What caste do you think the Financial Times is?

See update below.

So… I get a phone call yesterday. It’s a reporter from the Financial Times who wants to know what I feel about the recent ban on the movie Aarakshan in certain states, and also what do I feel about caste-based reservations in general, whether caste is still relevant in the India of today, the theory that quotas just increase inequality etc.. I tell her I haven’t seen the movie, and if she still wants to know what I feel about caste-based reservations we could talk for a bit. She says she absolutely wants to know. So I say fine, and we have a 45-minute conversation. Allow me to reproduce a very simplified version of that conversation (in Q&A forrmat):

1. Q: Do you believe movies like Aarakshan can be provocative or controversial; as in, are certain groups justified in taking offence and asking for a ban?

A: I think there is no straightforward relationship between a cultural product (a film or play or book) and its capacity to offend public sensibility or a particular community. There are instances where very ‘provocative’ or ‘bold’ topics have been dealt with in a cultural product and passed silently into the night; and on the other hand there have been instances where a seemingly ‘mild’ or heavily academic (as opposed to racy, provocative bestseller or box-office hit) product has been protested vociferously. I think groups certainly have a right to protest but in India we tend to have a political culture in which such protests either suddenly erupt on the streets or end up in litigation. Neither route helps us as a society to publicly debate the issue, which is critical if we are to get anywhere with it. Having said that, I’m opposed to censorship in general, whether self-imposed, state-imposed or group-imposed.

2. BUT, do caste-based groups have a right to ask for a ban?

A: Well, let’s remember not only caste-based groups, but all kinds of groups, interests and individuals have asked for a ban or punitive action, from religious communities to individual entrepreneurs like Arindam Chaudhuri who has filed a defamation suit against Caravan magazine for an article (apparently it’s offence was that it was truthful). And of course, let’s not forget the curious case of coca-cola and mercedes asking for their brand logos to be removed from visibility in the movie Slumdog Millionaire since they were associated with the villain. Oh, and if all else fails, an individual or business house can simply make the product vanish from the shelves overnight – the curiouser case of the biography of Dhirubhai Ambani – Polyester Prince. Blinked and missed it!

3. What do you feel about quotas and reservations? Are they justified? I mean, is caste still relevant today?

A: Caste and rampant casteism is utterly and absolutely prevalent in the India of today. Let’s not even go into rural areas or pick up crime statistics against dalits and untouchables, shocking and conclusive as they are (I think the phrase ‘atrocity against Dalits has become so common that it ceases to even shock). Let’s look for something closer to home: for instance, comments on hundreds of blogs and websites where upper-caste commentators make absolutely no effort to hide their caste, and use the most offensive language when referring to dalits and untouchable castes. Or for instance a fact that should disturb all of us: over 95% of all sweepers, cleaners, sewage workers and sanitation workers are from the formerly scheduled or untouchable castes. On the other hand, one survey showed that around the same number – 96% – is the proportion of upper-castes in the media. Something in that ball park goes for all the lucrative and/or prestigious professions in this country. In the private sector, if an untouchable caste member finds employment in a non-menial capacity, she or he faces severe problems in upward mobility because HR managers look for traits that are a product of public school education – again, a preserve of the upper-castes. In fact, almost everything we recognise as ‘merit’ is nurtured by a positive family environment and good schooling – often a luxury or impossibility for those from the ‘reserved’ castes.

So what is this if not the resilience of caste? Access to all the facilities for a good life, for a decent human existence is overwhelmingly skewed in favour of the upper castes in India. So unless we are serious about actually universalising life-chances (would require at the very least a budget similar to our nuclear programme just to universalise primary education) let’s not talk about removing quotas.

4. So you’re saying it’s really like a cycle of disadvantage that needs to be broken (here I say, absolutely, we need to intervene in the situation, as many societies have). What about the suggestion that it should be class and not caste-based?

A: A long time ago, I too thought this was the perfect solution. Until I saw documentaries and testimonies of dalits and untouchable castes, until I met enough members of historically disadvantaged castes to understand that caste is not just a simple lack of money and access. It is a lifelong feeling of being thought as ‘lesser’ in some way – less pure (by blood or habit), less qualified, less competent, less moral, less Hindu/Muslim/Sikh/Christian, less entitled, less hygienic, less attractive, less intelligent, less enterprising, less trustworthy. In a word, less HUMAN. For a dalit person , who stands at the end of a long chain of ancestral humiliation, to be told caste is simply an economic disadvantage is a slap in the face.

5. But will quotas solve that?

A: Of course not. But they will provide a foot in the door. Without quotas, the marginalised of this country lose even that.

6. What about the creamy layer argument?

A: Hmm, the creamy layer argument!! The way I see it, which resource in this country isn’t grabbed by the creamy layer? Every single avenue or mobility in our intensely, desperately competitive society is in the hands of the creamy layer, and here I mean those within the upper castes. We just feel offended if that creamy layer is within a reserved category. Actually, even a creamy layer individual grabbing a reserved seat is better than not having reservation. We should be confronted with the discomfort that our prejudice generates when we see real diversity in the educational institute or workplace. And a person from even the creamy layer of quotas will serve that purpose well (because as I said, caste simply isn’t economic, it’s social and historic humiliation). If there can be a better system that really distributes access across different strata within the marginalised castes, let’s find it. But let’s not use the creamy layer argument as an alibi to cover our horror of reservation.

7. Outlook recently had a story which profiled dalit entrepreneurs…

A: A handful of dalit entrepreneurs (or even a thousand) doth not an equal society make. There are 165 million dalits in this country, and if outlook can cover the success stories in one issue, it should give us pause to think. In any case, quotas are for a very small proportion of jobs, only those in the public sector. Plus, our clever authorities keep finding ways to subvert those seats too. (If you have space, I want this to be in your article) for example, Delhi University’s recent move to convert to the semester system (in the face of overwhelming resistance from teachers and many students) has a lesser-known side-effect. It will actually make it harder for any student with an educational disadvantage (Hindi medium students, those with a rural background or government school) to pass, because the annual mode of examination allows teachers to pay a little extra attention to those students who need it. No wonder almost all Hindi medium students at the masters level which follows semester-mode have failed in recent years. Sorry, no foot in door.

At this point, the reporter says, thanks ma’am for your time. What is your designation etc.? I say can you please send me the exact quotes that will be in the article, because I’ve had a not-great experience with newspapers. She says sure, can you check your mail in half an hour and reply immediately? So I put aside my tasks and do so. I correct or clarify what she sends me and tell her great, look forward to reading the article. I now give you the link to the article, where not only are there charming factual errors regarding my gender and job, but disturbingly, my arguments have been used to make it seem like I am opposed to reservations!! Before you click on the link I just want to say that I am doing this exercise not just because of how important this issue is, but because it’s really a simple, telling instance of how the big media works. I truly don’t believe it’s the reporter’s fault personally, because she is probably working under impossible deadlines and demands. But what in the machine of big media must allow the churning and spitting out of such utter mis-representation? Mine is by no means a unique or even serious instance. I know several Kafila colleagues have stopped talking to newspapers or television channels because of countless such instances. Why should we believe anything in the big media then?

Please don’t miss the offensive title of the piece.

Is FT trying to be cute? Or clever? Oh, both.

Update: Both correspondents have recently assured me they take the matter very seriously, and that they have further changed the online version. I would like to put on record I appreciate this very much, but that I remain dissatisfied with the final version. I guess this tells us more about the machinery of news and a generalised climate of anti-reservation sentiment among the media than it does about individual intentions. Their version now:

45 thoughts on “What caste do you think the Financial Times is?”

  1. How true…especially the bit about “charming” factual errors that reporters seem to routinely commit, when working with rushed telephone interviews!


  2. The most slimy part of it is the (mis)use of your information about castes in professions to buttress an argument that is the opposite of the one you’re making. This is unprofessional and unethical, and If you sent your responses by email, then you have sufficient ground to take them to the Press Council!
    At least write a letter of protest and clarification that they wont publish, but you can post it here.


    1. FT is being published by London and well reputed news papers like wall street journal, what you will say about Indian express, hindustan times,Times of india, The Hindu . Hindu national papers are a Hindu toilet papers, will you take them to Press council. FT is thousand time better then Indian news papers and rubbish to talk about ,taking them to press council.FT is thousand time better than Indian news papers who always published the news in balance way not like Indian news papers who always published one side story which we had seen many time on dalits atrocities or minorities atrocities in india.


      1. Ufff… just tired of rants without substance.
        Kumarpushp, you do need to refine your targets of attack a little. Is it your single point agenda to alienate every single person who might actually be on the same side of the barricades as you? Just as a matter of factual clarification, I have actually taken an Indian newspaper to the Press Council, and had a good experience, which is why I suggested it to Sunalini.


      2. Ms Mayawati had taken Dainik jagran to Press council ,Indian Press council is still sitting on compliant for ten year.166 million dalit do not have any faith on Indian press council.


  3. I did actually write an email of protest to the reporter, who confirmed my hunch that she didn’t in fact have control over the final shape of the piece. FT has now updated their online version which you can read here.


    I’m still unhappy with the way the final picture turns out. I in fact never said the quotas impact on social mobility has been limited. I indeed said that quotas cover only a very small proportion of jobs in general, and certainly don’t apply to the more lucrative professions in the private sector, hence all this furore about reserved seats ‘taking jobs away’ from general category candidates needs to be put into perspective. In fact I said that quotas were a very critical foot in the door for those they are meant for. This updated version makes me seem like a bundle of contradictions, since I’m in favour of a system that in my own words, apparently, has a limited impact.

    Oh well, I don’t wish to pursue this any further. We’ve all learned some lessons here, hopefully.


  4. The problem with most of the intellectuals in the academics stems from the fact that in proclaiming their liberalism on the issue of reservation, and in revealing their concern for the marginalized communities they tend to ignore the plight of the marginalized sections of the majority groups in general and of the upper castes in particular. Further, their rhetoric which is utterly devoid of ground realities, tend to homogenize the issue of caste by measuring sc, st, and obc communities on the same scale. In fact, most of the obcs, unlike the members of sc and st communities who underwent immense suffering for centuries and thus require reservation for their uplift, were never subjected to socio-economic discrimination, and many of them command immense power and respect in the society. Contrary to this, I have met many ill-paid watchmen and mess workers working in various hostels of Delhi University, who belong to upper caste. If one raises the plight of such neo-untouchables, one would be immediately declared a casteist. Perhaps the suffering of the individuals do not matter in our democracy.


    1. Dear Lalit,why Hindus and their hindu led government are not informing about poona pact .why hindu led government is not dividing the land among people ,if you can not plough your land then why you are holding the jobs and lands. I think 166 million dalits require separate county .it is up to hindus to decide whether they want to give reservation to dalits or separate county for dalits where they can live peacefully away from Hindu ghouls.JNU is being occupied by leftist hindus who are hindu first then Leftist second. JNU faculty is full of anti dalits people who talk in forked tongue.when they talk to foreign medias they say oh we are pro dalits and back in india they never inetrested in full filling the dreams of Dr ambedkar.


  5. I want to add that both correspondents have recently assured me they take the matter very seriously, and that they have further changed the online version. I would like to put on record I appreciate this very much, but that I remain dissatisfied with the final version. I guess this tells us more about the machinery of news and a generalised climate of anti-reservation sentiment among the media than it does about individual intentions.

    (just close the pop-up window that asks you to register for FT)


  6. The answers you have put forward to Q.1 to 5 are praiseworthy and empathetic to the problems of the disadvantaged. Given our socio-cultural reality Quotas are a necessity.

    Having said that i would say, you have faltered in assuming at Q.7 that all Hindi medium or for that matter vernacular/govt school students are Dalits. Majority of the students in these schools are from upper castes and they face the same problems of language/lack of exposure to cities or a different life styles as any of the SC/ST students. So, how does a Delhi university policy decision discriminate against SC/ST students.

    The reason you have put forward against ‘creamy layer’ concept are true to the core of our societal reality. Because, as i think, if we go for this concept then the disadvantaged of the upper castes, who have better life chances, will grab away all the concessions.

    Right, but have you ever thought about denying the reservations to rich and creamy layer of the SC/STs to benefit the really downtrodden among their own castes, given that the reservation benefits are too few to benefit all of the SC/STs. And it would be helpful in raising up lifestyle of a braoder group of SC/STs.

    In the present situation what happens is, a child of an IAS officer or a Minister(who have benefitted from reservations) who has a better life chances and education, is entitled for reservations and he/she eats away the limited concessions that could have helped a really needy and underprivileged SC/ST child from a rural hinterland.

    Another problem with your answers here is that you have homogenized the Dalits. When you say there are 165 million Dalits, you put all the different castes among SCs, STs and OBC in one bracket and present as if they face the same kind of disadvantages.The reality is that the OBCs don’t really face the humiliation or lack the life chances that a SC faces. In fact the OBC are in some cases better positioned in society than even the upper castes.

    I don’t know much about the STs but the little experience i have by living in villages is that SCs are not equally disadvantaged across their own Caste spectrum. There are; for example ‘Dhobis Washerman) and Kaivartas (Fishing community) who are at the top end of the spectrum and are not disadvantaged or humiliated, even historically, as an SC of the scavenging Caste. The castes like ‘Dhobis or Kaivartas’ have cornered most of the benefits and the castes like scvengers are still rotting at the bottom. So, in a way the cream of their own are as much guilty of suppressing their own as the upper cates have done historically.


  7. Shivam, I’ll keep that in mind!

    Lalit, I find it interesting that you can acknowledge the reality of the majority being a majority, the upper castes being ‘upper’, and yet feel they are disadvantaged more than the minorities or backward castes. Anyway…when we’re talking about reservations we are talking about a system of welfare benefits, or government assistance for disadvantaged groups, right? This is a country that doles out social welfare benefits very stingily, despite all our talk of being a ‘socialistic’ society. So yes, we continuously have to make difficult choices in terms of who will be the beneficiaries. The question we are debating is does caste qualify as a criterion for availing benefits? Where in my post have I implied that no other form of disadvantage exists, and consequently that no other criteria exist? That would be like me saying that if we reserve seats for SCs, we should do away with the national rural employment guarantee scheme, or programmes for slum upliftment, or schemes for poor students or deserving sportsmen from poor families. If an individual from the upper castes qualifies for any of these or hundreds of similar schemes, they should certainly be assisted. But should they receive benefits on the basis of being upper caste? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

    And please, make sure you read my post correctly before arguing that I have ‘homogenised’ the issue of caste. When I say 165 million dalits, I do NOT mean the STs and OBCs, who are a separate category. I use the category of dalits as roughly co-terminus with the governmental category of the ‘scheduled castes’, which in itself is an internally differentiated category composed of the sudras as well as the untouchables. The decision to use the term ‘dalit’ to cover all those at the bottom of the varna system is a conscious, political decision.

    Middle Indian, as I said above, I am well aware that OBCs, STs, and SCs are not the same. As for the argument about creamy layer, you simply have to read carefully again, I’m afraid. I explicitly said, “even a creamy layer individual grabbing a reserved seat is better than not having reservation. We should be confronted with the discomfort that our prejudice generates when we see real diversity in the educational institute or workplace. And a person from even the creamy layer of quotas will serve that purpose well (because as I said, caste simply isn’t economic, it’s social and historic humiliation). If there can be a better system that really distributes access across different strata within the marginalised castes, let’s find it. But let’s not use the creamy layer argument as an alibi to cover our horror of reservation.”


  8. Oh yes, and Middle Indian, where have I said that all Hindi medium students are dalit?!! This is absurd! I took Hindi medium as an example of ONE of the several disadvantages that could be found in Delhi University; caste, or rural background, or government school background being the others. Sometimes these disadvantages overlap, sometimes they don’t. Maybe we should go back to venn diagrams from 9th standard maths class to explain.


  9. Sunalini, You want the creamy layer of the quota to take advantage of the reservations simply because you want the upper castes to experience the discomfort that their prejudice generates. What purpose does this serve? Does it in any way improve the life of one “Real Dalit”.

    You may not agree, but the prejudice that an upper caste among the SC strata feels towards another lower caste Dalit is equally horrible, if not more than what a casteist of the upper caste feels towards the Dalits. So, should one infer from your arguments that, you want one better off Dalit casteist to be benefitted, even if at the cost of another “Real Dalit”, to simply ‘settle scores’ for the historical injustices.

    And sunalini, you have not explicitly said that all Hindi medium students are Dalits. But when you say our clever authorities (look up your article- doesn’t it imply the upper castes) keep finding ways to subvert those seats (Here, if you did not mean quota seats, please tell me what it is) too. for example, Delhi University’s recent move to convert to the semester system (in the face of overwhelming resistance from teachers and many students) has a lesser-known side-effect (If the side effect you are referring to is not about the disadvantages of SCs than what it is; i am sure,you were not clearly putting the case of the disadvantaged across our social strata).


  10. It is my belief that headlines are not written by line reporters, but only suggested to the editors, who then can override their suggestions. Generally, they will promote a more sensational headline to get readers.


  11. This was a brilliant piece indeed. I loved the retort on the capsule of ‘successful’ Dalits in Outlook magazine, the creamy layer argument and lots more..


  12. Nice interview..showing in right perspective the disadvantage of caste and the ways to solve it while clearly distinguishing it from the other forms of disadvantages which exists in society and the need for a solution to them. Let us not get confused between the two. I wish more and more people read this interview and get free of their biases.
    Since the English media caters to the upper-caste, upper – class, and derives its advertising revenue from corporates controlled by them, it is natural that they distort your views to suit business. For them, it’s a question of survival.


  13. Rajendran, Usha Raman, thanks :)
    Middle Indian, let me see…I really want you to spell out why I would “want one better off Dalit casteist to be benefitted, even if at the cost of another “Real Dalit”, to simply ‘settle scores’ for the historical injustices.”
    Is it because I LOVE token gestures and couldn’t care less about actual human beings on the ground? Or because I’m an unreasonable, blindfolded academic or activist who just wants to notch up scores, historical or otherwise?
    If you think we could have a real discussion on how to make the system of reservations really work in the incredibly complex caste hierarchies we have, then I will be happy to oblige. But if these facts and counterfactuals are used to deny the necessity of reservations, then we may be on different pages/planets. Consequently a debate may be difficult, don’t you think?
    I do want to put on record that I believe one of the most distressing and tragic aspects of the caste system today is the manner in which various lower castes get pitted against each other for the meagre resources available – whether it is dignity and access to the segregated village well, or government schemes and reservations. So of course, there are countless instances of scheduled caste atrocities against the untouchables, one scheduled caste against another, etc. In most of the cases, however, the untouchables seem to be the place where the buck stops.
    On that note, Ooh, the Marans are hardly an appropriate example for your point that the 96% figure is untrustworthy when it comes to upper caste control of the media. For the purposes of this discussion, if you have been following carefully, anybody non-dalit is considered upper caste, because they have access to at least one avenue of ritual or contemporary power. So the Isai Vellalar caste, to whom Karunanidhi and the Marans belong, don’t qualify as dalit by a long stretch. They are very well placed, socially. No wonder Tamil Nadu doesn’t seem to have improved its record greatly on caste atrocities.



    1. 166 million dalits are living on mercy of ruthless hindus.Karunanidhi belongs to barber communities which comes under OBSc caste.OBCs are not land less labour as dalits.Dalits will get justice in India when they will get separate electorate away from hindus so they can vote for their own communities. In reserved seats ,hindus are voting as joint electorate so dalits vote get diluted and Hindu bumm lickers are vinning from reserved constituency. India is celebrating 56th Independence day on Dalit dead body and Hindu led government is sucking dalits blood like ghouls in day in and day out.


  14. Nowhere in this post (I have not read what has been published in FT) Sunalini Kumar explicitly mentions that all non-dalits would come under the category of upper castes.But when I point out that the survey results of which she cites cannot be taken as a proof this argument is put forth.The creamy layer issue is more relevant in case of OBCS than SC/ST categories and Supreme Court has not fixed any creamy layer criteria for SC/STs.

    ‘ Delhi University’s recent move to convert to the semester system (in the face of overwhelming resistance from teachers and many students) has a lesser-known side-effect. It will actually make it harder for any student with an educational disadvantage (Hindi medium students, those with a rural background or government school) to pass, because the annual mode of examination allows teachers to pay a little extra attention to those students who need it. No wonder almost all Hindi medium students at the masters level which follows semester-mode have failed in recent years. ‘

    For how many years the semester system has been in vogue in DU and has any one done any study on the performance of the students prior to semester pattern and post-semester pattern to come to any meaningful conclusion. What has been the experience elsewhere where semester system is in vogue.My understanding is (I may be wrong) semester system is being widely used in institutes of higher learning like IIMs,IITs, IISc and in some universities too. We can debate on the merits and demerits in it but the link suggested by her has to be proved. Perhaps the semester system demands more from students and does not give them the option to ignore classes in the beginning and prepare for the exams after Feb every year. But the students capacity to understand has nothing to do with semester system.How can these students who get selected on the basis of high cut off marks be considered as students with an educational disadvantage.

    What surprises me is that in all these debates views are expressed without any evidence to support the claims and legal nuances are given a go by and ultimately it is black&white picture.


    1. Ooh, oh ok. So I have not explicitly stated that the 96% figure was regarding non-Dalits. If a sympathetic reader were reading my piece, however, she or he would see that the sentence quoting this figure follows the sentence about the over-representation of Dalits in so-called ‘menial’ jobs. So it was meant as an inverted parallelism. But you are not a sympathetic reader, are you? Indeed, I may be safe in assuming you are opposed to reservations, and are poking holes in specific statistics in the hope that the larger pro-reservation argument will fall apart. So I invite you to give your larger argument on reservations and the rough ball park figure of upper castes, or non-Dalits in the media (as well as in other lucrative professions, because my comment on the media was illustrative). Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the figure is not 96%. Let’s say it is, hmm….73.6%. Would the larger argument about quotas become weaker? Let’s say upper castes in the media are in a minority. As in all the other lucrative professions. Alongside, they are hardly a presence in government, in the upper echelons of the armed forces, judiciary and education. Plus they get insulted for simply being born as who they are are; and their caste brethren in villages get spat at for using a cell phone in the vicinity of a Dalit, while their relatives in the urban centres are employed as sewer cleaners in overwhelming numbers. THEN we would really have an argument.

      About IITs and IIMs and the effectiveness of the semester system, in fact we’ve had exhaustive debates on Kafila about this earlier, as in several other fora. It’s surprising to me that you wouldn’t do your homework before jumping in here with charges of a lack of nuance on my part. Anyhow, since you may not have read those arguments, let me sum up in one sentence why the semester system is a disastrous idea in DU. DU is a massive, diverse, non-residential, infrastructurally-poor campus, with an abysmal teacher-student ratio in several parts – everything IITs and IIMs are not.

      There is a fine distinction between nuance and disingenuity, sometimes.


  15. I have not accused you of unreasonableness or absurdity, But you have not still answered to the two points- the Delhi university and the creamy layer issue. I am sure you or any normal, rational person would not want to settle scores on such sensitive issue but you should have desisted from giving the Delhi university example; which clearly is against all the vernacular/rural students irrespective of community.
    Let me first clarify my position First. i am for reservations considering the fact that we have communities who have suffered inhuman treatment for centuries and they can not be expected to compete on a level playing field. The upper castes have positioned themselves on a higher advantageous ground for centuries. Unless we are all placed on the same level, we can not do away with positive discrimination.
    On this above point, i think we both are in agreement. My stand is that, when you have prescribed a solution for a problem, you must be earnest enough to solve it as soon as possible.
    Our constitution prescribed for reservations. Is anyone serious about eradicating this inhuman practice with the help of reservations and other means. Not even Dalit organisations are serious about it. Politicians will always use it as a vote catcher instrument. Look at the Dalit CMs of different states; Mayawati, Karunanindhi or even OBCs like Lalu or Mulayam. Have they ever done anything ‘real work’ to wipe out this blotch.I doubt, Even the Dalit crorepatis, the Outlook Magazine covered have or can implement reservation policy in their companies. It’s futile and unreasonable to expect anything from one or a group of very successful person. Once a man becomes successful he will be more interested in furthering his own buisiness, political or proffessional interests rather than doing charity for his community.
    An IIT or IIM graduate or a government official who has taken the advantages of reservation would never ever agree to his humble backgrounds and even if he accepts it, he would flatly deny that he ever was benefited by positive discrimination. So, reservation policy, as much as it is necessary, also helps in perpetuating casteism. The beneficiary suffers from inferiority complex and the upper castes get a stick to beat the policy and the beneficiaries.In short, there is no end to this inhuman cycle.
    My point is; We have devised a solution, however inadequate it may be (if required go for some additional measures)set a time frame; say 50 or 100 years and just do away with this abominable issue.
    I agree with you, it’s an incredibly complex issue and can’t be solved as easily as I have sounded in the last para. But, if a system is devised and all stress is given to education and urbanization; it will go a long way in improving the situation a lot.
    Casteim as it was practiced 20 years ago is not as intense now. Even casteism today is not uniformly rampant across the length and breadth of the country. The situation in states like Orissa and West Bengal is milder if we compare it to the rampant casteism in Tamilnadu, Bihar or Rajasthan.
    When I say education, it does not mean the half hearted and statistics improving measures that the government doing now, where in place of fully paid teachers; Sikshya karmis with a pay of 3000 rupees are employed.
    Why can’t our government make English education compulsory. Is it not for the fear of linguistic chauvinists? Today, even a person with bare means wants his child to go to an English medium school but our politicians and language fanatics (Who send their children to English medium schools) would want the rural kids to study in vernacular. On this issue, I am a fan of Kancha illiah,who had written somewhere in support of English education as a means to fight casteism.
    So. I think, an English education of uniform quality ( this is possible, if we look at the astronomical figures involved in corruption) throughout the country with a sincere reservation policy without pandering to anyone’s sense of victimization will go a long way in eradicationg casteism.


    1. 166 million dalits require english medium education so they can tell the world about dalit holocaust in india, Chandra Bhan Prasad and other dalit intellectuals came with idea of Dalit goddes, on other hand Hindu intellectuals and their government want dalits should go to Hindi medium school and produce slaves for them.Lalu yadav and mulayam Yadav who had sent their children to Australia and other foreign country to study but these lohia wadi want Hindu medium school for dalits and minorities.kancha Illiah,VT Rajshekhar, CBP and other Dalits and Bhaujan intellectuals are fighting for english education.Hindus had denied dalits for sanskrit for thousand year and now they donot want dalits to go English medium education and give Interview to Financial Times, Wall street Journal and Sunday Times.Dalits can come out from Ghetto by english medium education only.


    2. Above statement by Middle Indian is an example of how people always blame others, and never introspect.

      Its not saying that upper caste will not discriminate knowing that person has used reservation, but says well if u come via reservation, u deserve such treatment. The same response is given by male chauvinist who blames girls for showing skin. If girls had not wore skirts, they would have not been teased.

      The argument would not change anything. We Indians are truly fuck*d


  16. What you have written is true. Incidents such as these make the person giving the interview ‘run from the big media’ as the blog says. While the story travels from the interviewee to the reporter and then to the sub editor and later to the editor.. finally on the page it risks being distorted. Misrepresentation of one’s quotes is not justified. Yet, as a reporter and part of the ‘big media’ myself, I have to represent the other side of the story. (which does not apply to this particular case mentioned in the article). Sometimes a person opens up while giving the interview and does not like the look of it when it appears in print later. This has happened to me a lot while interviewing celebrities. In the spur of the moment they say things (may be they want to sound cool) and later retract. Recorder is my best friend these days.


  17. Middle Indian, it seems we agree on a lot more than it would appear at first, including the need to make quality English education accessible to all disadvantaged sections of this society (in an ideal world, students would get to choose which language they study in, and would be employable at the end of it). What I’m a little hurt by is your assumption that my highlighting the disadvantage that Hindi medium students face, or rural students face in a largely English-medium urban university dominated by public school students, amounts to me being ‘against’ them. I teach in a DU college, and I am continually challenged by the presence of students from non-elite backgrounds in my classrooms. NOT because they are inherently ‘weaker’ students (the infuriating term used by college discourse) but because the entire system and all the odds are stacked against them. The syllabus is made with English speaking authors in mind, there are hardly any Hindi translations made, leave alone having books by authors whose first language is not English. The Hindi directorate which is in charge of providing adequate reading material to Hindi medium students is in a shambles. Libraries are not well supplied. If there are a sizeable number of Hindi medium students in a classroom, they have a right to be in a separate classroom and be taught by faculty who are competent and trained to teach in Hindi – I have hardly see this happen. In the absence of any infrastructure or support, the entire responsibility falls on conscientious teachers and motivated students. I try to be one of those conscientious teachers. Wich couldn’t happen if I refuse to recognise the problem in the first place.
    About reservations perpetuating casteism, its an old old argument, and my only response is that the caste system doesn’t seem to need much help from reservations – its hale and hearty, doing well, thank you. By your examples it appears you are most disappointed with those who have benefited from reservations not ‘giving back’ to society. If the onus is on reservation beneficiaries to make a positive difference to their caste brethren, then where does that leave the responsibility of larger society, or those who have been privileged for centuries? The question remains simple and difficult to swallow: are the haves willing to part with what they ‘have’.
    And lastly, you say, “Sunalini, You want the creamy layer of the quota to take advantage of the reservations simply because you want the upper castes to experience the discomfort that their prejudice generates. What purpose does this serve? Does it in any way improve the life of one “Real Dalit”.
    I say to you, imagine being confronted with your prejudices every single day, in some way or the other…imagine a social system that makes it impossible for you to look away…can you really not see what difference that will make to the lives of real Dalits?


  18. Sunalini, I can understand the disadvantages of not having a Non-elite background and Non-English medium quality education. I am from a rural, non-English medium school.
    When you say there are not enough Hindi books available or the Hindi directorate is in shambles, you forget the fact that there are approx 60% of Indian population who don’t understand Hindi.If you chose Hindi over English, the other language groups will cry of disparity. At least Government is doing something for Hindi, Other languages don’t have any support from any quarter. And, anyway, government can do so much, beyond that the market takes over. In today’s India, the demand is overwhelmingly for English education, so why not supply it in full measure.The sooner we realize that, English has stayed long enough in this country to be any longer called a foreign language, it is better for everyone. Don’t sympathise with the students who don’t know English, try to teach them English if you can; that will help them better than letting them continue in Hindi.
    To give you one Bollywood example; watch Mehmood’s Kunwara Baap, which i think has depicted the aspirations of Indians very well.
    This is not an ideal world and there can never be a one, so we have to make our choices based on reality. The reality is that the upper caste or successful people get the power to rule because they have easy access to some powerful symbols. One among them and the most powerful is Language and in our case it is English.

    I agree,Caste system doesn’t need any help from reservations. My point is , use it or any other method, to abolish it. If this larger purpose is not served then what’s the point in continuing with positive discrimination.

    No. I am not disappointed with people who have benefited by reservations not giving back to society. What i was arguing was that, it’s futile to look up to individuals to make a difference. Institutions or systems should be in place to tackle this menace. An individual will be caught up with his ambitions or may become a prisoner to his particular caste that he is born to rather than addressing the problems of the Dalits in general. What’s happening with our Dalit groups; they are dominated by better off among the Dalits and they can’t look beyond their vested interests.
    About the last Para:
    “I say to you, imagine being confronted with your prejudices every single day, in some way or the other…imagine a social system that makes it impossible for you to look away…can you really not see what difference that will make to the lives of real Dalits”.

    Sorry, but still i don’t get your point. Do you want to say that if i am confronted with the reactions my prejudices generate, then i would be alive to the problems of the “Real Dalit” and the solution may come out from that. If it is, then , you are absolutely right, but will the vested interests let it happen. We do hear, from time to time about, the Mahadalit concept.What is the need for another Dalit group?


  19. Are we really so dense not to see through the fact that reservations are nothing but a ploy on the part of our political establishment to keep the lines dividing our society intact, one way or the other? There’s no denying the fact that a huge social correction is needed and reservations, even if functioning in perfect harmony with their true spirit, are a retroactive manner of social correction. What we need is a more proactive & pragmatic approach to this social correction. IMO, the only viable solution is true empowerment of every citizen of the country – empowerment through education & opportunity. And achieving that would require an agenda transcending various spheres of our existence. The answer lies in a holistic vision of governance that goes beyond currently practised political ideologies. The more I think about it, the more it seems like the only solution to all our problems today.

    To be fair to the VP Singh government that formalized the Mandal Commission recommendations, reservations were the best step forward at that time given our precarious financial situation then, but not anymore. Today, we have the wherewithal to embark on a phase of educational reform at all levels – policy, curriculum development, scholastic environment, teaching philosophy, delivery, co-curricular & extra-curricular activities, vocational guidance etc. – aimed at the overall empowerment of the student.

    But as mentioned earlier, this can’t just be an initiative of the ministry of HRD. This would involve major policy changes across ministries, including all the important ones like finance, home, commerce, defence, external affairs, industry…practically the whole shebang. And we just lack the political will required to make his happen. And till we don’t allow space for a fresh infusion of ideology into our political establishment, we are doomed to the conflicts of caste, religion, gender and what not.


    1. Great Sameer. You have articulated, what is actually needed, brilliantly I am impressed with your ideas and your language. But our problem is politicians and vested interests would never let fresh air to be infused into a stale system.


  20. Oh dear, here we go. The scapegoat has been found. The evil creature called the Politician. Society has been let off the hook, you and me included. We can go back to our uncorrupt, uncasteist, unsectarian pure lives, while the Politician deliberately ruins and ravages this country.
    By the way, Sameer, when you say “And till we don’t allow space for a fresh infusion of ideology into our political establishment, we are doomed to the conflicts of caste, religion, gender and what not”, which ideology were you referring to? I’m curious…


    1. Sunalini : Do we have to be so condescendingly dismissive of any proffered idea that might not be synchronous with our point of view? Could we not learn to be a little more patient in our approach and actually try to understand an alien line of thought better before casting uncalled for aspersions on it?

      The ideology I speak of could be anything, provided it is an ideology. Right now, I don’t see a single strain of ideology in our political establishment. Its all about opportunism. I haven’t voted since the 1996 general elections (my first voting opportunity and the only time I went over to the polling booth). And not because I’m a part of the cliched “apathetic Indian middle class”. I’ve keenly followed every election campaign since then…down to the recent assembly elections in Kerala, TN, WB etc. But not once have I seen a campaign based on an ideology. It has always been about personalities. It has never been about manifestos. It has always been about the wrongdoings of the incumbent government and the related defense by the incumbent party (read : counterattacks on the opposition). We say that we are in the age of coalition politics…and we’re right. But have we ever wondered why these coalitions are invariably formed after the elections are over? And when this is not the case, why do governments having been elected with clear majorities feel threatened half-way through their tenure? What’s missing in this scenario. I think its ideology. Do you have a different view?

      Now, if you meant to ask me if I have any ideology in mind, I’d say I do and I don’t. I’ve been spending a considerable time over the last decade making my own attempt to fill the gap. And so far, these attempts have been limited to myself, not without reason. Allow me to elaborate.

      What we have in front of us are not very different from the fabled Augean stables. Cleaning them would require a thourough understanding of how they function and what can be done in order to clean them effectively. As I stated in my previous comment, this would require a systemic overhaul that can be put in place only by a combination of an effective executive, legislature, judiciary & the fourth estate. Sounds utopian? It would be if I say I have the blueprint for it. But would it if I say that we might not even achieve it in our lifetime, but we can definitely set the ball rolling for the generations to come? The reason why I’ve kept my attempts to myself is because I see a lot of cynicism and in an interesting paradox, also the need for instant gratification. And till I don’t have some more clarity on a realistic action plan for my vision and ideology. Rest assured, when I do have something actionable on paper, I’d definitely share it on these fora.

      By the way, I never once used the term “politician” in my comments – this and the previous one. What I said was “political establishment”. I expected you to comprehend the difference, but anyways. Political establishment – as an umbrella term IMO – would comprise the four estates mentioned in the previous paragraph as well as the politically active citizenry. Do you see the scapegoat a little more clearly now?


    2. No one is finding a scapegoat in the politician to purge oneself of guilt and go ahead with life. The politician is a creature among us. He is vested with the powers by us to work for the society. If he puts his mind to work rather than putting it to use to devise schemes for winning the next elections, things can move in jet speed. He is not doing his work and hence the blame.

      Society is doing it’s work, for proof, look at the difference in this casteism problem in the last half century.It’s moving slowly. To work it faster-that means to force the politician to work against his wishes-you need a strong movement. And, movements don’t happen every day; for that you need the right atmosphere,which fortunately or unfortunately the politician provides with his selfishness, in time. Till that time you can only vent your anger by blaming the most visible symbols.

      You and i are doing our own bit. You and I don’t judge a person by his caste. Imagine, if we were born a hundred years ago (even if as Dalits), we would have been rabid casteists because of the prevailing social conditions then. Now, we don’t do it because of the imrovements in education and an urban living. And this improvement has been possible because of our parents and immediate society (which comprises of upper castes and some of them still not cleansed of casteism).

      Another way of working faster towards doing away with this heinous practice is if the whole society is unity. But that seems to be a far cry, because the politician has carefully watered the historical prejudices amongst different castes. Now the position is that you have alienated the upper castes, the OBC can’t feel kinship with the SC and the SC thinks he can’t condescend himself to make common cause with the ST. In addition to this there is intense rivalry among the caste groups due to the faulty reservation policy as well as history.

      Sunalini, still you have not answered my simple questions in a simple language without playing with words.


  21. Its quite convenient for disparate “input deficiencies” – caste background and non-English education, in the same vein and then make a point on how the “system” is prejudiced. All the while defending a system – caste based reservations – that is not only a blunt instrument for affirmative action, but also something that completely misses the point.

    As an alumnus of both DU AND IIM, I have seen the results of “reservation” first hand in both these places. Kids not equipped for the rigours of the course are taken in simply lowering the admission standards, and then forced through the agony of not being able to “measure up” to their peers, and finally, the ignominy of either graduating at the bottom of the class, or graduating in multiple attempts or even failing completely. This, despite attempts (in IIMs, and IITs as well) of preparing the “quota” candidates through refresher sources before the sessions start.

    The reason’s not far to seek. English is one handicap, though trying to tackle that through “Hindi” is a charming proposal, something that the dying breed of hindi chauvanists would love (I guess SC/STs from Tamil Nadu and Bengal dont count)! Lack of “preparation” though is the biggest handicap. And the latter can NOT be handled by reservations. It can only be handled by proper, rigorous preparation. Above all, its not impossible – as the Super 30 experiment in Bihar has consistently shown. Kids need to be put through the same grind for 2 years (in +2) before they apply for DU, they need to go through the same grind for 2 years before they ply to IIM/IISc whatever.

    In some ways, linked to overall reforms in education. But while we all await (without losing breath, given the track record) for utopia, the real demand should be to get the kids prepared for the rigours of the course. Chandra Bhan Prasad is absolutely right about English. Along with English, once a critical mass of “preparatory schools” are setup for other critical areas as well, we wont need reservations to the “finishing schools”. But then, thats a far less “progressive” solution, isnt it?


  22. Middle Indian, what I believe is simple language is for you a ‘play on words’. Since sorting this fundamental divergence on the way we think and write would be a difficult task in the limited space of a blog, I will let it be for now.
    Somnath, what about the hundreds and thousands of kids from the reserved category who do actually make it, as in they do actually survive and graduate from the IITs and IIMs? And what makes you think that if I was serious about egalitarian social transformation, I would prefer a limited system of reservations at the level of higher education and public sector jobs rather than a widespread system of quality English education from the level of the ‘preparatory school’ (if you scroll up, you would find I have already supported this particular solution). However, we’re talking about a real political situation in which the government is spending less than 4% of GDP on education, as opposed to a recommended minimum of 6%. The hundreds of for-profit schools proliferating in urban slums and small towns have clearly not made a serious dent in the situation, plus there is the CRITICAL issue of economic access. I have scores of studies on the role of private players in primary education in India, if you would like. We should probably take solace in the fact that cuts in government spending on education at all levels is a worldwide trend – no wonder we have massive student protests in London last December and ongoing in Chile right now. Unlike Chile and UK, however, our middle class takes to the streets not for the cause of access of disadvantaged sections, but to oppose it. Anyway, that’s a digression…
    Sameer, of course I don’t have to be condescending and jump to conclusions. I’m sorry if it appeared like that but I was in fact responding to middle indian’s comment in which he speaks of ‘politicians’. If the political establishment for you includes a political economy approach which also takes us (society) into account, then we’re on the same page. About not having solutions in this lifetime, also on the same page. What I suspect we disagree on is what to do in the meanwhile, in this messy, contingent realm of possibilities that politics is. And on that, I stay firm, reservations provide, as I said above, a foot in the door.
    In any case, about being condescending and jumping to conclusions, apparently I don’t have a monopoly. There is Somnath’s deeply offensive conclusion about my being on the same side as Hindi chauvinists! Somnath, most of my family in fact speaks Tamil or Telugu, even though I have spent most of my life in the north. I make an effort with Hindi medium students because I teach at DU, and these students are already in my class, waiting to take exams in Hindi at the end of the year. Should I send them back to English medium primary school? By the way, some of these students come to me to ask what more could they be doing to improve their career chances, and among any suggestions I give, taking a course in English is on top. Hindi happens to be the alternate medium of education in my particular university, so I mentioned it as an example of lingustic disadvantage. If you were to read what I wrote without your blinkers, you would see the number of times I have (in this post alone) stressed the importance of English as a medium, as I have agreed with Chandra Bhan’s position. I’m sorry, but how dare you assume I’m a linguistic chauvinist, and that too for Hindi, which has a fraught history in this country? Honestly, what a joke!


    1. Sunalini : I don’t disagree with your contention that reservations do provide the marginalized communities with a foot in the door. But I also feel strongly that reservations should be publicly acknowledged as an interim attempt at levelling till the time we have the infrastructure required for a more pragmatic leveller (IMO as stated before, empowerment through education and opportunity). What we’re seeing instead, is a rather successful attempt to portray reservations as a panacea for all that went wrong against the dalits. My first comment meant to highlight this serious flaw in what’s being fed to us by the powers that be and what we, the society, choose to accept without any critical thought.


  23. Sameer, really? You say the reservations policy has been a “rather successful attempt to portray reservations as a panacea for all that went wrong against the dalits”. I don’t see any such claims about panaceas among either the political elite or the potential beneficiaries of reservations. If you asked a dalit today, including a dalit politician in an honest conversation, I doubt they would say it is a panacea. I seriously doubt VP Singh or Arjun Singh ever saw it like that either.
    Funny thing is, most of those who are asking for reservations are also asking for a number of other reforms that would improve life on the ground for dalits and secure their future generations. Let’s take the Mandal Commission’s own recommendations:

    “besides reservations, the Mandal Commission has recommended certain structural changes. The Commission has sharply focussed on the fact that a large majority of the OBCs live in villages, that they are poor farmers, or farm labourers or village artisans…These rural poor are today completely under the control of the rich farmers and traders who have reduced them to a state of slavery. Their conditions cannot be changed unless a larger change takes place in the relations of production. The Commission wants a change in the private ownership of the means of production both in industry and agriculture. The Commission wants a change in the private ownership of the means of production both in industry and agriculture…Even if the existing laws in the statute books are enforced ruthlessly and impartially, it would give considerable relief to the poor. At least, the stranglehold of rich farmers will be loosened, if not broken. The Commission recommends that the Ceiling Act and other land reform statutes should be vigorously enforced.”

    But we focus only on reservations. You want to know my theory of why? Because at the very back of our minds, in our collective backbrain judgement, we are well aware that the other reforms (land to the tiller, high quality affordable/free universal primary education, remedial courses, higher economic parity, universal health care, minimum wages….the list can go on) will not be coming any time soon for the over 500 million of this country that desperately need them. So reservations is the only thing that may, MAY just be implemented in our lifetimes. But even that offends our notions of merit and who deserves what. So we take to the streets, to defend ‘our’ way of life, our merit, our success, our seats.


    1. A couple of things that you say in your response to me further strengthen the point I’m trying to make.

      You say…

      “If you asked a dalit today, including a dalit politician in an honest conversation, I doubt they would say it is a panacea.”

      Why do we have to mention “honest conversation” here? Why is a politician’s public stand different from what he/she honestly feels about reservations? I say it is different because I hardly see any headway being made in the other areas of reform you mention & I agree are needed. Case in point – The BSP govt. in UP (headed by the self-styled successor to Ambedkar’s mantle) has spent millions erecting statues of THE Behenji in the name of Dalit empowerment. Their logic? The very fact that so many statues of their leader are being erected will bring about a positive change in the self-esteem of the dalits. The SC Commission rakes up the non-issue of Aarakshan being anti-dalit to obscene levels whereas we hardly see P.L.Punia making a statement against the inhuman treatment of dalits in real life. And these are just two examples. I don’t think you’ll deny the fact that politicians & the media have done all in their power to keep the debate centred around whether we should have reservations or not. The other areas of reform (equally critical to dalit upliftment) have deliberately been kept at the periphery of this debate when they should have been central to it. In my opinion, this is the reason why we focus only on reservations.

      You say…

      “Because at the very back of our minds, in our collective backbrain judgement, we are well aware that the other reforms (land to the tiller, high quality affordable/free universal primary education, remedial courses, higher economic parity, universal health care, minimum wages….the list can go on) will not be coming any time soon for the over 500 million of this country that desperately need them.”

      This is absolutely true…and also very alarming. It betrays an attitude of “its their problem, not mine. So why should I bother?” on the part of those who claim to be politically aware & rational minded. We take to the streets in millions when its about corruption, but we don’t even bat an eyelid when confronted with the issue of deeper social corruption that has victimized a section of our own countrymen for centuries. The reason? We live in a culturally bankrupt society where education & literacy are synonymous with each other. There’s no critical thought built into our educational system. Our history books are nothing but congress party propaganda. Debate is looked down upon to the extent that the “argumentative Indian” is a cliche. Art is entertainment & vice-versa. The never-ending rat-race for good grades, higher education seats, good jobs & affluent living sucks up any remaining semblance of humanity from us. In such a scenario, we tend to stick only to those issues that directly affect us (or are made out to be so).


  24. Sameer, do tell how many Dalits park have you seen?

    Why not same brouhaha over temples that are maintained by the government?

    Why don’t we raise voice against excess on religion?

    Why be so naive, sameer?


    1. Parakh : What made you jump to a conclusion about my stand on state interference in religion? And why should I bring up that subject on a discussion about caste & religion?


  25. Hi Sunalini,
    I am sorry to hear of your experience with the FT. It’s embarassing to anyone who is part of what you call “big media.” But there are reporters, and indeed, entire organizations, out there that work with a very strong set of ethics and never hear complaints about sources being misquoted. I work for one. I would hope we would never be involved in a case like this, but if we were, we would issue a CORRECTION.
    Having said that, I read with great interest the thread that followed on the merits of affirmative action. Much has been said on this page, and much condescension has also been employed, occasionally perhaps a bit too harshly simply because of disagreement. I don’t understand why this debate takes on such big proportions. My approach is one I consider to be simple:
    a) Class-based, not caste-based. Class-based would include all of the “castes” that fall in the underprivileged class. Those belonging to privileged classes have not experienced the social humility you refer to. Money speaks very loud, especially in class-pronounced societies like India.
    b) It is needed for a generation of people, yes. But I find it sad to see that strong stands supporting affirmative action make no argument for change. All we hear from you is sympathy and empathy and the need to accommodate. It is from activists like you that we need a voice advocating mobility for the next generation. Which means quality education for the children of these people, so they can have equal opportunities and eventually compete on a level playing field. That is, ultimately, what we should all be pushing for, investing in and working towards. I am, and I hope you are, too.
    Hope you’re well. Great to reconnect.


  26. to waste time in how the casteist cum onto us, is better avoided. instead let us overcome disparities which are practised within dalit community. there are discrimination within dalits which need to be addressed before we can point fingers and act victim.


    1. Our ‘acting’ doesn’t make us victims. There is serious marginalisation going on, at every level. It won’t necessarily go away through self-reform within the Dalits. I don’t see any need to impose a hierarchy which says reform yourself before you ask for reform from outside. The two matters are quite separate when it comes to social movements.


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