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Mujibur Rehman
July 19, 2013
Taking Sides: Reservations Quota and Minority Rights in India
By Rudolph C Heredia
Penguin
Rs. 499 pp 383

Rudolph C Heredia’s Taking Sides seeks to unravel the relationship between the notion of justice and nation-building with the help of Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ sophisticated theory of justice.

Consequently, the author seeks to build a grand theory to explain India’s continued struggle for equality and human dignity and devotes four out of eight chapters to explaining various elements of justice in the Indian context. The rest largely revolves around the issues of minority rights, caste inequality and gender oppression.

The failure of the state that has perpetuated inequality of various kinds among dalits, women and minorities seems to have frustrated Heredia into declaring the modern Indian state a continuation of the colonial state.

The obfuscation between the colonial and postcolonial state forms the moral basis for revamping state-society relations by giving a call for a second freedom struggle. Although the last chapter talks about such a struggle, it fails to clarify against whom such a struggle needs to be launched, and the kinds of strategies required.

Rapt attention: Prospective Haj pilgrims at a function in New Delhi in 2009. HT photo/Raj K Raj

This confusion is evident in the absence of a theory of ruling elites and a narrative of the complex relationship of state power with caste, class, region and the various dynasties of politics and the corporate world in the book. Since the publication of RP Dutt’s India Today (1940), the identification of this complex layering of relationships between the exploiters and the exploited has posed a major challenge for theory building.

While the endeavour to build a grand theory is a welcome sign in Indian scholarship, it asks for more sophistication at the level of data analysis, and is a crucial challenge that the book has failed to address.

The great merit of this book, for which it deserves attention from scholars of Indian studies of all disciplines, is that it offers a rich analysis of the socioeconomic conditions of minorities, dalits and women. In chapter six, exclusively devoted to minority rights, the author looks at the arguments made in the Sachar Report and the Mishra Commission Report.

Heredia also recognises the place of religion and urges that neither should Hinduism be conflated with Hindutva nor Islam with terrorism.

The book presents deep insights into the fault lines of India’s constitutional state, and its failure to advance an inclusive policy that restores human dignity. This is a valuable addition to current writing on India’s marginalised groups and on democracy.

Mujibur Rehman is a faculty member at the Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi