ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Viewing Caste Inequality Upside Down

The Perversity of Special Schemes for Brahmins in South India

The justifi cation for a slew of preferential policies aimed at Brahmins in three southern states of India are empirically examined. The results reveal that Brahmins in these three states are at the top of various human capital measures, various standard of living indicators, and have better political and social networks compared to all other social groups. Thus, these preferential policies retrench the existing caste inequalities instead of eliminating them. 

Appendix Figures A1–A4 accompanying this article are available on the EPW website.

The authors are grateful to Pratap Bhanu Mehta for a phone discussion on the nuances of the Constitution’s approach to caste inequality and to Vivaan Gupta for compiling the
background material on the special schemes examined in this article. The authors are responsible for all the remaining errors.

The preamble of the Constitution of India promises to secure for all citizens justice, social, economic and political; [and] ... equality of status and opportunity, among other goals.1 Ensuring genuine justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity is immensely challenging for any society; this was especially the case for the newly independent India. As the chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar famously emphasised that by adopting these core constitutional values in 1950, India entered into a life of contradictions, in that political equality (the principle of one man, one vote) was superimposed on a foundation of social inequality embodied by caste hierarchy that permeated all parts of the country, albeit with regional variation.

Weakening the stranglehold of the deep-rooted and multidimensional caste inequality was essential for the realisation of the goals of justice and equality. The Indian policy of affirmative action, the reservation system, was one step in that direction, designed as a scheme of compensatory discrimination via quotas. The affirmative action measures were complemented by several preferential policies targeted towards groups that were at the receiving end of the worst expression of caste inequality, namely untouchability and the deep stigmatisation associated with it.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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