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Caste, Class and Reservation

Caste, Class and Reservation Ghanshyam Shah WHILE rejecting the recommendations of the Mandal Commission for caste based reservation I P Desai (IP) coherently argues his case in favour of class based reservations (EPW, July 14, 1984). His argument is based on two counts. One, he believes that if the state accepts caste as the basis for backwardness, it legitimises the caste system which contradicts secular principles. Two, he observes that the traditional caste system has broken down and contractual relationships between individuals have emerged. 1 share not only his idealism but also believe that all those who believe in secular society should make efforts to strengthen the processes of class formation. I find fault with his observations and analysis. He does not pay enough attention to the prevailing identity of 'we-ness' among the members of the same caste as well as the nature of the political structure and processes. He also fails to relate his observations in the historical context to the social groups which tilt the balance against the secular forces. However, I have agreement with IP's approach and some of his observations on the changing social reality I fully agree with him when he says that there is nothing inherent in the caste system that will resist all forces of change and will perpetually determine social, economic and political action of the Hindus. No doubt, the traditional caste structure supposedly based on ideology of purity and pollution has little relevance to the present day India.1 I use the term 'caste' in this note as a social group and not as a part of the hierarchical order. The terms 'high caste' or 'low caste' are used here in the sense of purity and pollution, but partly in their historical context and partly in connection with the present overall economic and educational condition of the members of the group. The high or upper castes are those which enjoyed dominance over economic resources in the recent past before independence, and today the majority of its members are relatively well-off, enjoy dominance (not necessarily political offices) and are better educated than the members of the other social groups. The condition of the low castes is the opposite of this.

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