Reality Check India

Caste Census : Social Justice or Communal Quota – select one.

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on May 14, 2010

It is with great despair that I write this long post. It appears that the debate on social justice has not advanced to a higher plane even after non stop coverage of the caste quota of 2006.  We are back to the same old cliches :

What if OBCs are 70% of the population ?  _ Barkha Dutt on a TV Show

This will give true picture of OBC count and help with quota. _A MP on floor of house

We can understand if common people, gen-Y youngsters, media (both paid and naive), and politicians representing narrow interest groups give us misleading analysis.  Still you would expect the core issue of social justice and equality take centre stage inevitably. In the 2006-07 timeframe, we had our share of internet intellectuals who reduced the debate from social-justice to communal quota.  Even though many of them shut shop after the Apex court victory, I have continued to maintain that quota-without-data is the biggest enemy of both social justice and equality.

The UPA Government (headed by the Congress Party) has recently announced it would include caste in the ongoing census.  Does it mean that now we have quota-with-data ?  Yes, but only if you consider a thumbscrew to be a manicure. Read on.

Hey, you said you want data ?

My persistent opposition to the quota system is :

  1. Complete lack of data regarding beneficiaries.
  2. We cant live with a broken quota system (like we do with a broken PDS). Ad hoc quota purely at pleasure of politicians completely distorts democracy. No big ticket item can take hold as an election issue.

So, it would seem paradoxical that I have not yet welcomed the caste census. Here is why I am cautious.

It is unclear how exactly the Census caste data will work, the closest I have is Yogendra Yadav :

In other words, the enumerators will ask everyone if they belong to an SC or an ST or an OBC (enumerators already do so in the case of the SCs and the STs), and if the respondents do, the enumerators will record the exact caste name. Others will not be asked about their caste name. This appears to be the most reasonable interpretation of the demand for a “caste-based census” in the present context.

Source : Hindu Why caste should be counted – Yogendra Yadav

So, if you are not an SC/ST/OBC, there is no need to reply “I am Indian”.  That is what you get, you can even say “I am Jewish”. It doesn’t matter, nothing is recorded. OBCs will need to specify exact caste ( Gounder, Naicker, Yadav, etc). One can assume the reported caste has to exist in the state lists such as this one.

Why are you opposed to pure caste enumeration ?

First, we need to step back and see why we need to enumerate castes in the first place.  Make no mistake, this exercise will fossilize caste lines besides assigning a new type of state legitimacy to it.  This is at the expense of fraternity. It is akin to assigning +500 points for divisiveness and -500 points for fraternity. So the benefits of this exercise better be worth the uppercut the country is about to take in the chin.

The only argument in support of caste data is that the Indian state already has discriminatory programs based on the unit of caste. So, it is only natural that such programs be backed up by data along these units.  For a moment assume that we had complete equality – citizens would be indistinguishable to the state and law. Stereotypes about the individuals birth, upbringing, community get no points when showing eligibility for a benefit. In this model, collecting caste data is a voyeuristic exercise. It is like finding out how many Indians wear no underwear. It would be a completely useless data point, even if the results could shock and awe.

But, we in India have to live with a “spiked” equality. Remarkably almost all Indians will agree that our society, past, and conditions agreed to during our negotiated independence call for “spiking” equality and giving an impetus to social justice.  The only way to spike equality is caste – simply because that is what necessitated the spiking in the first place.  We can readily recognize the extremes. We instantly see Dalits and some Tribes as rightful targets of positive discrimination and some castes like Kshatriyas, Brahmins as those needing to take a hit. So far so good.

Here is where things get murky. Even though our staging unit is caste, our delivery mechanism is groups of castes. The entry and continuing membership of a caste into a group (SC/ST/OBC/MBC) is the only social engineering the state does. So the data we need is the kind that supports the validity of the groups of castes. If it can be shown by data that the group is “compact” – ie, the engineered benefit reaches all components, then no one can complain against the quota system.  Political formations cannot take hold because the “compactness” of the group is always under scrutiny.  A caste Thalaivar or Neta can offer no workaround for the “compactness” check.

Now, back to the census issue.

Does the caste census, as proposed, have any data points that can help validate the “groups of castes” ?

First here are some observations :

  1. Misreporting of caste is highly unlikely among middle class, urban, educated, and politically organized poor.
  2. Misreporting of caste highly likely among really backward.
  3. Not counting open category components may appear to be logical but will affect claimants to benefits from upper castes. Besides, it may not be accepted by racial formations like Dravidians.
  4. No way to count creamy layer as it exists.
  5. Will provide total pop % that are currently classified as OBC.
  6. Will provide total pop % of each OBC component caste.
  7. Will seriously undermine datapoints on education, income, land holdings. Big incentive to under report and no incentive to be truthful.

There are still bigger issues like resolution. For example : Christians in Tamilnadu will report their castes in large grains.

No 142. Converts to Chritianity from any Hindu Backward Classes Community or Most Backward Classes Community or Denotified Communities except the Converts to Christianity from Meenavar, Parvatharajakulam, Pattanavar, Sembadavar, Mukkuvar or Mukayar and Paravar

But there are about 10 different categories of Naickers. (See this list). Like most of you, I too am uncomfortable taking caste names as examples. This sounds like promoting divisiveness, but this government has brought caste to our doorstep. The state has made me and you think and write in terms of caste.

What after the census ?

After the census is over, most Indians will wait with bated breath for the results. How did caste-X fare ?

The question is not whether caste-X is backward, or how caste-X is faring on the primary social justice platforms – but simply how many there are of caste-X. Why ? Because this is the only data the census can provide.

Inevitably the clamour will rise for proportional representation, in other words a communal quota. This is inevitable because by conducting this flawed exercise the Indian state has built up a grand expectation. The right to parlay  numerical strength into an exclusive, preferably proportional benefit. The numerical winners will immediately assert this right.

Tamilnadu is a case study for communal quota. Castes currently in the OBC list routinely take the lions share of the open seats. We may not know the conditions that resulted in their original inclusion but their continuation in the OBC list is not because they are backward but because of some extraneous factors.  The supreme court has never been able to adjudicate satisfactorily on the legitimacy of the Tamilnadu situation.  Political parties from the rest of India watch in amazement at the invincibility of the political forces there. It is natural that the rest of India will trend in this direction.

As for Hindutva, it is game over. This exercise will kill any attempt at Hindu mobilization or at building a secular (not the media pimp version) country.  If a communal quota takes root, groups will large resolution like Christians, and Muslims will be boxed into a much larger pigeon hole than Hindu groups.The chaos, infighting, suspicion, and jostling for space in Hindu groups can be contrasted with the relative peace a large pigeonhole provides.

So what needs to be measured ?

To recap,

A) The only social engineering tool used by the Indian state is the ability to classify staging units (caste) into benefit delivery units (groups of castes - OBC/SC/ST/MBC etc).

B) The only thing that needs to be validated is the fairness of the above classification.

We should never let the following out of sight.

The reason we are here is social justice.

So instead of enumerating the entire population caste wise, it is much simpler to simply monitor the compactness of the benefit delivery units. No census is necessary.

A) Measure utilization : How staging units (castes) fare in the delivery units (groups) ? Also abilities of units (castes) to compete in open category.

B) If it can be shown that the groups result in fair (maybe not proportional) delivery to the social justice units (caste), then there is nothing more to do. All critics of the grouping such as Reality Check India have to shut up.

C) If the groups result in a distorted benefit to certain units, then this is the worst form of social injustice. Why ? Because this distortion is engineered and has the stamp of approval of the state. People understand and can accept jungle rules – but not enforced injustice.

Here is an illustration that highlights the issue.

Assume we create a sanctuary to protect certain animals from the dog eat dog world of the jungle.   For contrast, we have exaggerated the stereotype (fish is always a fish, tortoise is always slow, etc). Not unlike our arrangement.

This is what the census gives you

We know the total population of the sanctuary.

We know the breakup of each component of the sanctuary.

This is what the census wont give you

How is life in the sanctuary for the members ?

The census is a black box as far as social justice is concerned

What we need is this.

This is what the census gives you

We know the total population of the sanctuary.

We know the breakup of each component of the sanctuary.

This is what we need

How are the members in the sanctuary faring ?

Oops, we see no fish or penguins among sweepstake winners.

Any silver lining ?

All said, it could be far worse in the following way.

Only delivery groups are counted and social justice staging units are not. You just fill up OBC instead of exact caste. This would not have happened because there are already political forces representing components (eg, PMK).

Once the numbers are out, there may be increasing pressure to collect utilization data of benefit delivery units .  However, I think that is a far fetched hope because the numerical winners of this enumeration will immediately push for communal quota – rendering the further measurement of social justice useless.

Manmohan Singh and Sonia and high corruption

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on May 9, 2010

Headlines Today stood up and announced it still had journalistic integrity and fearlessness.  It is incredible that middlemen are involved in ministry allocations. This is where the phony capitalist corporate pipelines empty into the political sumps.

Here is an excerpt from MJ Akbars article in Arab News “How much sleaze can you spare, brother”

Because both knew that Raja, as telecom minister in the first UPA Cabinet, was involved in a rip-off of incredible proportions. The Bofors allegations, which damaged the Congress in the 1980s, amounted to Rs64 crore. This 2G scam is said to be of the order of over Rs 60,000 crore or a thousand times that of Bofors. If you want to understand the scale of this rip-off, think of this. Sonia Gandhi has been pressing government to provide food security for those below the poverty line. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has said government does not have the resources to do so. The cost of a year’s food security is far less than Rs 60,000 crore.

The unambiguous fact is that Singh and Gandhi were aware of this, but chose silence because the price of disclosure would have been the collapse of government. DMK has leveled a cash pistol at the head of government, and the head has nodded in acquiescence because the alternative was to watch its brains being blown up. DMK blackmail has worked, and would have continued to do so but for the integrity of some journalists.

Source : Arab News

What is remarkable is how the media has immunized Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and P.Chidambaram from any and all corruption. It was not like this back in the early 90’s.  The scams of today yield Bofors kickbacks in simple interest everyday. Except a few media houses, no one follows this story.  Sure, NDTV and CNN-IBN report it but they dont follow it.

It is heartening that Headlines Today’s efforts were recognized by a large section of the media.

For what it is worth,  Reality Check and like minded blogs would like to congratulate Headlines Today and its intrepid reporter Priyamvada for keeping traditions of investigative journalism alive.

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