The Pan-Indian Experience In recent times reservations have once again dominated the media discourse with the Patel agitation in Gujarat, the Jat agitation in North India and more newly the Maratha demand for reservation. Furthermore, there have been reports of caste related violence against SC/STs from Gujarat to the hinterlands of India (Mahaprashasta, 2016). In spite of the existence of reservation in the Government of India, out of 113 additional secretaries, only a handful of them belong to the SC/ST community. In addition, a study by students of National Law School of India (NLS) to understand the diversity on their campus found that 82% of the students were Hindu, while 5% were Jain as the second largest religious group. 59% of them identified themselves as upper castes, and 26.5% of students were Brahmins. Close to 97% of them were from English-speaking schools, and only six of them were first-time college goers. This clearly shows that the elite positions and institutions in India still continue to be dominated by the members of privileged and dominant castes and groups (Mehar, 2016).
According to Ajay Gudavarthy in his essay ‘Can We De-Stigmatise Reservations in India?’ he claims that OBCs are re-appropriating merit, where they see reservations as a right and not charity. They point out, that they have been toppers in many competitive exams and the competition within the OBC pool is also very competitive, as a rebuttal to stigmatisation attached with reservation (Gudavarthy, 2012). Besides, Caste is also endogamous in its nature and works towards ensuring the sex ratio of the community (Ambedkar, 1916). One would have to just open the matrimonial columns of Indian newspapers to justify this. At the extremities are the actions governing endogamy by the Khap panchayats that haven’t been reined in by successive governments and are a law unto themselves. Discrimination in the form of commensality is also widespread, in many places if food is prepared at anganwadis by a Dalit cook, upper caste Hindus do not let their children eat the food.
Even in Tamil Nadu where reservation and upward Dalit mobility has fared better than many other parts of India, a system of two tumblers is still prevalent (Rajshekhar, 2016). While there has been some upward mobility for Dalits and backward castes, nevertheless, caste discrimination is still widely prevalent in Indian society and one could even argue that it’s thriving and getting a lot opaque in urban centres. Caste Discrimination Trends in Tamil Nadu In 1925 Periyar’s self-respect movement in Tamil Nadu began to challenge caste discrimination and hegemony. However, an empirical reading of the recent years will tell us that caste is making a comeback in Tamil Nadu, with each trying to assert their influence and superiority. This is due to the consequence of the reservation policy and the gains made by Dalits steadily over the decades, while at the same time other backward communities have suffered economic setbacks.
Over the last three decades, Tamil Nadu has been seeing rapid urbanisation and industrialisation which played a part in various communities and castes making decisions to best exploit these structural changes. For instance, the Vanniyars brought land from the erstwhile elites and invested in agriculture. The Gounders moved to industrial and manufacturing hubs such as Tirupur and Coimbatore to participate in the industrial process.
However, the Parayars, a Dalit subcaste used education and urban employment as steps for upward mobility. The outcomes of these decisions by these communities were different from each other, while the Dalits fared better. The Vanniyars were trapped in an agrarian crisis and the Gounders were exposed to unstable business environments with an economic slowdown and power cuts in the industrial regions. As a result, there seems to be a semblance of economic parity between the Vanniyars, Gounders and the Dalits (Rajshekhar, 2016). The flattening of caste status and a semblance of equivalence among castes has led to violence in recent times, in an attempt to reassert one’s dominance and hegemony.
The uniqueness of this violence is that it targeted symbols of Dalit prosperity such as motorcycles, cycles, refrigerator, almirahs, and furniture. Besides, young girls have been married off at an early age to ensure they don’t fall in love and enter into an exogenous romantic relationship. In 2012, stirring mob hysteria S Ramadoss of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) accused Dalit youngsters of love jihad, claiming they lured girls from other castes “by wearing jeans, T-shirts and fancy sunglasses” and “bogus professions of love”.
Besides, today there is very little difference in income between the Vanniyars and the Dalits. This has invigorated demands for further reservation in the labour market among Vanniyars, who believe reservation has helped the Dalits find work as policemen, clerks, and in the electricity board, which they believe is currently out of bounds for them. These insecurities have led to a consolidation and emergence of community-based political formations. Communities such as the Gounders and Vanniyars have come to believe that the two main Dravidian parties will not be able to represent the interests of their caste, resulting in a move away from them to towards community-based political formations.
As a result, what we witness in Tamil Nadu today is a double movement with respect to caste (Rajshekhar, 2016). Conclusion We are of the opinion that caste discrimination is historical wrong that needs intervention to go beyond reservation. However, there is also an urgent need to conduct a fresh caste-based survey to assess and see if there has been any mobility within the backward classes, as many scholars have pointed out the data used by Mandal commission is not satisfactory (Pachauri, 1990). Nevertheless, in some cases, reservations have had a positive impact to an extent that in some parts of Tamil Nadu, you can see a double movement of Dalit assertion (Mahaprashasta, 2016). As a result, the scope of affirmative action and reservations needs to be widened to carry with it, first and foremost schedule castes, scheduled tribes and backward castes. Followed by religious minorities and disadvantaged members of upper castes.
Today, India with its high growth rate definitely does have the potential to go beyond just mere caste-based reservations and build a truly progressive society. Does that mean that we will see caste-based discrimination come to an end with progressive affirmative action and reservations? We are of the belief that would happen, the day you pick up the matrimonial column of a newspaper and do not know the caste or caste preference of the advertiser.