Medium, and those who cannot afford to pay for a better education. It has now become evident that the entire domain of public education has been destroyed in India. Unless we do something about the current system, it is likely that no student studying in a school located in a backward village will be able to achieve success. Affirmative action will have a very marginal impact since the quality of education in public schools has dropped. The only way to improve schooling is to introduce common and neighbourhood schools, and the entire schooling system has to be taken up by the public sector.
Outside affirmative action, there are struggles going on for changing property relations. At another level, there are struggles for democratising power relations. This session of the conference deals with the theme of the democratisation of knowledge and knowledge relations. In India, this is a theme as important as property and power relations.
Today, the Indian State is at war with the adivasis of this country, and it is in this situation that we are carrying on our debates. The adivasi restlessness made the last Human Resource Minister set up a committee on the establishment of adivasi universities, of which Professor Hargopal was a member. There were extremely complex questions that kept appearing, and one of these was related to the location of the adivasi universities. The problem was that adivasi populations are spread across the entire country, and it was suggested that irrespective of the university location, fifteen branches should be opened in fifteen major adivasi dominated areas, and each of these branches would have university status. The next problem arose regarding the name of the university. It was proposed that the university would be named after an adivasi leader, but there is no single tribal leader who symbolises the aspiration of all adivasis; no hero who could stand for the solidarity of the entire tribal population of the country. The next important issue was that of the medium of education in these universities. There were debates surrounding whether the instruction should be in English or in the local languages. The experience of tribal residential schools in Andhra Pradesh showed that because the instruction was in English, the drop-out rate was extremely high. One student even committed suicide because he was unable to cope with the language: these are the harsh realities that need to be considered.
It was finally decided that the university would be located in the constituency of the last Education Minister, Madhya Pradesh. It was not the tribal compulsion but the compulsion of the minister that determined the location of the university. Moreover, the act that was formulated did not reflect the spirit of the University Grants Commission (UGC) recommendations, despite the act incorporating some of the suggestions. It was suggested that every university should have a model school and it would be the responsibility of the senior university teachers to teach in those schools and to keep on generating knowledge. There was a lot of emphasis on tribal and culture studies, language studies, studies on tribal regions, customs, and culture. The colonial state brought anthropologists to study the adivasis, as colonialism faced a greater challenge from the adivasis of India since the eighteenth century, much more than they faced from the populations of the plains. Today it seems that the state as well as imperialism or the global economic forces do not understand the adivasis and that is why the adivasi universities are mandated to include cultural studies: perhaps it is also because of an attempt to control the adivasi population and to exploit them. The good intentions that are stated in the act are different from the actual intentions of the state. The whole strategy of development seems to undo whatever affirmative action intends to do, and so we have the adivasi crisis today. How does one address the adivasi problem and what kind of public policy intervention would lead to democratising property, power and knowledge relation, and constitute the greatest challenge before the Indian State today. If the Indian State abandons this responsibility, the issue will have to be taken up by the Indian intellectuals and others who are democratic and politically conscious.
Dr. Amman Madan (Sociology, IIT Kanpur).
Three Models of Merit: Contrasting Implications for Pedagogy and Social Stratification.
The struggle for improvement is not only to be fought in political terms through social movements, but through social movements, the parliament, and the Supreme Court. The educational institutions also form a very important domain where the struggle must be fought. Unless we understand what it means to bring about changes in educational institutions, not much change will be possible.
The notion of merit has several dimensions. It legitimises access to privilege, it is a signal for appropriate behaviour, and it is a process of liberation. In a society where so many social exclusions have been so important, the emergence of a system of access to resources on the basis of merit has been a great development. Therefore, the creation of a meritocracy, at least in principle, is an event of tremendous importance. We need to talk about three different kinds of merit, the first being a closed concept of merit which argues that only a few people can have merit, and there are only a few positions of merit in society. The problems with this model are very clear, and some would argue that in India, there is still a partially closed concept of merit. However, the attack on this model largely falls back upon a second model; the model of a nihilistic notion of merit, but we need to move away from this nihilistic idea to a third notion, which is an open concept of merit. The nihilistic notion of merit argues that merit is obstructed by the patterns of development and the restricted growth of institutions. Again, within the institutions, we have the pedagogic problems that obstruct merit.
We also have the problem of curricula which may not be directed towards the best interests of the Indian people; there are curricula that are built to privilege those who are in power. If one is to try and rethink merit to create an open notion, these are the areas on which we need to work. Too often we have thought of education as something which only leads to the social reproduction of inequalities. This is definitely true, but there are also many opportunities over there. One of the major problems is that our political imagination of struggles does not extend itself to struggling in academic institutions. For instance, it is very important to participate in the building of small educational colleges for teachers, where teachers begin to understand the reality of caste and how to struggle against it. Otherwise affirmative action will be destroyed everyday in the classroom.
In terms of institutions, one must begin to understand that institutions are vital signs for struggle and one of the immediate ways in which one can begin is by setting up a policy institute to work on how to improve teaching within the institutions. Again, most of the time, we have pedagogies of exclusion. We must understand what it is to have pedagogies of inclusion and support. We must also have the curricula that connect to more inclusive practices; in whichever direction power flows, curricula flows in the same direction, and we need to consciously move away from this. Finally, students need to learn the conditions of their oppression, and this should be part of the curricula. Students need to understand how domination operates in society; what it means to have different classes. Today, many students believe that caste does not exist in India any more, but it is only when one becomes aware of the conditions of oppression that one can even begin to struggle against it.
Dr. S. Srinivasa Rao (Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies / JNU).
Higher Education Reform and Affirmative Action: Dilemmas of Equality.
The crisis that emerges within the systems of higher education seems to be emerging out of twin objectives. The first of these is the objective of equalisation in terms of liberal democratic ideas, where equality is seen as an individual objective to be attained. The other seems to be a social democratic principle which looks at groups and egalitarian policies. Therefore the contention within the higher education set-up seems to be emerging from this contestation within the system of higher education. Initially, the sociologists were all talking about the higher education system in so far as it contributes towards the process of social mobility. Now, however, questions are being asked regarding who is placed where, how one can move across class structures, and the question of who attains higher education.
If we use the countries of Malaysia and India for a comparison, you can see that both the countries have gone for neo-liberal economic reforms. Malaysia in the middle of the 1980’s and India in the early 1990’s. Both of the countries have had policies on affirmative action for quite some time now. There are certain types of common grounds between the two countries, in the way that these policy imperatives are played out. Both the countries identify the groups who face inequalities and therefore go for group-based affirmative action policies. They both have goals of attaining proportional representation in their policies of affirmative action. The major difference between their principles of affirmative action however, is that in Malaysia, this is implemented in favour of the numerically and politically dominant but the economically weaker sections of society. On the other hand, in India these policies target the socially, politically, economically as well as numerically weaker groups. When Malaysia became independent in 1957, it followed a consensual political framework. Political parties were based on their ethnicity or race rather than on ideology. The Malays have their national organisation, the Chinese have their own party, and the Indians have Congress. The need for affirmative action arose in Malaysia because though the Malays were the dominant political group, their average income was far less than for the other ethnic groups, especially the Chinese. Thus there were economical inequalities. In terms of employment, the Chinese and the Indian ethnic groups were much better off than the Malays, and similar patterns were revealed in higher education. Though the Malays were entering educational institutions, they were not staying on.
In the 1970’s, affirmative action was aimed at the reduction of inequalities and restructuring the occupational hierarchies of society. This eventually titled the balance in favour of the Malays. In India, we are still no closer to achieving proportional representation in higher education. The short-fall in the SC and ST candidates in the professional institutions is incredibly stark. The occupational structure also reflects the hierarchical caste structure. However, in both Malaysia and India, there is a 30-40% drop in public investment in higher education, and thus there is a clear attempt at privatising higher education.
Ultimately, the whole debate seems to be moving towards excellence and meritocracy, though the question still remains as to where we fit in affirmative action within the changing paradigms. The dilemma arose from contradictions within the same Government. For instance, on the one hand we have caste based reservations, while on the other there is a committee set up to enquire into economic deprivation. Liberal democratic and social democratic arguments co-exist within the same Governments. We ultimately need to understand the dilemma in terms of the debates through which equality is visualised, and the change in the character of class composition.
– The National Law School in Bangalore have started a National Law Forum. It would therefore be incorrect to say that all graduates from these institutions join corporate and law firms.
– How has legal education been transformed within the context of globalisation?
– Affirmative action had a negative impact upon Malaysian society, since this has resulted in an emigration of Indian and Chinese ethnic groups.
– It is true that the adivasi universities are being established in order to control the adivasi populations, but if we look at the history of adivasi rebellions in India, then it is clear to see that the internal politics of all these movements were promoted by a class of better-off adivasis. Therefore we may hope that if these adivasi universities produce a class of better-off adivasis, the adivasis of India will keep the country positively changing.
– Professor Chimni: It is very much possible to combine critical-legal education with good professional training in law schools. This is being effectively done elsewhere, and there are multiple ways of doing it. The problem with the Indian legal system is that we have still not recognised the fact that the law graduates are feeding into the pre-existing class hierarchies. Globalisation of the local profession is also a critical problem; today the US model of legal education is being disseminated effectively to the rest of the world. It is important to contest this model. Certainly not all students of the National Law Schools have taken up jobs in the corporate and legal firms, yet it is the exceptions that lend the institutions certain legitimacy in society.
– Professor Hargopal: Initially it was thought that there will be a greater interaction between the adivasi populations and others in the adivasi universities. However, when the Act came out, this thinking was not incorporated. Universities have become a site of struggle all over India. The adivasi areas are very sensitive and unless these universities are perceived as institutions which will be instrumental for the improvement of their conditions, the adivasis are not going to accept or identify themselves with these institutions. The Government has set up the university in Bhopal and has dropped the proposal for opening fifteen other branches precisely because these institutions are going to become sites of struggle.
– Professor Mohan: The problem with merit is similar to the problem of money, both of which are still being understood fully. As many economists have pointed out, money in itself does not mean anything. It is a way of giving feedback to a society, class or community as to what the desirable forms of knowledge or behaviour are. There is a cultural understanding of the legitimacy involved in these issues. We often see people reacting very strongly to affirmative action or reservation because their idea of justice or fairness is offended. They approach it with the idea that the right kind of return for hard work is a certain position, and they feel that some people are getting the position without doing the hard work rather than the people who work hard and receive nothing. This is an injustice, and there will be people who believe this is because of caste prejudices. The whole question needs to be rethought.
– Professor Rao: Although aware to the whole debate within the Malaysian context regarding higher education, there are indeed similar arguments that are put forward in India, and those who came through quotas are believed to not be of the desirable quality. Some studies in Malaysia show that there is a reproduction of inequality within the Malaysian ethnic community. The middle class gets reproduced. The question of inequality is certainly debated in India.
New Commissions and Alternative Mechanisms
Professor Madhava Menon (Equal Opportunities Commission).
Proposed Equal Opportunity Commission.
Professor M. H. Qureshi (Centre for Study of Regional Development, JNU).
Debating JUN Model of Affirmative Action.
Dr. Chaitanya Subba (National Planning Commission and Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities).
Affirmative Action and Autonomy: Debate Within and Outside C.A. Precinct.
Dr. Lynn Bennett (Word Bank, Kathmandu).
The Nepal Inclusion Index.
Professor S. K. Thorat (Chairman, UGC).