The History of Caste System and the Concept of Reservation !

R.D. Bhardwaj “Noorpuri”

Before pondering over this subject seriously, it shall be pertinent if we delve a bit deep into the realms of history of caste system so as to know and understand better as to why the need for reservation was felt after independence and how did it ultimately come into existence? On shuffling over the pages of history, it is observed that its origin goes back to the times of an ancient saint called Manu, who initially divided the society into four clear-cut segments or castes known as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaish and Shudras. He made these divisions not based on the personality traits or the intelligence of people to work in some field or areas desired by them or be pursued by them accordingly to his or her choice, but on the basis of cleverness or shrewdness of a section of society to exploit others who are neither men of physical nor monetary power nor political power. Thus, this so called great scholar not only divided the society on wrong footings, but he also demarcated works / professions to them arbitrarily i.e. Brahmins to get quality education and maintain / control all religious places, perform all religious ceremonies and rites etc., right from the birth of a man till his death; Kshatriyas to distinguish themselves in all types of weapons and warfares and protect the people from any sort of aggression and rule over others; Vaish to do all types of trading and business etc.; and lastly, giving least importance to them, he gave Shudras the duty to serve all other people of society falling in the previous three categories. In this way, the upper caste people very clandestinely and mischievously grabbed all major professions and jobs to be performed in society and the Shudras were very conspicuously denied all kinds of rights (including right to education), so that they are not allowed to rise in life and make some discernible progress in any field or profession. Rather, they were made subservient to the first three castes, selfishly / cleverly said to be superior in society. If any of Shudras ever tried to get educated by hook or crook and read the books of knowledge or religion, he was looked upon disdainfully and even punished very severely by the upper caste people for violating the prevalent social norms or rules, which were designed totally contrary to their interest and welfare.

2. Remember, the story of a Shudra called Shambuka, who by the virtue of his strenuous efforts, got educated by some means and when he tried to read Vedas, he was killed by Shri Ram Chandra. Then Eklavya, a famous character of Mahabharta (son of Hiranyadhanus, a tribal king of Nishad), he was denied education in archery by guru Dronacharya, because he belonged to a low caste community called Bheel. And when he himself did very hard work and perfected himself in the field of his interest viz. archery, Dronacharya very selfishly and cleverly told him to donate the thumb of his right hand in Gurudakshina, so that he might not be in a position to challenge or supersede his favourite Kshatriya disciple – Arjun. Who can forget Karan, another famous and brave character of Mahabharta, he was not allowed to challenge Arjun (in Kaurav Sabha) as he was a son of a charioteer (Saarthi, a sort of servant) of the Kauravas. (Karan was a son of Dharitrashtra’s charioteer, Adhirath and Radha. He was named Radhey in his childhood). He also had a younger brother named Shon). Later on, Duryojana gave him some land and made him the King of Ang (now called Karnal, which is in Haryana) because he knew that Karan is the only person who is brave enough to pose a formidable challenge to Arjun. Had he been not so brave and master of archery, no body could have allowed him even to enter the Kaurav Sabha. And remember, these are not a few isolated cases of discrimination, suppression and exploitation of talent; lakhs of low caste people were denied their rights of every kind even before the times of Mahabharta. If any body tried to read the books of wisdom and knowledge, moulten lead was poured into his ears so that he could not even hear some words of wisdom and intelligence. These type of acts were done under a well thought of conspiracy aimed at exploitation and denial of rights to the low caste people and thereby making them servile, subservient / insignificant folks, which continued for continued for centuries together. It is highly regrettable that the plight of most of these untouchables remained so horrible and terrible that they continued to be victimised under of the yoke of exploitative caste system for centuries together.

3. Thus, the seeds of the downfall of the Shudras were sown by this so-called great scholar (Manu Maharaj) of Hindu society, who instead of asking the people to choose their profession by the virtue of their capabilities, calibre and prowess, and prosper in life, based the professions solely on the irrational and exploitative caste system. It was really a well thought of historic conspiracy and injustice done against all those people who formed the lower strata of society at that time. This is how the victimisation, exploitation, suppression and oppression of all the people belonging to low castes goes on unabated since the times immemorial, and these oppressed sections of society were taken for granted by all, in the upper castes. Pandits & Pandas fleeced the society in the name of religion by entangling the people in innumerable strange superstitions from the times immemorial. They earned their living by cunning and deceptive means and coerced people for making donations. Not only this, the stigma of untouchability was also attached to them and all other people were warned of severe consequences in case anybody tried to mingle and mix-up with them. I vividly remember that even great scholars and brave men belonging to the Shudras were not given their due share of respect & dignity in society and were instead, looked upon very sarcastically and disdainfully. Story of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar need not much elaboration, as every body is aware that all sorts of odds and hurdles were put in his way to stop him from acquiring great education at every level and rise in life. Not only that, when he gained very education and qualification by the virtue of getting scholarship from Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda Province, one day he decided to visit Jagannath Temple in Orissa in 1935, but he was not allowed to enter the temple due to his low caste birth.

4. By the virtue of his mass following amongst the weaker sections and down-trodden of society and great respect and regard bestowed on him by these people, before independence, the British rulers of British India had recognized Dr. Ambedkar as their great leader and often valued his speeches / ideology and views on various subjects concerning majority of people. Moreover, during various sessions of round table conferences, Dr. Ambedkar had also emphasized before then government that, since the caste Hindus who are out and out orthodox in their mindset and approach towards the Dalits and often regarded them as servile and subordinate to them, we no longer feel that the future of our people cannot remain safe in their governance, after India attains freedom. It is thus, very important and pertinent for us to have a separate state of our own so that the Dalits could have political freedom, economic independence, social security and our own means and methods of livelihood where they can flourish and make progress unhindered by the castist barriers & impediments. We are seriously no longer willing to live with them who are the major culprits of their present plight imposed and inflicted upon them by the centuries old oppression, depressions and series of social and economic injustices by the virtue or vice of their hegemony. So we want a separate nation of our own and that our areas should be given to us on the basis of our population ratio. But the Congress Party under the overall leadership of Mahatma Gandhi opposed it vehemently, though the Britishers were in line with Dr. Ambedkar thinking about the treatment being meted out to low caste people in India. And that is why, ultimately (after a series of discussions and persuasions made by many Congress leaders headed by Mahatma Gandhi with Dr. Ambedkar) some via-media was devised to mitigate the sufferings of the oppressed, suppressed and victimised classes of the society by giving them – (a) Political freedom i.e. right to franchise and earmarking separate seats for Lok Sabha and various State Assemblies etc. wherever these people are in majority, (b) Right to education in all government institutes by giving them the benefit of reservation, (c) Benefit of reservation in all government jobs and promotions as well up to a reasonable level, (d) democratization of all institutions by giving the depressed classes all civic right and equality of opportunities for them rather than denial of various rights which are otherwise available to all higher caste people, and lastly, (e) declare the practice of untouchability, calling a low caste person by the name of his or her caste or anything suggestive like that, a crime punishable under the law with a punishment of jail term up to six months.

5. Unfazed by the continuous impediments put in his way, and striving hard with single minded devotion and tireless efforts, Dr. Ambedkar continued making some glorious strides in his scholastic pursuits / mission and he not only became one of the seven most learned scholars of India of that time; but by the virtue of his scholastic qualities, he also became father of the Constitution when India attained independence. He was quite aware that his fellow low caste people were in fact, that section of society who had very meagre means, no business, no big property, agricultural lands, and hardly any thing else great by the virtue of which they could prosper in life. Therefore, very judiciously, imparting social justice to them, he made special provisions for reservation in the Constitution for the SC / ST people, so that they are able to (i) get quality education at par with other people, (ii) rise in life and make progress so that they don’t remain subservient to any other section of society, and be an active partners in the development of society, and lastly, (iii) Stand on their own feet and contribute their might in nation building, in what-so-ever sphere of profession they may like to go, according to their sweet will.

6. Not to speak of the exploitation and excesses to the low caste people and denial of rights to them centuries ago, even such type of denial of rights did not end in the independent India as well. With the dawn of freedom, a great emphasis was laid down on imparting good quality education for all sections of society and thousands of new schools were opened, throughout India. As a result of it, thousands of public and convent schools were given lands at the throw-away prices with the condition that they shall also give admission to the children of low caste people to extent of 25 % and shall charge concessional fee from them. No doubt, these schools and colleges availed of various concessions from Govt. in the name of opening of educational institutes, including getting land on concessional rates; but they did not pass-on the benefit of cheaper education to the reserved category students. Many a time, the issue of charging the same fees even from the SC / ST students by the public / convent schools was raised; but nobody listened to the grievances of the poor and downtrodden and sought for the redressal of the same. Thus, these English medium schools not only cheated government on this point, but they also deprived the poor of their fundamental rights to education at concessional fees. Thus, the victimisation and harassment at the hands of the upper caste people continued even in the independent India. Had the school authorities done their duty sincerely by honouring their commitment to the lower strata of society, the aim and purpose of upliftment of the poor would have been fulfilled to a great extent. As such, it can be observed that as and when the question of the Dalits is sought for by law or otherwise, the upper caste vultures have quite conveniently trampled over their interests. Even today, they do not feel apologetic about what their forefathers have done to the Dalits. Violence, injustice, humiliation and denial of rights to the Dalits have been their forte and it was quite rampant in society. On the top of it, they are not willing to discuss this matter and the Dalits have now started destroying their citadel and 7,500 years old hegemony in society. Moreover, why the protagonists of merit don’t talk about the seats they buy (10 to 15 % management quota seats in every college / university) by the vice of their money and muscle power. Why they are keeping a studied silence over that ?? The moot question still cries for answer and nobody seems interested to reply ……

Not only that, big and wealthy businessmen who wanted to set-up hospital / nursing home projects are also given land for doing so at concessional rates and they have to give an undertaking that they shall provide free medical facility to the SCs / STs and other poorer section of society for their 30% patients, but again this conditional is rarely given practical shape and poor people are often denied this free medical treatment as they cannot afford costly treatment by the hospital managements.

7. In December, 2005, four Dalits women were beaten-up by the upper caste village panchayat and the head priest of Jagannath temple in village Keraragard, (District Kendrapara of Orissa), for making an entry into that temple. The high-handedness and outright discriminatory attitude of the priest, Shri Niranjan Panda and the upper caste people in the panchayat, did not end there. Lateron, they also issued an order to recover Rs. 1,001/- from them for purification of the temple. Then, more than 20 houses of Dalits were set ablaze by the high caste people of Village Gohana in Distt. Sonipat, Haryana on the 31st Aug., 2005 and no action was taken against the culprits. So many times, why only small huts of the poor people get fire in many parts of the big cities; why does no bungalow of some rich and powerful man catch fire ? Have you any clue ……??

8. Secondly, after more than 65 years of independence, it is observed that, due to various reasons, only a few people belonging to the reserved category have been able to make some progress; whereas, the rest are still languishing, listless and suffering from all sorts of wants and deprivations. Only a few of them have been able to get jobs, mainly class IV, Class III and junior officers’ jobs. Big jobs of Class I and Class II gazetted posts, businesses and agricultural lands are still under the control of the rich high caste people and by the power of that, they are ruling the society. SC / ST people don’t get suitable jobs, and as such, a lot of tension and frustration is brewing-up in the minds of even educated younger generation and sometimes, the society finds the outlet of their suppressed emotions in some sort of anti-social activities. Therefore, the concept of reservation of seats even in private educational institutes becomes all the more imperative. It is simply foolishness to expect a student of down-trodden family to compete with the students of other higher castes – who have every imaginable comfort and facility at their beck and call.

9. Thirdly, all the educational institutes like schools, colleges or other professional institutes like engineering and medical colleges are allotted land at the concessional rates, with the condition that they shall impart education to the SC / ST students also, at the concessional fees and by keeping seats reserved for them, as per provisions laid down (15% and 7.5% respectively) in the Constitution of India. Then, there is no scope for any sort of ambiguity or reasonableness to keep seats reserved for them. I also don’t agree with the point that quality of education will suffer in case the Educational Institutes keep seats reserved for them. Once a student gets admission in the seat reserved for him, he too works hard to accomplish his study and make-up his deficiencies and get a decent job after completion of his study. One more thing that I would like to make it clear – is that the competition of the reserved category of students is amongst themselves only; they certainly don’t encroach upon the seats of others. Rather, many instances have come to light where seats of the reserved category have been de-reserved on one pretext or the other; thereby depriving the benefit due to the SCs & STs. Moreover, it was the same upper caste people who made the low castes people suffer and languish for the centuries together, and now the same high caste people will have to compensate them for their long term benefits and for the interest of the country as a whole.

10. In view of the above, I would strongly emphasize that – (a) all public / convent schools and private educational institutes meant for higher / professional courses and degrees should be advised to earmark 22.5% seats for the SCs / STs and thereby honour their commitment and responsibility for them, and (b) if they do not honour their social & constitutional commitment, heavy financial penalty should be imposed on them. These private educational institutes should also realise that by doing so, they shall not only be discharging their constitutional obligations towards this weaker sections of society, in a fairly balanced manner, but administering the long due justice to them also. Not only that, all State Governments and the Central Government and Union Territories should also honour their commitment by recruiting SCs and STs candidates as per the constitutional provisions and also give the benefit of reservation policy in their promotions as well. I am very clear on this matter that, to achieve all round development, progress and prosperity, the SCs and STs should not be deprived of their due share of sunshine. It is certainly in the national interest also, to enable India to achieve competitive edge over other developing / developed nations around the globe. It should also be borne in mind that no country worth its salt can make some discernible progress and prosperity in all spheres of life by denials of due share of rights to a section of its society.

11. Some people amongst the upper castes often debate about merit and we hear about Sharmas, Vermas, Trivedis, Chaturvedis, Chopras, Malhotras, Guptas, Goels, Sanghvis and Chawlas etc. and say that they form a “meritorious” society. One does not know what do they mean by meritorious society. Let us start to unravel some historical facts of merit. As Dr. Ambedkar once wittingly said that these so called high Hindus failed to write even their three great epics such as – Mahabharata and two Ramayanas. We all know that these epics were written by sage Vyasa, Maharishi Valmiki and Tulsi Dass. The fourth major epic, the Constitution of Modern India was also written by Dr. Ambedkar himself. All three happened to be Dalits. Where was the merits of upper castes at that time. And the greatest of Yoga Guru of these days who improved the health of crores of Indians by popularizing Yoga on a national scale – Swami Ram Dev, is also a Dalit. And the religious guru from south – Amrita Anadamayi also hails from the fishermen caste and has the followers even from the upper castes.

12. Not only that, when on the 13th April, 1699, Guru Gobind Singh decided to establish an army of the fearless soldiers who could be ever ready to make sacrifices of the highest order (while fighting with the oppressive Mughal forces), and called upon thousands of his followers / congregation assembled at Anandpur Sahib on that Baisakhi Day, to come forward and offer their heads / services for the sake and welfare of their community, nobody from amongst the so called upper caste people could dare to muster courage and offer himself. Then Guru Gobind Singh repeated his demand for that purpose and again emphasized the need for such valiant soldiers. Ultimately those presented themselves before Guru ji were – Daya Ram, Dharam Dass, Bhai Mohkam Chand, Sahib Chand and Bhai Himat Mal. Please note that all these five brave men were from the low-caste families who were later on, designated as Panj Piyaras by Guru Gobind Singh and their names were suffixed with the word “Singh” and the female members of their families were suffixed with the word “Kaur”. This is how Khalsa Panth came into existence.

13. And lastly, to give a more crystal clear and logical image to the concept of reservation, the Government should refix the percentages of reservation of seats based on the percentage of their population during the last census i.e. census taken during 2011, but also ensure that if any office, department, company or an educational institute does not respect the sanctity of this concept of reservation and violates these constitutional provisions, heavy financial penalty should be imposed on him he should also be termed as a cheater of society.

Not only that, all the private companies spread across the length and breadth of India should also be advised to honour the reservation policy of the Government of India and implement it in true sense of the letter and spirit by providing jobs to the SCs and STs category candidates in the same manner and ration as it is prevailing in public sector; so that the pace of providing social, economic and constitutional justice to them could be expedited.