Caste-based atrocities and discriminations must be abolished: A response to Justice Markandey Katju

By Vicky Nandgaye

This article is in response to the opinion expressed by Justice Markandey Katju, retired judge from the Supreme Court in 2011, titled All caste-based reservations must be abolished’ published in The Week. Katju argued that SCs/OBCs should demand for cessation of all caste-based reservations. About OBC reservation, former justice argued that OBCs are not backward today and they were prior to independence, therefore there should be discontinuation of reservation for them. There is no mention of how OBCs are no more backward. One can visibly see that absence of references and lack of data while making such a loaded argument. However, according to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) report, 42 per cent of the OBCs in rural India and 35 per cent in urban India possess ration cards, which indicated financial condition of the group.

An article published in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) in 2010 on how an individual's participation in higher education is dependent on her religious affiliations, socio-economic status and demographic characteristics, examines that OBCs hardly get entry in higher education since 2006 because of the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Act in 2006. In addition, the Central Education (Reservation in Admission) Act of 2006 provides for the reservation of students belonging to the SCs, STs and OBCs (Gudavarthy, 2012). Though Article 16 Indian Constitution safeguards the rights of marginalised sections of the society for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment, yet the groups need to wait for the Act that can secure their rights in employment and education.

Mr. Katju is against any kind of reservations for Scheduled Caste though he admitted that SCs are discriminated at the hands of upper castes and even OBCs. He advocated for some facilities for poor children from every caste. An article published in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) in 2010 by Vani K Borooah argued that SCs are facing problems at its roots; it means they are not receiving meaningful education at schools. IITs, IIMs and other National important institutions are beyond the pale of marginalised groups since they are not even part of good schools.

Reservation policy and its aftermaths have been wrongly interpreted in the piece. As we know, in India there is a long historical discourse of backwardness of particular communities due the graded inequality persists among people and in society due to the caste system. Therefore, reservation is used as a tool of protective discrimination. With an objective to bridge this wide gap, an instrument of ‘reservation’ applied to keep aside some positions and places to ensure an equality of opportunity in employment and education to the disadvantaged community. A very idea of reservation indeed was created with the view of a 'just' based society that characterised equality, liberty, fraternity and more importantly justice that was enshrined by Ambedkar in Indian Constitution. For me, there should be an end of all caste-based discriminations, rapes, atrocities, and honour killings of SCs by the upper castes.

The following are the points made by Mr. Katju followed by discussion on it:

1. As argued, reservation is beneficial to the handful of SC (so reservation should be stopped) - Yes, it is there however, it does not mean that the very idea of reservation should be banned.

2. It creates the psychological barrier among SC youths (so reservation…) - It is very much visible however, the source of it are upper caste students and the system only responsible for it that invariably teases and demotivates SC students. Hence, there must be adequate orientation and mechanisms developed to diagnose such ill mentality, which is deeply rooted among caste-Hindus rather than opposing the policy.

3. “SCs should work hard and compete with upper caste”, is again a poor statement passed by the author which reflects the pre-conceived notions of the Author that infer ‘SCs are incompetent as compare to upper castes’.

Moreover, furthering the argument of ‘Merit’, which often advocates, “Merit is in danger”. Dr. Sunil Kumar Jangir in his 2013 research published in American Internationa Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences says, “Merit in an elitist society is an amalgam of native endowments and environmental privileges. A child from an advanced class family and that of a backward class family are not ‘equals’ in any fair sense of the term and it will be unfair to judge them by the same yardstick. The conscience of a civilised society and the dictates of social justice demand that ‘merit’ and ‘equality’ are not turned into a fetish and the element of privilege is duly recognized and discounted for when un-equals are made to run the same race.”

Thus, ‘percentage are just a numbers’ and ‘merit is a myth’. SCs are not meritorious and Upper castes are! How can mere numbers decide the competency of a person? Is there any empirical research that validates this baseless argument of antagonists of reservation policy?

4. There is an absence of unity between upper castes and SCs only due to reservation in India. Hence, in order to bridge this gap Mr. Katju is asking SCs to join hands with the ‘enlightened section’ of upper castes.

So, what does author mean the enlightened? Among upper castes who constitute these sections? If they are enlightened then, why not (they) join hands with underprivileged sections of the society for their betterment. Where is this enlighten section? When there are daily atrocities, rapes of dalit women, and discrimination against the community in the name of caste. Does only reservation policy in India perpetuate the caste system in India? Doesn't the author think incidents of atrocities and discriminatory practices inflicted upon Dalits are strengthening the age-old institution (caste) in the country?

Undeniably, the entire piece shows the biases in the very opinions expressed by the ‘third generation learner’ (born in 1950s) against the ‘first generation learner’ (born between 1990-20s) from the Scheduled Castes. Flaws in the arguments seem to be favoured to ‘stop entry in the premier institutes and employment’ for a person whose entire generation has never been exposed to the same. According to the IndiaSpend Analysis of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) about 422,799 crimes against dalits have been reported between 2006 and 2016. Whereas the crime rate against dalits rose by 25 percent, from 16.3 percent (2006) crimes per 100,000 dalits to 20.3 crimes in 2016 had been reported. The same report found that pending trials over the cases of dalits had risen by 50 percent i.e. 85, 264 (in 2006) to 129,831 (in 2016). Author while raising his views against reservation policy conveniently ignores all the facts, NCRB records that show most crimes against SCs and cases of institutional killings of students like of Rohith Vemula, S. Anitha, S Ritusree, Dr. Payal Tadvi, Fathima Lateef and many more.

Concisely, the ceaseless cold war perpetuated for several decades between the have and the have-not class over a reservation policy executed by the state. It yielded two sections namely antagonist and protagonist of reservation. The arguments from the former have effectively been come to discussion that “reservation demeans merit”. In simple words, less meritorious among the reserved categories are selected in preference to the more meritorious among the non-reserved categories. The arguments in favour of ‘merit’ have always been pointed by merely from the elitist section. It says that education is the key to unlock the doors of development for all sections of society however; antagonists seek to lock the doors by opposing the idea of reservation. Hence, there should be programs run by the state to aware and overcome misconceptions among masses concerning reservation policy.

Vicky Nandgaye is a PhD Scholar at School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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