India — Why is it that now, whenever we, the savarṇas [the three “upper” castes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas], have been given 10% reservation in the EWS [Economically Weaker Section] quota, we continue to be resentful towards reservations?
Is it that this resentment is underpinned by insecurity about one’s own talents and a fear of the other’s talents?
What does the Indian savarṇa society already have to preserve itself? In the sense of “tradition”, there are the long-established opportunities for education and employment, opportunities through marriage to consolidate economic and social status, as well as opportunities for accruing wealth and for being eulogized. In the contemporary context, there are also opportunities to acquire almost every modern comfort. Even if this is not 100 percent the case for all savarṇa people, these opportunities are still available in some form or the other to most of us.
However, these opportunities don’t exist in the same way for other castes, in particular the Dalit castes. In fact, many Dalit castes do not have access to them at all. Whether it is in education, in employment, in marriage deals that strengthen economic and social status, in the form of eulogies – in none of these ways. Rather, most Dalits also don’t possess any of the modern comforts. Just think, how a whole lifetime must pass without having known any such conveniences.
We, as savarṇa castes, however, actually don’t want Dalits to have access to the same opportunities. Because when they do so, it becomes clear that it’s having access to opportunities itself that matters most for attaining any kind of achievement in the world. Everything else comes later. If you aren’t given the chance[to flourish], then your talents have no value. And when you do get that chance, you are no less than anyone. But if this is so, then the whole [belief] system of caste superiority will collapse: the savarna, the kuvarṇa, and the vivarṇa[the upper castes, the outcasts or those considered beyond the pale, and those without a caste], will all be equal. That’s why we remain unwilling to accede to level platforms for equal opportunities.
So what do we savarṇas want?
Essentially, what we want is that opportunities for Dalits shouldn’t be created at all. If, however, opportunities are made available, then they should be very few. Because then a large part of the population remains occupied with competing and scrambling amongst themselves for those limited opportunities, labeling each other as individuals who are worthy of nothing and believing that all the better work opportunities [“the big jobs”] are just written into the fate of the “big people” or the upper castes.
This is why we resort to some ninja techniques: we work with the three ‘H’s – hansana[showing incredulity], hadhakana [making people feel they just want to go away], and haḍapana[pocketing that what is not rightfully ours]. If a Dalit does well in something, we show so much incredulity that they become unsure of themselves. If they are faint-hearted, we unsettle them so much that they just prefer to go away. And if they happen to belong to a vulnerable family, then we just pocket everything they have. All this we do so that they don’t get an opportunity and even if they do, they don’t avail of it.
As an example, consider a Dalit child who is able to get ahead with education and then grows a mustache. We will intimidate him, stop him from being interviewed, and discredit him. We get resentful even when someone who hasn’t had an education makes TikTok videos or garners success through the use of social media. Our intent is that they shouldn’t any such activity in life that can instill a feeling of pride in them.
Dalits should be doing only those kinds of work, we think, which keep them forever in gratitude towards us. For instance, they should only take on class III or Class IV employment and then forever stand with folded hands, while we can continue to claim the moral right of being the ones to create a “favorable” environment for them. So that’s why we resent reservations [in higher jobs], but we don’t resent reservations in third and fourth-class employment. One more aspect needs to be considered here.
Exam and interview patterns do not reflect Dalit people’s lived experiences
Reservations provide a platform for the Dalit community for creating their own opportunities. This is because examinations and interview patterns are designed from the perspective of the savarṇa community. Take for example the section about hobbies and interests in an interview. A person who works as a cowherd or fisherman or does one of the many daily labor jobs to get an education and earn a living –what hobbies and interests will they talk about? Why doesn’t the interviewer ask that when a cow refuses to give milk, how do you coax it to do so? Do you think those techniques could be of use to you in the office as well? If a person can persuade an animal to do their work for them, then surely they will also do well in any IIM’s HR management course – provided that the course is delivered in their language and reflects their lived experiences.
Since a Dalit person’s life is completely different from a savarṇa’s life and experiences, they don’t seamlessly “fit” into our interview and examination patterns. They require the support provided by reservations. If we just consider written examinations, then people from marginalized communities start to learn subjects such as maths, reasoning, and English only later in their school life. So it is more difficult for them to pass at the end of 12th grade or to graduate. Eventually, however, after working for many years, all differences in this regard even out. Because all the people in a particular job are all doing the same work.
That is to say, examination and interview patterns are derived from our own life experiences. So when we are being tested on the basis of experiences that are different from our lived experiences, how would we pass the exam? The issue is particularly problematic for the Dalit community, for whom our exam patterns are almost alien. There is no test that recognizes Dalit history, its symbols, or its work. Nor are there such interviews that acknowledge their life struggles or discuss how these experiences can inform our life. If a 10-year-old person can organize the support of 40-year-olds to make a roof for his home or a shed, how is this experience any less than the other experiences that make up management studies? But we turn such an excellent experience into a matter of embarrassment: that person can never make their heroic deeds/actions count. Instead, their experiences have to be kept hidden, their Self never needs to be visible. Instead, we expect them to keep trying to “fit” into our frame.
As all exams are patterned for our purposes, it is easy for us to pass them. If an exam includes creating an entertaining video clip, however, then undoubtedly people from the marginalized communities will beat us hands down. As has happened on many video platforms. That’s why we look at such democratic platforms with disdain and do not allow them to flourish. TikTok became“cringe” and Insta reels are “cool” because Insta’s expensive setup makes it difficult for many Dalits to access.
The books we read tell us much about kings and emperors, about the structures and artifacts they commissioned, but we never read about what the condition of the Dalit society was like at that time. Even the geography books we read will not elaborate on the marginalized communities such as the fishing communities and the Adivasi communities [indigenous peoples]. Our entire studies do not touch on the lives of these communities. It’s only much later if you read sociological texts or a particular report that you come to know about the difficulties faced by these vulnerable sections of our society.
This is why the savarṇa society is never made aware, neither in school nor at home, of how difficult it is for people from the Dalit communities to access opportunities. It again is the reason why savarṇas don’t really have an understanding of reservations. They simply see it as a direct infringement of their own rights. They do not realize how a very large part of the ecosystem to which they belong is still living under very difficult circumstances.
They also don’t understand that unless this part of society also progresses, the country will also not progress. That is, they do not appreciate that they themselves are not being able to progress as much as they could have because the many people from the marginalized communities who live alongside them are not being able to progress similarly. They also do not recognize that they themselves are employed in doing banal work and that their sense of superiority only exists in their own mind, and how very ridiculous this is. This [lack of progress] is also the reason why most people in the country are engaged in doing mostly tedious work. Just doing this has become one’s life’s goal, and it is only for these jobs that people are desperately competing against each other while an environment for innovation isn’t being created.
What is the solution going ahead?
The solution here lies insavarṇa society understanding the necessity for equality in opportunities and finding ways to create awareness about the inequalities that are embedded in their society because this knowledge is not being taught in schools nor is it being taught at home. If this understanding develops early, they won’t spend their lives like ignorant people who act violently on seeing someone else grow a mustache or ride a horse. And when they see a Dalit becoming an officer, they will not think that their rights are being trampled on if they themselves have only studied up to grade 5. Instead, they will focus on what they need to do in their life. This way we will shed the illusions of caste and see the truth of the matter that our progress lies in the progress of all. Otherwise, we will continue to consider ourselves “superior” while doing jobs for only Rs 50,000.
Hence its vitally important that:
- There should be a Savarna Awareness Organization or Savarna Awareness Week to discuss the absurdities of upper caste society and to raise awareness among them that how by creating opportunities for everyone, opportunities are created for ourselves as well.
- Courses on Dalit history and social life are included in our educational content and school syllabuses
- We should honor and commemorate Dalit heroes so that we also learn to develop their values within ourselves.
- We recognize the fallaciousness of caste superiority so that we can become decent human beings who appreciate the needs and desires of other people too.
- We don’t buy the lie because “I’ve eaten food with a Dalit, so of course, I don’t believe in caste”. We need to speak the truth that I used to be a cruel person who took advantage of someone else’s vulnerability but now I am changing myself from within for the better and no longer do this.
[Story Translated By Lotika Singha]
Also read in Hindi: OPINION: हम सवर्ण आरक्षण से क्यों चिढ़ते हैं?
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