Today is Ram Manohar Lohia’s 46th death anniversary. But the socialist thinker and his thoughts are still relevant for this country. This is because we have not been able to get rid of caste discrimination.
In 1954, Lohia wrote: “Caste is the most overwhelming factor in Indian life. Those who deny it in principle accept it in practice. Life moves within the frontiers of caste and cultured men speak in soft tones against the system of caste, while its rejection in action just does not occur to them”.
These words still apply to India.
Despite the spread of literacy in the country, not much has changed when it comes to caste discrimination: literates indulge in discrimination more than illiterates; political parties still decide their candidates based on caste and even the next generation leaders are also perpetuating this trend; appointments to the highest political and bureaucratic offices are made keeping the caste of candidates in mind.
So deeply ingrained is the system in our psyche that even an egalitarian religion like Islam has been infected with the caste system. The bureaucracy, which is supposed to act as a harbinger of change, has its own caste system: the IAS are the Brahmins, the IPS and the military the kshatriyas, the IRS the vaishyas and others the shudras.
Lohia advocated preferential opportunities for backward castes to destroy the caste system. He trashed the argument that raising the standards of living, merit and equality of opportunity would end the system. He said, “To make this battle somewhat equal, unequal opportunities would have to be extended”.
Lohia advocated 60% reservation for the backward castes in government jobs. He offered important positions in his party to people from backward castes. But today, the two major political parties — the Congress and the BJP — are reluctant to give their backward caste leaders important positions in their parties.
The unholy nexus that exists today between the judiciary and the media would have appalled Lohia. Some of the recent high court judgements reflect an elitist and casteist mindset and the media laps up these judgments, projecting them as public opinion.
Lohia would have advocated a model that addressed the aspirations of the most backward among the backwards. He would have also argued for a longer time period for quotas because it takes time to correct historical wrongs.
Lohia’s crusade would have never been limited to reservation in jobs. He would have wanted the State to proactively take up the cause of promoting inter-caste marriages and even make it a pre-condition for government jobs.
Kiran Yadav is member, Uttar Pradesh State Backward Classes Commission
The views expressed by the author are personal