Politicization of caste system
Caste system has got unusual and unexpected support from Govt. and politicians because the caste is used now in job quotas and vote banks. Even though caste system historically was just a reminder to the societal vocations long ago (1), it gained a significant boost in post-independent India when Govt. decided to use caste labels for quotas and reservations in education and jobs. People on their part gladly accepted caste based quota privileges from Govt. Thus the factors prolonging caste system and caste labels and even giving rise to casteism on the part of Govt. seem mostly political. Note, with respect to the origin of caste system long ago, castes merely used to represent vocational order or classes, determined according to the qualifications (guna) of people and the work (karma) performed by them (Gita: ch. 4 - v. 13). Thus caste labels used socially these days just reflect caste or ancestral vocation of people long ago (1); and the use of caste labels does not limit people to any particular vocation (2) or special knowledge and training (3). This shows that caste system these days is propelled mostly by political factors (Govt. creating caste based quotas and public happily accepting them) and not social considerations.
Choosing caste as the basis for quotas and reservations in education and jobs was a bad idea to start with. By using caste of a person to give help in jobs etc., the Govt. ended up in giving official status to castes which originally were just a societal identifier reflecting families’ vocations millennia ago. This change in the status of castes, from social and ancient to the official and present, led to the fortification of caste system and legitimized the use of caste labels in society and Govt. Even those persons who did not care or bother about their castes before suddenly became interested in their caste and caste labels so that they could use them in their applications for jobs, schools and colleges etc. to become eligible for quota privileges. Furthermore, it not only led to the use of castes and caste labels in official dealings (in school and job applications etc.) but also more frequently in society. Thus the caste based quotas officially gave a new life and prominence to previously obscure and dormant caste system.
Govt. policy to help people in education and jobs on the basis of caste, rather than their economic condition, is also discriminatory towards people of other castes. This policy expresses the mistaken belief that people performing rough, manual and menial tasks are poor and backward and they require Govt. assistance to find other type of work. Conversely, it implies that people not involved in manual and menial tasks are rich and privileged and do not require Govt. help through quotas etc. It seems this type of flawed thinking originally came from quota planners who might have had rich and privileged backgrounds and probably never realized the true value of manual and menial work and its importance to society. Thus they seem to have assumed, albeit wrongly, that people doing manual and menial tasks belong only to “lower” castes and “lower” caste people engage only in manual and menial vocations. Their main thinking seems to be that “lower” caste people are poor and backward and they engage in manual and menial tasks, whereas “upper” caste people are rich and well-to-do and they do not engage in manual and menial tasks (which is wrong as shown in Ref. 2). In any case, this type of ill-conceived generalization for quotas tends to further divide people officially into “lower” caste and “upper” caste categories instead of bringing them closer.
Furthermore, some planners and officials seemed to overlook the fact that there are numerous vocations in society which involve manual, menial and messy tasks, and unless they are carried out properly by someone the things in society will get awfully messy, literally speaking. Thus when Govt. started giving help to manual workers through job quotas etc. to find other kinds of work which paid well and seemed less manual and menial, it basically took away workers from important manual jobs thus leaving the work in society undone. Govt. therefore, instead of having caste based quotas to train people from working families to find other jobs, should have encouraged and rewarded them by paying more money for the manual work they were doing for society. That would have raised their living standard and increased their spending power. Moreover, with more money in their pockets from regular jobs, they would be able to live better, eat better and even send their children to good schools on their own without requiring Govt. help in the form of quotas. In addition, when others notice that manual work is given importance and it brings more money to workers, they might also be drawn to it leading to an increase in the work-force available to do manual tasks in society. Unfortunately, Govt. did just the opposite through caste quotas – it gave help in training etc. to people to get away from manual tasks and find jobs in offices etc. In this way, Govt. undermined the manual and menial tasks and indirectly discouraged people from doing such jobs. Due to this type of poor thinking and planning behind caste based quotas, many important manual tasks in society (such as related to cleaning and maintenance etc.) suffered immensely because of reduction in the number of people willing to do them, thus leaving the society and environment messy and filthy.
Note also that Govt. quotas in education and jobs to children of “lower” caste manual workers benefited mostly the children and not entire families. After getting education and better jobs through quota system, most of these children (adults later) would leave their families behind, living and working as before. They themselves would live elsewhere in better surroundings and even might marry someone from another caste. Moreover, in spite of having good jobs and being well paid, they and their immediate families (children etc.) would continue to be eligible for quotas in education and jobs because of their “lower” caste status. This shows that caste based quotas are open to abuse as they allow the rich (from “lower” castes) to benefit. Moreover, these types of quotas are not particularly useful in improving the condition of manual and menial workers.
The assistance from Govt. in education and jobs should really have been on the basis of economic condition (Poor Needing Help index, PNH) rather than according to caste and caste labels signifying family vocations millennia ago. By implementing quotas to “lower” castes, under the categories OBC (other backward castes) and SC/ST (scheduled castes / scheduled tribes), Govt. seemed to ignore others from quota considerations. Thus even the poor belonging to so called “upper” castes were left out. This shows that these quotas are wrong and discriminatory and reflect the flawed notion that all “lower” caste people (OBC & SC/ST) are impoverished and all “upper” caste people are well-to-do and rich. In reality, many “upper” caste people are very poor and they still are ineligible for these quotas (2), whereas many “lower” caste people are very rich and they still manage to receive quota benefits. In this regard, even the creamy layer consideration, meant to end the use of quotas by rich people belonging to “lower” castes, is not working properly (APPENDIX). Note that the creamy layer (putting limits on income for quotas) exists for OBC but not SC/ST. Moreover, a very high creamy layer in relation to a very low poverty line will not stop the abuse of quotas by the rich. Thus many well-to-do people with SC/ST label (and having unlimited incomes) and OBC label (earning as much as Rs. 4.5 lakhs per year, creamy layer limit) keep on getting unfair quota privileges, whereas others belonging to “upper” castes remain ineligible for quotas because of their “upper” caste status, even while earning and living near or below the poverty limit / line (Rs. 18000 per year family income).
Furthermore, the implementation of quotas to help people according to caste basically implies that “lower” caste people are poor and underprivileged. This has led some people to believe that they are poor because of their caste and not for other reasons, such as following archaic customs and lifestyles or having large families and more number of children than they can afford. Thus even when they lag behind others educationally and economically, they seem to ignore their own shortcomings and their main focus to get them out of poverty is through caste based quotas. But such help from Govt. will not bring any significant and long lasting relief to them if there are no changes in their thinking, lifestyle and size of family (number of children etc.) at the same time. In any case, it seems the caste based quotas from Govt. are not the right kind of solution even if people continue to claim, whether rightly or not, to be the victims of continuing poverty and caste discrimination. Moreover, there is no reason for Govt. to run the quota gravy train using caste system as the fuel so that some people are able to ride it indefinitely by using caste as their fare.
The use of caste in quotas to help people in jobs etc. has also given an opportunity to politicians and officials to think and act that caste system is the main reason for country’s problems of poverty and backwardness. Thus they seem to forget and overlook corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability in Govt. and public sectors and keep on concentrating on caste based quotas in jobs etc. to help people get out of misery. But that is a futile effort because corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability in official circles are wasting and scamming enormous amounts of public money without bringing any real changes and improvements in public works and infrastructure etc. for people. In this regard, consider reference (4) below which indicates that since 1992 (during last 17 years) at least Rs. 73,000,000,000,000 (73 trillion rupees) were scammed and squandered from public money. If that amount of money had just been distributed equally among people without doing anything else, each and everyone in India (country of one billion people) would receive a total payment of Rs. 73000 (or nearly Rs. 3 lakhs for a family of four). That much extra money going to each family (about Rs. 3 lakhs) would enable almost everyone in India to cross the threshold of poverty (Rs. 18000 per year family income) during at least last 17 years (1992-2009). But that did not happen in reality and many people continue to live below the poverty line in spite of endless caste based quotas for last 60 years. This indicates poverty, backwardness and misery among people are mostly due to corruption and mismanagement of public resources, and overpopulation, but not because of caste of people. It means that caste based quotas in education and jobs are not the effective tools to get rid of poverty and backwardness in the country and Govt. should instead try something else, like getting rid of corruption etc. and giving help to people only if they are really poor (under PNH, or Poor Needing Help, category).
Note also that when college seats and jobs are handed out purely on the basis of caste, they are at the expense of real merit and seem to promote incompetence and unprofessionalism. The allotment of more and more number of seats in colleges and jobs on the basis of caste also creates confusion about the real motive for helping people. Recently there was an article in a foreign newspaper which stated that caste based reservations of more than 50% seats in Indian colleges and universities indicate that caste is still a significant problem in India. That is a flawed thinking, considering that caste is not the problem in this case whereas caste based reservations and quotas are. Note that a very high number (percentage) of seats in educational institutions etc. were reserved on the basis of caste probably to serve and satisfy the vote banks. Unfortunately, it has also led to prolonging the caste system and use of caste in politics, Govt. and society.
: By implementing quotas in education and jobs on the basis of caste (OBC and SC/ST) has led to the strengthening of caste system. Moreover, this is a type of caste based discrimination on the part of Govt. against poor people who do not belong to the categories of OBC and SC/ST and thus miss out on these quotas. In addition, Govt. is unnecessarily helping and giving quotas to many rich and well-to-do people who even earn and live far above the poverty line (Rs. 18000 per year). People interested in getting rid of caste system, caste divisions, caste discrimination and casteism should therefore ask politicians and Govt. to remove caste as the criterion for helping people in education and jobs and instead use only the poverty as the condition. Thus, instead of using caste (OBC and SC/ST) along with creamy layer consideration, PNH (poor needing help) index (based on the family income in relation to poverty limit or line) would be the logical criterion for helping people in need no matter what the caste or religion.
In any case, religion and caste are wrong choices for education and job quotas. Note that religion is for praying and worshipping God in a certain way and not for giving or getting quotas in jobs etc. Similarly, castes just represent the vocational titles during ancient times and therefore should not be the deciding consideration for Govt. assistance these days. Moreover, using castes (OBC and SC/ST) in quotas tends to officially split society on the basis of caste and it unnecessarily emphasizes and prolongs caste system. Therefore Hindus, interested in de-emphasizing caste system and acquiring caste-free status (like Muslims and Christians etc. who do not have caste systems and castes), should seek the abolition of caste quotas and instead have only PNH (poor needing help) consideration. This will help the Govt. to get out of the business of officially promoting and prolonging caste system through caste based privileges (reservations and quotas) in education and jobs etc.
How creamy is the Creamy Layer
Creamy layer is the upper limit on income for an OBC family to retain its eligibility in reservations and quotas in education and jobs. Currently, the creamy layer for OBC is set at Rs. 4.5 lakhs per annum which translates to Rs. 37500 per month.
On the other hand, for a SC/ST family there does not seem to be any such limit (creamy layer) on the family income. In other words, no matter how high the income of a SC/ST family (even if more than Rs. 4.5 lakhs per annum -- the current creamy layer for OBC) it will continue to receive quota benefits in jobs etc.
Note also that the poverty line or limit for a family in India currently is about Rs. 1500 per month (Rs. 18000 per annum). Many non-quota (“upper” caste) families currently earn and live below that income (poverty line) and are still not considered eligible for Govt. help in education and jobs because they are not a part of OBC or SC/ST. Thus the relatively high creamy layer of Rs. 4.5 lakhs per annum (Rs. 37500 per month) makes many high income earning OBC families eligible for quotas in education and jobs; and it appears to be quite creamy, unjustifiable and ridiculously high, especially considering that the national poverty limit is only Rs. 18000 per annum (Rs. 1500 per month) and many “upper” caste people are earning and living below it without being eligible for Govt. help (2).
(1) “Vedic vocations (Hindu castes) were not related to heredity (birth)”, 2001, http://seva.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/03/hindu-caste-system-hinduism-vedic-vocations-hindu.htm
(2) “A ‘dalit’ not eligible for Govt. benefits because of brahmin surname”, Nov. 5, 2009, http://seva.sulekha.com/blog/post/2009/11/a-dalit-not-eligible-for-govt-benefits-because.htm
(3) “How old are the Vedas and who can read them?”, Aug 23 2006, http://seva.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/08/how-old-are-the-vedas-and-who-can-read-them.htm
(4) “After The Burial, At The Wake”, Outlook India, Nov. 23, 2009,
by: Dr. Subhash C. Sharma