April 21, 2021
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'The Tyranny Of Compulsory Identities'

'The Tyranny Of Compulsory Identities'

In the Telegraph, Radhika Ramaseshan  recalls Govind Vallabh Pant's reason for rejecting the report of the first backward classes commission headed by Kaka Kalelkar:

“The recognition of specified castes as backward may serve to maintain and perpetuate the existing caste distinctions.”

She recalls how Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the report for its unverified findings and “unexplained adherence to caste as the principal index”.

Incidentally, this  report, submitted in 1955, listed 2,399 OBCs, classifying 837 of these as “most backward”. It put the OBCs at about 32 per cent of the population.

She goes on to point out how

Mandal’s data-gathering was random: he covered only two villages and one urban block in each district, for the rest depending on the states’ lists and the 1931 census.

His findings were a little of this and a little of that, raising the number of OBCs to 3,743 castes while sticking to the 1931 figure of 43.7 per cent of the population.

Read the full piece at the Telegraph

Meanwhile, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in a searing critique in the Indian Express, demolishes the decision to enumerate caste in the census, going beyond the practical difficulties of the exercise illustrated in the Telegraph piece, calling it "nothing but a raw assertion of power wearing the garb of social justice, an ideological projection of Indian society masquerading under the colour of social science, and a politics of bad faith being projected as a concern for the poor". After providing seven devastating reasons against it, he concludes:

Finally, the manner in which the Congress took the decision betrays its fundamental casualness about all the values that form our moral compass. A well-considered decision, taken by nationalist leaders whose understandings of both moral values and our infirmities as a nation far surpassed ours, was overturned in a matter of minutes at the altar of political expediency. It sends the message of crass political instrumentalism. The backlash may not be immediately apparent, in part because the opposition has also stopped thinking. But the Congress’s casual caving in to a retrograde demand is reminiscent of all reactionary politics it spawned in the ’80s, pitting one group against another. And what does it say about its character, that its young MPs, exemplars of India’s modernity, have no will to resist? It is already a sign of how small caste makes it. And now we will count it at every step.

Read the full piece at the Indian Express

In the Hindu, Nandini Sundar had earlier pointed out the same:

On the surface, caste enumeration appears to be a UPA concession to its OBC allies, but more fundamentally, it fits with the larger political agenda of moving people off the land, holding out the illusory promise of formal employment. For social justice, we are made to believe there is no alternative to reservation, and for reservation, no alternative to counting caste. With over 90 per cent of people in the informal sector, reservation can hardly be the primary solution to greater equality. There is no doubt that stringent affirmative action policies are required to make formal institutions more socially inclusive, but to shackle the census to this agenda betrays a failure to learn from the past or to think imaginatively about the future.

It's a hurried post, so will just add links for further reading and hope to offer commentary later:

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