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The Other Backward Classes: Exclusion, Empowerment and Modernisation

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The Other Backward Classes: Exclusion, Empowerment and Modernisation, from 22nd – 24th March, 2014 Organized by Dept. of Political Science, Osmania University, Hyderabad

A three-day National Seminar “The Other Backward Classes in India: Exclusion, Empowerment and Modernisation” was held on March 22-24, 2014 in the ICSSR Conference Hall of Osmania University Guest House, O.U. Campus, Hyderabad. The seminar was organised in association with the ICSSR, Hyderabad, UGC-SRC, UGC-OU, Council for Social Development and Dept. of Political Science, OU College for Women, Hyderabad.
The seminar was divided into 11 Academic Sessions and a summing up session. A total of 33 Resource Persons presented their papers which was followed by discussions.
Former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh and Former Chairman of National Commission for Backward classes in India, Justice M N Rao who inaugurated the seminar and delivered the keynote address, described the caste system as ‘cruel’ social system which destroyed the ‘brotherhood’ of Indian society. He said the introduction of concept of creamy layer went against the natural justice system since instead of testing the ‘forwardness’ of the backward people against the ‘forwardness’ of the ‘forward people’, it tested the forwardness of the BCs against the forwardness of the ‘forward’ BCs. The suggestion of the National Commission for Backward Classes that the criterion for creamy layer be increased to annual income of Rs12 lakhs, it was opposed tooth and nail within the Cabinet and the cut off of Rs 6 lakhs was finally agreed upon. “This is one way of denying the benefit of reservation to the deserving..this has resulted in the posts reserved for OBCs being transferred to the general quota,” he said. He supported the introduction of reservation in the private sector especially in the background of the State withdrawing from the service sector, thereby reducing the employment opportunities. He suggested that social diversity must be reflected in the set up of all instrumentalities of the state and all institutions controlled or funded by the state including the private sector that benefited from the State in terms of allocation of people’s resources like land, water, mines, oil fields and so on.
Justice Rao termed as ‘disturbing’ the trend of advanced communities wanting to be labelled as BC, pointing out the recent inclusion of Jats in the BCs list. He said the lists of the BCs needed ‘wholesale’ revision and that the need of the hour was the constitution of a new Backward Classes commission to ensure that benefits and justice reached the needy. He pointed out that barely 7 per cent out of the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs was being used by the OBCs. He suggested that social diversity must be reflected in the set up of all instrumentalities of the state and all institutions controlled or funded by the state. Real equality is possible only when victims of social disabilities are able to claim on their own higher positions enjoying fair quality of opportunity without any demand for preferential treatment. For this the necessary precondition is social integration which in turn depends upon all social groups achieving more or less uniform development. The transience of affirmative action depends upon the duration of reaching goal.

The well-known sociologist and writer-commentator Prof Gail Omvedt in her presidential address, criticised the refusal of the central government to conduct a caste census. She said the ruling classes were resisting caste census despite court orders. When enumeration of the population on the basis of religion and to determine the numbers of SCs and STs, were done, why was there so much resistance to enumeration of castes, she asked. Even the Planning Commission supported caste census but it was overruled by the powerful vested interests, she said. Right now the ruling elites have taken the “Three-monkey” position on caste: See no caste, hear no caste, speak no caste, she said.

Prof Kancha Ilaiah, Director of Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad who spoke on ‘The Backward God: Buddha’s Liberative Agenda for the OBCs’ reflected upon the life of Buddha and explained how Gautam Buddha was the god of masses who wanted to establish caste-free Sangha system as opposed to the caste-centric ancient Hindu system. The present day OBCs are the same as Shudras, with minor changes in their status, in their socioeconomic life, who were said to have been born from the feet of Brahma.

But there is no change in their spiritual status. He urged the OBCs to reclaim the Buddha as their ideological god. Today, the followers of Buddha were next in numbers only to the followers of Jesus Christ and Mohammed the Prophet. Until they give themselves a new nomenclature and identity by going back to Buddha, no government would give them a second look, he said.
Prof G Aloysius, author of the highly popular book “Nationalism without a Nation in India” which is a caste-based critique of the Indian freedom movement, spoke on ‘Contextualising the Backward Classes Discourses’. He pointed out that the very same classes which had suppressed masses in the name of caste, had promoted nationalism to fight against the colonial rulers. Yet, he pointed out, that several ‘leaders’ of the nationalist movement had ridiculed the ‘lower’ castes and women for their aspirations for freedom and independence from oppression and subjugation. He said it was time the OBCs developed their own historical perspective and understood the ‘myths’ popularised by the ruling castes. As for the Indian Constitution, Prof Aloysius said it ensured only formal equality not substantial equality since the polity was structured and set up by the minority. No wonder then that the pioneering social rebel and reformer Ramaswamy Periyar said Indian independence had caused huge losses to the masses.
He criticised the implementation of reservation of protective discrimination for OBCs as a ‘mere tokenism’ with very little potential for empowerment of the masses. On the other hand, its potential to reproduce the established dominance was very high, he said. The OBCs, therefore, should instead of investing all their energies in the implementation aspects, retrieve and re-mobilise the original emancipatory thought and thinkers to raise the critical consciousness among the masses. Prof D Ravinder of Osmania University thanked the gathering.
The first academic session which was chaired by Dr Kalpana Kannabiran, Director of Council for Social Development, had paper presentations by two leading scholars, Prof Braj Ranjan Mani and Prof Bharat Patankar. In his paper on ‘Kabir and the Medieval Mukti Movement: Shifting the Paradigm with Anabhai Sancha’ Prof Mani pointed out that the defining feature of the Bhakti movement was a radical religiosity, intimately bound with a demand for socio-cultural change. In fact, the transformative zeal was at the heart of the movement with while the leaders of this movement used religiosity as a weapon against caste and Brahmanism. The language of the protest in the people’s idiom was imperative in the absence of modern-secular ideas and institutions. In other words, the religiosity that the sant-poets employed was a decoy encompassing the whole gamut of culture, including the social and the political. Rejecting the elites’ masterful illusions under the cover of holiness, the sant-poets struggled to bring gyan ki aandhi (the storm of knowledge) to dispel the darkness of enslavement. They challenged the tenets of caste-feudalism in a caste-feudal age, and asserted that though the world was afflicted by poverty, ignorance and sorrow, these could be overcome by social equality, productive work and a virtuous life. The dynamics of the Bhakti Movement can be better grasped if we understand ‘religion is a long-term politics and politics a short-time religion’, in the words of Ram Manohar Lohia. Therefore, the religiosity of the sant-poets cannot be separated from their politics of emancipation. That is why their poems are still read, recited, translated and transmitted. The movement died, but the incendiary words of the sant-poets survived, and thus their legacy continues, he said.
Prof Bharat Patankar in his presentation ‘Shahu Maharaj and OBC Empowerment in Maharashtra’ explained the reformative actions taken by Shahu Maharaj in Kolhapur Presidency pointing out that that Shahu Maharaj was the first one who introduced 50 per cent quota for the backward classes in Kolhapur. Prof Gail Omvedt gave a presentation on ‘The Thought and Ideology of Jotirao Phule’ in which she sketched out Phule’s contribution to Indian Renaissance through his anti-Brahmin movement, the founding the Satyashodhak Samaj, and his prolific writings that contributed to the awakening of the common masses.
In the second session chaired by Prof Kancha Ilaiah, Prof K Srinivasulu of Osmania University and Dr K V Cybil Robin presented papers on ‘The Thought and Ideology of Dr B R Ambedkar’ and ‘Narayana Guru and the Empowerment of Ilava: The New Dalit Histories of the OBC,’ respectively. In his paper, Dr Cybil pointed out that Narayana Guru’s (1854-1928) efforts to transform the religious practices of the Ilava, a lower caste that constituted majority of the Hindu population in Travancore, was a radical initiative. The Ilava leaders following Narayana Guru confronted boldly in the early years of the activism of the SNDP the gross abuse of religion in the name of the practice of untouchability. Narayana Guru had set himself on this path much earlier with the famous Aruvippuram prathishta. His lead was carried forward by such leaders of the community as T K Madhavan, C Kesavan, K Aiyappan and others.
The third session was presided over by Prof Braj Ranjan Mani. Dr E Venkatesu and Dr Arvind Kumar presented their papers in this session. In his paper on ‘Social Deprivation, Mobilization and State in the Identity Formation and Affirmative Action Policy: An Analysis of the Other Backward Classes’ said that when we look at the historical genesis of the deprivation, evolving a public policy for the empowerment of OBCs has been one of the continuous struggles. In the process of struggle for equality, the saboteurs have been found everywhere: in the state, the rulers, the various Constitutional mechanisms, the political parties, policy-makers, the propertied classes, the instrumentalities of communication, opportunistic political alliances. They have all been used or have actively lent themselves to sabotaging of the affirmative action policy.
Dr. Arvind Kumar in his paper ‘Mandal, Mandal Commission and Making of an OBC Identity’ explained how the leadership of backward classes has been deliberately excluded, how several myths have been constructed around the Mandal Commission report to undermine it and the remarkable diversity and heterogeneity of the peoples comprising the OBCs.
On the second day of the seminar, the fourth session was chaired by Mr Bharat Patankar. Prof G Aloysius, Mr K Kondal Rao and Prof Sushma Yadav presented their papers in this session. Prof Aloysius in his paper ‘Caste Society and Community-wise Rights: E V Ramasami Periyar’ said that Periyar was at the heart of the assertion of the OBCs but that the role of colonialism cannot be ignored. The reality was that there has been mass subordination and subalternisation of people in modern India as most institutions are casteist in nature. Today, caste has become attached to the state-making process. In reality, ‘backwardness’ of caste started with colonial period. In pre-colonial times, while there might have been other issues, there was no backwardness in the caste as such. During colonialism, caste got valorised. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, there was no dominance of Brahmins till the colonial rulers arrived and took over the land.
Mr Kondal Rao, a lawyer and OBC activist presented a paper on ‘State Policy and OBC Empowerment: A Study of Post Kalelkar and Post Mandal Commission in India’. He said that the structure of various democratic institutions in the country was very undemocratic. For instance, the OBCs are very poorly represented in democratic institutions like the Parliament, the Supreme Court and in the Union Cabinet. Many matters of the oppressed people are decided by those who belong to ‘other’ or ‘upper’ castes. Similarly, in government employment, Brahmins occupy 75 per cent of Class I and II positions. The OBCs are fewer than even Scheduled Castes because of unfair reservation policies. He said the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation imposed by Supreme Court was unconstitutional. He said the concept of creamy layer was a hurdle in delivering justice to OBCs. He pointed out that proper implementation of reservation policy would result in the emancipation and empowerment of the OBCs. Prof Sushma Yadav spoke on ‘OBCs and Exclusion: The Reservation Issues’.
Prof Abdul Noor Basha chaired the fifth session in which Prof K A Manikumar and Prof Anil Kumar Verma gave presentations on their respective topics. Prof Verma, in his paper ‘OBC Leadership and Electoral Politics in Uttar Pradesh’, focussed on the rise of backward caste movement and the leaders who led that movement since independence in UP, its impact on the electoral politics of the state especially since 1989 and the role of the acceptance and implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations on the rise of the OBC parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the political empowerment of the OBCs.
Prof Manikumar’s paper on ‘Backward Caste Movement: The Tamil Nadu Experience’ traces the Backward Caste Movement in Tamil Nadu since the beginning of British rule, the role of the British education policy leading to the preponderance of Brahmins in the colonial bureaucracy and in educational institutions, the encouragement to the BCs to demand their share in education and government service, the aspirations and assertions of Nadars and Vanniyars for equality, the role of the Justice Party’s role in articulating the interests of non-Brahmin elite and their accomplishment, the essential features of the contribution of the reports of two Backward Caste Commissions, and the rise of certain backward castes and scheduled caste groups leading to differences between them.
The sixth session was chaired by Prof K A Manikumar in which Dr Sanjay Kumar, Prof M Gurulingaiah, Dr Santosh Kumar and Dr Anjaih presented their papers. Dr. Sanjay Kumar’s paper ‘Understanding Backward Caste Movement in Contemporary Bihar’ explores the rise of the lower castes especially the Yadavas, Kurmis and Koeris, the phenomenon of Sanskritisation of the lower castes as the dominant form of social change unlike in South India where assertion took the form of an anti-Brahmin movement, the rise of the rural bourgeoisie, ie, the dominant castes among the BCs but not of the Economically Backward Castes or the Most Backward Castes comprising the artisanal and service castes. The paper concludes that while the numerically dominant BCs capitalised on the political and development processes, the EBCs could not and today remain marginally represented in democratic politics. The question now in front of BCs is how to ensure the inclusion of the EBCs and encourage leadership from among them.
Prof Gurulingaiah’s paper ‘Backward Classes Movement in Karnataka’ highlighted the contrast between the dominant BCs who have now been assimilated into the mainstream whereas the non-dominant backward classes remain marginalised. These include Gollas (Yadavas), Billawas, Ganigas, Kumbara, Vishwakarmas, Bestha, Tigalas, Nayenda, Khatis, Barbers, and so on. These non-dominant backward classes are socially, economically, and politically very much backward, marginalised and excluded.
Dr Santosh Kumar’s paper ‘Modernization, Social Exclusion and Empowerment of Other Backward Castes in India: A Study of Gujarat’ examines the historical evolution, the political and social mobilisation, the economic strength of the OBCs in Gujarat and if the “Gujarat Model of Development” and more particularly, the various state policies and development programmes, have benefited the OBCs. The paper also analyses the status of the lower castes among the OBCs vis-a-vis the welfare and developmental policies of the state and if they have benefited from the much talked about model of development.
Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud chaired the seventh session in which Mr Jinka Nagaraju and Prof Abdul Abdul Noorbasha presented their papers. Mr Nagaraju’s paper entitled ‘Inequalities and Indian Media: A Cultural Perspective’ attempts to problematize and theorize the social exclusion in Indian English newspapers from the subaltern perspective, mapping the historical origins of exclusion. In the process, he examines several myths constructed to produce and reproduce the social reality of dominance of the caste elites and the exclusion of the others resulting in the status quo. The paper points out that the mass media has been an upper caste domain ever since the inception of the first newspaper in India in the year 1780.
Prof Abdul Noorbasha’s paper ‘Dudekula Muslims in Andhra Pradesh: Exclusion and Empowerment’ points out that the Muslims are as much a victim of the hierarchical exclusionary caste system as the Hindus resulting in graded inequality. The Dudekula caste in AP, traditionally a Dalit caste, continues to be one of the most oppressed communities and faces much ill-treatment and social exclusion. Though modernisation and globalisation has rendered the Dudekula people jobless with their caste profession of cleaning cotton and making mattresses and pillows having almost disappeared, the state has not done anything to go to their rescue. A unique problem they face is that despite issuance of Government Orders that they belong to Islam religion, the local level officials insist on giving them caste certificates saying that they are Hindu Dudekulas with the result that they are deprived and denied benefits like admission into minority educational institutions, loans from the Minority Commission and subsidised Haj pilgrimage. The paper recommends that the community be given the status of Dalit Muslims and included in the SC category as recommended by the Ranganath Mishra and Sachar Committees so that they can they can avail the opportunities given to Dalits for development and empowerment.
The eighth session on the last day was chaired by Mr Zaheeruddin Ali Khan, editor of Siasat, the largest circulated Urdu daily from Hyderabad. Mr Syed Amin Jafri, MLC, Dr Shaik Abdul Azeez Saheb and Ms Lata Pratibha Madhukar presented their papers. Mr Syed Amin Jafri’s paper ‘The Status of Muslim OBCs in India’ focussed on the political, economic, social and cultural disempowerment or deprivation of the Muslims. Dr. Shaik Abdul Azeez Saheb in his paper ‘Modernization and Social Exclusion: Empowerment of OBC’s among Muslims in Andhra Pradesh’ highlighted the fact that caste has not spared the Muslim community and the widespread prevalence of social stratification based on caste hierarchy. Ms. Lata Pratibha Madhukar’s paper ‘Livelihood of Muslim OBC Artisan (Pinjara) Women and Politics of Inclusion’ focuses on the livelihood issues of the Muslim OBC women of the artisan community of Pinjara and the exclusion faced by the Pinjara women.
Prof G Aloysius chaired the ninth session in which Prof K Srinivasulu presented a paper on ‘Weavers and their Marginalisation’ in which he discussed the various issues of the weaver community which is facing a severe crisis leading to a spate of suicides in Andhra Pradesh in the past decade. Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud presented a paper on ‘The Most Backward Class Women in Telangana: Inequality Entrenched’ which examined the status of women in the two Most Backward Communities of barbers and washers. She pointed out that the experience of interacting with the women and community leaders of the two most backward castes of Nayi Brahmins (barbers) and Rajaka (washer community) was both disheartening and inspiring. Disheartening because women have little education, low income and little or no income-earning opportunities outside their traditional occupations or the occupation in which they are engaged in like the barber women who have been displaced from their traditional occupation and now depend entirely on beedi-rolling. They are also victims of domestic violence, victims of alcoholic husbands and deserted or abandoned in their old age. On the other hand, they have high ambitions for their sons, giving them English medium education in private schools at great cost to themselves. Foeticide seems prevalent as a negligible number of the women respondents, especially in the Nayi Brahmin community had daughters. Women of both communities were aware of the modern medical technique of sex selection although both denied that it was resorted to in their community. The women struggle long and hard to make a living that barely meets with their basic necessities. Women of these two communities face huge odds in their daily life and encounter entrenched inequality in every sphere of life.
Prof P L Vishweshwer Rao, Prof D Ravinder, Prof S Simhadri and Mr B Ramachandrudu presented their papers in the tenth session which was chaired by Prof K Srinivasulu. Prof P L Vishweshwer Rao, in his paper “Media in India: Freedom to Exclude”, examined the social profile of journalists and newspaper managements of print and electronic media. He pointed out that the media was one of the most conservative institutions in the country in terms of its ownership and the social profile of the journalists it employs. It is dominated by men belonging to upper castes and upper class. If OBCs, Muslims and women are poorly represented among journalists, Dalits and Adivasis are almost non-existent. Thus, almost three-fourths of the country’s people are invisible in the media, with no say in their own affairs. The major reason for this state of affairs is that the media, with very few exceptions, are owned by upper caste industrialists. The OBCs and other traditionally oppressed groups have not yet gained enough financial muscle or developed enough vested interests to own a media. The basic criterion of starting and sustaining a media is financial strength which traditionally has vested with the upper castes and continues to be so. The paper concluded that concluded that the Indian media are casteist, sexist and discriminatory. They are a barometer of the prejudices that prevail in the society.
Mr B Ramachandrudu’s paper “Inland Fisheries sector: Potential and Challenges for the fisher folk in Andhra Pradesh” discussed the challenges faced by the Fishermen Cooperative Societies and the gradual takeover of the profession by outsiders who leased the waterbodies from the government and over the years, have marginalised the fisher community, affecting their livelihood, their economic independence and sometimes even leading to conflicts with the multiple users of the community waterbodies. The paper identifies crucial issues that need to be resolved with the government taking the lead. Among the challenges that need to be tackled include restoring control of the water bodies to the primary stakeholders, that is the fisherfolk, proper development and management of resources to increase the fish output and thus generate incomes for the fisherfolk, influencing the state policy to enhance budget allocations, involving women in the profession and development of fish and human resources for long term benefit to the community.
Prof. Dandeboina Ravinder’s paper “Shepherd Community in Andhra Pradesh: Policy Process and Mobilization” discusses the increasing problems being faced by the sheep- and goat- rearing communities due to the process of ‘development’ and the policies and programmes followed by the government in the post-liberalisation times. Grazing lands have been severely depleted due to several factors such as fragmentation of land, the increase of cultivated land, change of cropping patterns, urbanization, industrial infrastructure development, widening of the roads, watershed activity, social forestry and construction of huge projects. A major contributing factor to the aggravation of the problems affecting the sheep and goat rearing communities are the forest and irrigational policies and programmes dictated by the World Bank as part of the market liberalization processes. The paper concludes that the so-called development policies of the government, particularly of post-economic reforms period, are severely affecting these communities by reducing the grazing land, displacing them and making the fodder scarce. On the other hand, lack of policy and institutional support has resulted in the exclusion of these communities from the development process. The policy makers need to ensure that the displacement/exclusion is reversed by putting in place policies that are shepherd-friendly. Prof S Simhadri gave a presentation on ‘Mapping Caste and Power: A Study of Elected Representatives from Panchayat to Parliament in Telangana’.
The last academic session of the seminar entitled as ‘Summing Up/ Review’ session was chaired by Prof P L Vishweshwer Rao. Prof Gail Omvedt, Prof G Aloysius, Prof K A Manikumar and Prof K Srinivasulu gave their feedback.

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