Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ocean of caste consciousness

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 114 Vol IV, June 30, 2010

Demographic map of India - 2006
India - Demographic Map
THE titanic decennial task of compiling the national census of India, the 15th since the first in 1872 and the 7th since Independence, has been billed as the largest ever such endeavour in human history. The exercise this time indeed involves much more than head-counting of her 1.2 billion people spread over six hundred thousand villages, 7,742 towns and cities of the 640 districts. Over 2 million of the census staff, while documenting persons in the families in terms of gender, age, education/employment will also enumerate the availability of toilet facilities, drinking water, electricity, the cooking medium, type of housing, etc, under some 36 plus 14 more headings in the census sheet. The millions of homeless sleeping under bridges, railway platforms, footpaths and other public places are also to be covered.

The census enumerators have been further mandated for the first time to record biometric data in terms of taking finger prints of each person above the age of 15 and also collect information on the usage of Internet, phones, bank account, etc. The data on finger prints, photographs - even of iris - will be linked with the project of National Population Register (NPR) assigning unique identity number to every Indian a card with 16 digits. The census operations will take 11 months, consume 11.63 million tons of paper and cost $1.9 billion. The USA is also conducting this year her 23rd census since 1791 and the exercise, apart from affecting the seats of each state in the House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College, will also record the same sex marriages. The cost of the census would be US $11 billion.

While the Government of India (GOI) had grandly got all set to conduct the 15th national census, the argumentative Indian political players toying with 'the largest democracy of the world' suddenly got themselves entanged in a uniquely Indian epic combat of wits. To put the epic issue at stake in Hamlet's celebrated lines: "to count or not to count the 'Other Backward Classes', is a question; whether 'tis nobler not to ask the caste/or to put on paper an ancient painful truth ..." The splendidly intricate structure of walls within walls of the once upon a time scripturally structured mighty pyramid of castes of people of Bharat would indeed seem to require a contingent led by Lord Ganesha, the legendary scribe of Mahabharata. Lord Ganesha might further require a team of select staff on deputation from the office of Chitragupta, the Accountant-General of Hindu-Heaven to unfold and enumerate the details of the societal structural engineering attributed to Manavdharmasastra or Manusmriti and 'the 'second portion of Purusha-sakta hymn of Rig Veda', according to,bureaucrat-turned Acharya, Jagmohan Ji!

As for the identifiable protagonists for the 'caste counts', in the forefront are the Yadava-Trio supposedly speaking for the lower-middle-rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy. They insist that that the information so collated would be vitally valuable in framing more realistic policies for amelioration of condition of such segments of society as have been long pushed to the margins of the socio-economic development. Those who vehemently oppose the inclusion of 'Other Backward Castes' in the census 2011 sternly warn that the exercise is fraught with serious repercussions for 'the cherished ideal of nation building' and that the web of caste ratings is too messy to be logically separated and enumerated across the length and breadth of India. They point out that the inexperienced lower grade government officials-mainly school teachers-entrusted this task are the least competent to accomplish such a delicate task and that, in the given surcharged atmosphere, there is every possibility among many Indians to join 'a race to run backward!'

There is no need to labour hard to conclude that the most dehumanising institution of caste system of Hinduism - linking a person's worth to his birth - invented by ancient social-spiritual law givers has determined the tragic and turbulent course of history of India over the millenia. The Buddhism, Bhakt / Sufi movements, the new external and native faiths, modern reformers including Swami Dayanand and Mahatama Gandhi strongly challenged the system according to the circumstances of their time. The abiding bitter truth, however, remains writ large on the face and in the mind of India, "Jaati hai, ke jaati hi nahi-Caste has stubbornly refused, to be cast aside!" The founding fathers of the noble Constitution of India-including its chief-architect, Dr. BR Ambedkar - had a firm faith that the forces of democracy and freedom would soon bury the ancient caste divides replacing them with healthy politico-economic groupings. The nation would seem to have got reconciled in good faith to the various measure of affirmative action for those sections of society categorised as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who had been systematically subjected for centuries to the oppression of untouchabilty and total exclusion in education and worth while economic activities. As for the other categories of Socially and Economically Backward Classes, the state governments were considered to be in better position to take all necessary remedial actions.

The decline of Indian National Congress as a mainstream nation wide political party since 1967 general elections released the regional and caste dominant outfits. The process culminated under Janta Party in the Second Backward Classes Commission headed by Bihar Politician BP Mandal Government headed by PM MR Desai. The Report was implemented by PM VP Singh during the turbulent politically-divisive phase in 1990 and thus started India's new tryst with 'Caste-crazy' polity, which has found a resounding political echo for the counting of 'Other', what was earlier called, 'Socially and Economically Backward Classes' in the national census to be completed by middle of next year. It is indeed baffling to observe that so strong is the spell of, 'Caste Mantra' that almost no political party has escaped being 'caste-rated'. The Cabinet of Manmohan Singh displayed a 'split wide-open' and the embarrassment required a gag order. The discipline-conscious Sangh Parivar had to adopt a subtle 'scriptural' double speak but it was clear that the RSS considered caste count a conspiracy against Hinduism but Gopinth Munde openly supported the move. The issue seemed to pose a challenging the dilemma for the Dalit spokespersons - alas, they have no national leaders - while Boota Singh has supported the Caste counting. The Dalit ideologues, however, do privately point out that the resurgence of OBC's had a negative fall out for the untouchable castes in as much as several OBC castes are their oppressors in the rural India. The Left who now seem to ideologically occupying 'ground zero' were left to drift along the forces of caste count.

The large tribe of socio-political activists, arm-chair analysts, moribund politicians - particularly in the country's capital - have found a 'great cause' to espouse or oppose in the caste count. The Hindi journalist-activist Dr Ved Pratap Vedic has launched a forum, 'Meri Jaati Hindustani' and has succeeded in invoving several eminent personalities of the past in joining the campaign. The Manmohan Mantra of G.O.P, i.e. Group of Ministers, would prefer sitting over the issue as long as possible and then might plead lack of logistics for the cast count along with national census - may promise the count by other agencies till the political sea storm blows over. The shaming and dishonoring of India on the altar of caste, however, relentlessly goes on in the heart of Hindustan with brothers killing sisters and parents killing daughters for their fault of falling in love with someone whose caste ranking did not match with hers - forget what caste was the matriarch Satyavati and how her ascetic son Ved Vyas had to be summoned to carry forward the genealogical line of the heroes and villains of epic Mahabhrata! The Indians who seek to purge the Indian Social Ocean of the most devastating poison of caste should look within the ocean of their mind to rediscover the unfathomable beauty of uniqueness and sameness of humanity at large on our little planet of earth! By the way, the census report of 1931 had estimated the number of 'depressed classes' at 50,192,000 in the whole of (undivided) India; in the United Province ,they constituted 23 percent of the total population.