General Category/SC-ST

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The world loves to hate and discriminate. Especially in countries where politicians use discrimination and hate as a tool to secure their vote banks!

In the West hate is fanned with divisive feelings of race, color and religion. Fear of the unknown, which is portrayed as evil is used to incite hate and division and the more politicians and religious leaders succeed in their business, the more humanity suffers. These societies were evolving and still Work in progress in terms of race relations when a monster like the current American leader emerged from the dark side, used these primitive feelings to divide the US population, reaped the benefits and has now created a wide divide which will take decades to heal in most Western countries.

Indians by nature are no different. The modern policy of secularism and the ancient philosophy of universal brotherhood had been the guiding principle of the new India post-independence which helped the country in being more progressive than the West in terms of race and religious relations in the past.  But then the politicians saw the benefits in dividing people on religious, language and race lines and thereafter India has become a society as regressive as some of their neighbours proudly claim to be.

Alas for India that is enough. It has another tool to divide and segregate its communities- the caste system.

Hindus consider that as per their religious scriptures, society has four prime caste divisions- Brahmins or the teachers/preachers/priests as the highest class, Kshatriyas or warriors/soldiers/guardians as the second in pedestal, Vaishyas or the traders/craftsmen/administrators as third in line and then comes the lowest class, Shudras or cleaners/janitors/workers.  What was explained as the ways people can earn their living has transformed into permanently divisive caste line where crossovers are not possible in a lifetime. Even though they may be doing real work in total contrast to the caste in which they were born.

This caste system has dominated and segregated Indian society for centuries, nay thousands of years. And millions and millions of humans have been tortured, humiliated, segregated and made to live in inhumane ghettos, looked down upon, all with societies total acceptance.

The Shudras were treated as “Achoots’’ or untouchables and in thousands and thousands of homes in India they still are. They were not allowed to come near other higher caste humans, were served food in different utensils, made to live in segregated areas and not allowed to live the life of dignity that every human is entitled to. They still face such indignity. Mind you I am talking about humans treating their brethren!

In modern India social reformers like Gandhi, Rammohan, Dayanand, worked to address this alienation. Gandhi in love renamed the community as Harijans or the people of God. Indian constitution aptly formulated by a great leader from the community, Mr. B.R. Ambedkar went further and enabled equality as a right for all citizens.

Also to enable these backward communities to cope with the high level of illiteracy, poverty and malnutrition and to give them a chance to bridge the gap between them and the higher castes, a policy of positive or affirmative action was started for these communities, thereafter marked as the Scheduled caste and Tribes in the constitution.

Over the last seventy years, this positive action in terms of reservations in educational institutions, in government jobs and in government facilities has led to a change in the Indian society which was long pending. There are thousands of young men and women who have reaped the benefits and uplifted not just their lives or of their families but of the entire communities.

Alas the politicians as usual realized the benefits of further dividing people using this affirmative action as a tool. Some who wanted to reap the benefits of a created vote bank of the SC/ST or Dalit community masqueraded as their leaders and took the reservation levels from a realistic one third or even half to totally unrealistic levels creating fissures and unrest. While the others who portrayed themselves as representing the interests of the higher castes created unrest by fighting the former forces.

Today India which is already facing tremendous unrest due to divisions of religion and the pressure of the majority community to exert their will over all minority communities is facing another fanned division on caste lines.

The ruling party whose base is strongest in Indian middle class and the elite comprising of the three high castes, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas has decided to consolidate their vote bank by showing that they represent the interests of these communities. And yet being a political party, they cannot come out in open and lose the entire Dalit base and hence double standards and double talk has become the norm of the game. In public their leaders support positive action and reservations and stand by it for press and media. In closed doors and in community meetings of the higher castes or “Savarnas’’, the same leaders cry foul over the sin of the past ruling regime and pledge to start a crusade to bring an end to it.

Alas the middle class and upper middle class Indian has found another reason to hate.

I was taken aback when one of my friends in real and virtual life started a crusade on social media wherein he decided to add the words ‘General Category’ to his name. He also requested others to follow suit and to indicate that they were General category doctors or General category engineers and so on to show that their skills were genuine skills and that they did not reap the benefits of reservation to reach their respective position. It was also an indirect crude attempt to portray that the people who reach their positions using reservations or positive action are lowly skilled, not at par with others and hence should be treated as lowly and not given the respect that others should get.  It was discrimination revisited in modern, glorified forms.

I was aghast to see that many of the social media friends and colleagues liked that idea and wanted to support and lead such a “crusade”. Alas the backroom politics of the ruling party was working well and creating foot soldiers ready to fight a “just” battle for the benefit of their brethren.

It was also sounding a little astounding because for centuries Indians had already been carrying the label of General category against their names such as Iyer, Iyengar, Shula, Sharma, Narang, Thakur and the likes which signified their higher caste and any further label was just a repetition.

Unlike the gentleman who added General category to his name and who in my living memory did not suffer one bit due to reservation, I, having studied in IIT thirty years back had been affected personally by the reservation at that time. I had also studied, dined and lived with the students belonging to these communities there.  Today I can say truly that I have no hard feelings due to this towards anyone and in fact have only love, acceptance and admiration of their courage and thank the leaders in power to develop such an affirmative action to transform our society.

IIT Bombay where I had studied was one of the best and toughest engineering institution in India. We had plenty of colleagues who belonged to these communities. True some of them were behind other regular students and needed more training and efforts than the others to be at par. That can happen anywhere when some less gifted students come and stand together with crème-da-le-crème.  And yet they were never segregated and we all studied, dined and lived together and helped each other in our hours of distress.

Not even once and I repeat not even once in all the four years of my engineering study there or even thereafter did I hear of a single course where the students from the SC/ST community were given higher marks or made to pass just because they belonged to that community. They had to study, write quizzes, prepare journals and sit in exams like any other student and if they did well they passed and if they did not do well then they failed. So when they completed their engineering or medical studies with their own capabilities and hard work then how can anyone deny their accomplishment? How can the society even dare to segregate them still? How can you even attempt to create such a divide?

As for reservations for jobs, think again. When your society did not allow them to even sit together or drink from the same utensils, when you are resisting their education accomplishment even, would you allow them to get a decent job even after crossing all obstacles? Off course not! It is common knowledge that caste plays a major role in the job market in India and unless otherwise mandated, certain communities are earmarked for certain jobs and denied other opportunities. I see that around even in the private sector. Definitely an affirmative action there was a positive step and has led to the upliftment of millions of people.

I truly hope that sanity prevails and that people look through the propaganda of the cunning politicians and religious leaders and avoid such hate to take hold of their psyche.

To my friend in real and virtual life, you are a good human being and your greatness would lie in accepting your folly and changing track.

There is not enough time in this world to love. Then why turn to divisiveness and hate.

If change is needed then drop all labels! India would be a better place when Indians remove the symbols of their castes from their names and treat each other as equal in body and spirit. Amen!

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