Thursday, April 24, 2008

the abcs of the obcs (caste part 2)

(this is part 2 of my previous post about the caste system in india)

for 2 rupees i can buy an english language paper here - (the hindustan times, and the india times) so i pick one up when occasion permits to read over the headlines and see the world from india's english language perspective. and i find myself gravitating towards the issue of the caste system and reservations (quotas) for those of lower castes. so onto a long exposition of the issue:

formerly, those of the "untouchable" classes, the dalits as they're called now, (gandhi named them "children of god" but that's considered patronizing now) could only work in the job of their specific caste. in order to counteract this, the government has created reservations or quotas for them in regard to government positions. this could be any sort of job - from street cleaner, to public bus services, to government administration. and this reservation or quota system is now extended to public institutions of higher learning as well. (this was decided in 2006, but only became official after the supreme court ruled it legal 2 weeks ago.) so the government has gone to great lengths to classify and delineate the many different castes, subcastes and subgroups for the purposes of awarding reservations in education and jobs. well, after many questions posed and answered, i think this is about as good as i will ever understand it, and here is how it looks for public education:

1) the general or forward castes (gc) (those of the higher castes) receive no reservation or quota
2) the other castes (oc), which are comprised of scheduled tribes (st) and scheduled classes (sc), are broken down into a, b, c, d. (and i don't know exactly how these are decided) and according to two interviewees, their reservations are as follows:
a. 18%
b. 15%
c. 10-12%
d. 3%
3) the other backwards classes, (obc) , are given a 27% reservation for education. the obcs are estimated to be about 52% of india's population.

most of those that i have talked to are opposed to the reservations given to the st, sc and obc's. but then again, i have spent much of my time speaking with the educated (those with english capabilities) and they're decidedly of the upper classes. two students i met in delhi argued that the reservations shouldn't be based on class or caste but on one's economic status. they further argued that because of the reservation system, many of the dalits (lower classes) have more wealth and better education than those of the higher classes. but another student said that they're eliminating reservations for those of the "creamy layer" (those obc's with financial means,) and then more than once i heard that argument that college admission should be based solely on one's academic performance. deepak, the night porter in agra, said that he was concerned that people would assume that he got into school or got a certain job only because he was obc. (his family had money, but he was classified as obc because of his village's location next to nepal.) and of course his argument sounded very familiar to the worn-out doggy-eared arguments against affirmative action in the usa. but in india, this argument seems to have a few more teeth because the schools have extreme difficulty filling the quotas, so entrance exam scores and age requirements (india has age limits for higher education) are lowered and extended considerably so that enough obcs can be enrolled.

one of my big questions in asking about this is how do those of st, sc, and obc classification pay for their schooling. well, apparently no grant programs exist, nor do student loans, so if someone is subsisting on $1 per day (which is 30-40 percent of india) then education is not an option no matter what the government sets as the reservation percentage. but apparently, the indian government does subsidize expenses for public institutions. according to an obc student i met on the bus from ajmer to pushkar, his tuition at a govt school was 1,000 rupees a year (about $25) while his forward class friend paid more than twice that (2,500 rupees). he said a private school may range from 6000 to 7000 rupees a year. but for higher education, such as an mba program, the cost could range from about $5000 usd to up to $40,000 usd or more, depending on which track of mba one chose.

(when i was asking all of this, his forward-class friend seemed a little annoyed by my questioning and asked his friend in hindi, "what does he want to know for? is he going to enroll in a school here in india?" when the dalit student translated this to me, i could only reply, "beat up your friend for me when you get off the bus." he laughed and said he would. but it just proves that forward class people all the same...[that was a joke])

i am often discouraged by certain aspects of america and its social policies, and i know that the US has a long road ahead of it; but examining india and its caste system that is so ingrained in its culture and society has revealed a lot about my own country. our affirmative action policies (which have been largely overturned and tossed aside) seem so easily accepted, enacted and managed compared to the complex and confusing reservation system here. one issue with india is that caste discrimination is not even based on one's appearance or the color of one's skin, but on an ancient holy text that deemed one group of people lesser than another. this would seem to make it easier to eradicate - if people could just forget about this meaningless caste designation - unlike racial discrimination, which is based solely on the appearance of one's skin - but the caste system inexplicably holds on. so i guess that if one's caste designation is going to be considered a meaningful identifier of one's character in this life or the last, (like for surender, the dalit student jenni and i met in delhi, who is asked upon meeting someone for the first time, "what caste are you from?") then caste discrimination isn't ending anytime soon. but the indian government is attempting a reservation system for now, and they will reexamine it in 5 years. i don't think it will solve the problem to a large degree, but maybe it's somewhere to start.

but back to america's problems for a second: i read in india's paper today that the usa has one quarter of the world's population of imprisoned adults. (but i kinda wonder if it's because china [with 1.6 million incarcerated] kills all their prisoners.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is incredibly interesting stuff! Love the photos!! More, More, More!
Is it HOT there??? I mean like Louisiana-hot-humid? Do you have air-conditioning where you are staying?
John called me the other night. I did not even know he & Ivona were going to Alaska. He needed your address 'cuz they were gonna stay at your place. Luckily, I didn't have to search for hours to find it!