It is the other dimension of reservation, the one about recognition and “not about who gets what or material benefits,” that Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy focused on in a lecture organized by the Department of Political Science, JMI, titled “Can we De-stigmatize Reservations in India” on Monday, September 12, 2011.
Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy teaches at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU. He has edited a book titled “Re-framing Democracy and Agency in India” and has co-authored “Antinomies of Political Society: Implications of Uncivil Development.” He was selected as the Charles Wallace Indian Fellow for the year 2008 at the Centre for South Asian Studies and his areas of interest include political theory, human rights, civil society and social movements. His on-going work is tentatively titled “Beyond Civil Society: Rethinking Radical Politics in India.”
Beginning his lecture, Dr. Gudavarthy immediately concentrated upon the notion of recognition, confidence and esteem among the reserved classes. He said, “Seats in higher educational institutes is not recognition unless the idea of stigma is done away with.” He very well recognized the reservation policies but said that “the same policies create misrecognition.”
Dr Gudavarthy, often in his lecture, presented the example of Dr. Ambedkar who believed that “caste has a great numerical strength attached to it” and that it is not all about economic benefits. It is also “about reclaiming your honor and identity.”
Reservation and caste are delicate issues that most political scientists have not touched upon. However, Dr Gudavarthy raised and answered the question of “How can we de-stigmatize caste and reservation?” By quoting Ambedkar’s words: “I was born a Hindu … but will not die a Hindu,” he hinted of favoring religious conversion but then Dr. Gudavarthy immediately stated that even conversion to another faith/religion is not a solution because it reduces Dalits to a minority, and listed out several disfavors. One of them being, “a numerical minority cannot influence voting and thus electoral results.”
In his lecture, Dr. Gudavarthy put forward roughly five arguments about few roadblocks to reservations in India, and about what seem to be likely solutions in his opinion. He began with describing the heterogeneous nature of social groups.
“With internal differences in a social group it is difficult to create a common backward movement,” he said. This often makes the social groups opaque and does not allow them to be put under one social bloc. He used the term “internal fracture” for this.
He then talked about the race to the bottom in the current Indian social scenario where “the economically powerful class of Yadavs and Jats and many others want to come under the reserved category” to get access to the state resources. He called it “reverse social osmosis” and cited the example of Mayawati backing the demand for reservation for poor Brahmin’s in U.P.
Dr. Gudavarthy moved on to the critical argument of “creamy layer” that has been denounced by many who say that the very idea of creamy layer “disqualifies the ones who are most likely to succeed.” He further stated that the creamy layer is trying to argue that reservation is a “temporary time-bound” mechanism. “In Indian democracy,” he said, “dalit elites have a very distinctive role of lending social confidence to the society.” He also expressed that the time-bound factor holds extreme importance because “beyond a point we don’t need reservations.”
Coming over to the question of merit in those professions and educational institutions that demand ability and impeccable skills, Dr Gudavarthy stated that “according to some dalits merit as an idea is a very Brahmanical, upper caste idea.” He articulated that even the Supreme Court judgments which are pro-reservation often state that there should not be a drain on social resources and compromise on ability, and that high specialization areas cannot be reserved in the name of public interest. He argued for the need to revisit the idea of merit.
Lastly, he talked about OBC politics not being exclusively caste-centric unlike dalit politics. He debated about bringing in region, religion and language into the fold of reservation and “to locate backward caste, both among Hindus and Muslims” to bring a secular edge.
In his conclusion, Dr Gudavarthy briefed about how backward castes articulate the global language of English and consider it a secular one. “Liberating reservation from stigma can ensure its highest potential,” he concluded.