PUCL Bulletin, August 1994

The Mandal Commission Report
By Dinkar Sakrikar

The report of the Mandal Commission has generated a furious controversy. A peculiar feature is that the controversy is not being fought between the right and the left; on both sides of the divide are ranged both right and the left.

Those who are vigorously demanding its implementation believe that it will lead to a reduction of social and educational backwardness and give a chance to live to the backwardness and give a chance to live to the backward classes who constitute 52f% of the population of India. Those who are opposing it, with equal vigour, believe that the implementation of the Mandal recommendations will intensify casteism. Some like the Maharashtra Maha Mandal also predict a civil war if the Mandal recommendations are implemented. S. Y. Kolhatkar, writing in Jeevan Marg, while endorsing the recommendations, warns against organizing any movement to demand its enforcement, on the ground that this would increase casteism. The only panacea according to him is the development of a Left Democratic Front to initiate people's struggles against price increases and unemployment !

Both these elements attack the Mandal Commission for adopting caste as the criteria for determining social and educational backwardness. This charge is ill-founded. In fact, the Commission, after a very thorough scientific investigation has with the help of experts from various disciplines worked out 11 indicators to determine social backwardness. These indicators are social, educational and economic, and as the major controversy resolves around the caste criteria allegedly adopted by the commission, it would be relevant to reproduce the actual criteria used by the Commission. The 11 indicators formulated by the commission are:

Social

Educational

Economic

Can these 11 indicators be regarded as constituting a purely casteist criteria? It would be mollified on the part of those who use that term to condemn the Mandal Commission.

Again, the controversy over the Commission's recommendations is very deliberately, I believe, being centred exclusively on the scheme of reservations in jobs and seats in educational institutions for the OBCs. The commission, following the Supreme Court injunction that overall reservation should not exceed 50%, has in fact proposed only 27% reservation - 27% for people who constitute 52% of the population. After the Mandal scheme is accepted would this be 49.5%, within the limits drawn by the Supreme Court. It is well worth noting that the OBC and SC/ST together constitute 74.5% of the population.

When 5% reservation of jobs and educational seats is given for people constituting nearly 75% of the population, is it condemned as casteist. But Those who constitute less than 25% grab 75% of power - and that is supposed to be in the national interest, etc. Brahminst who are 5% of the population enjoy 50% representation in the Union Cabinet, in Secretariat positions, in Governors' and Vice-Chancellors' and ambassadorial jobs, that does not raise even an eyebrow of the so-called casteless society wallahas! 'Caste' cannot be used to deny social justice to a vast majority of the people; neither can caste be allowed to be sued to maintain privileges and positions grabbed and retained by a microscopic minority for thousands of years. The double standards by which the not-so-concealed casteism of the high caste is considered acceptable and respectable, while, 'caste', which has condemned the lower castes, the backwards, the dalits, the adivasis to a life of poverty, exploitation, injustice and humiliation is not be reckoned with, is a thoroughly discreditable posture and can deceive nobody. The struggle against caste cannot be side-tracked to perpetuate the domination of the higher caste. The struggle against caste is the most intense from of class-struggle in the Indian situation.

But the main thing is that besides reservations, the Mandal Commission has recommended certain structural changes. The Commission has sharply focussed on the fact that a large majority of the OBCs live in villages, that they are poor farmers, or farm labourers or village artisans whose 'business' has been completely destroyed by the Batas and Garwares. These rural poor are today completely under the control of the rich farmers and traders who have reduced them to a state of slavery. Their conditions cannot be change takes place in the relations of production. The Commission wants a change in the private ownership of the means of production both in industry and agriculture. The Commission wants a change in the private ownership of the means of production both in industry and agriculture, it should not be delayed. Even if the existing laws in the statute books are enforced ruthlessly and impartially, it would give considerable relief to the poor. At least, the strange hold of rich farmers will be loosened, if not broken. The Commission recommends that the Ceiling Act and other land reform statutes should be vigorously enforced.

Currently, whatever land is acquired by the enforcement of the Ceiling Act is distributed amongst SC/ST only. The commission feels that some of this land should also be given to the OBC. It is very heartening to note that the dalits who are likely to lose something under this measure are coming forward to support the Mandal Commission. It is a measure of the maturity of dalit movement that they are willingly and voluntarily accepting some sacrifice to promote the cause of the other oppressed section, the OBC. The dalit and the OBC solidarity, let it be understood, unites 75% of the people, suppressed, exploited and condemned to a life of degradation and humiliation. The Mandal Commission has opened the visa of such powerful consolidation of the exploited people.

The struggle for land which in effect would also become the struggle for the liberation of the poor from the dominant rich in rural areas, is also linked up with the struggle for survival of rural artisans. They have no land, or very little of it, and their traditional occupations have been ruined by the invasion of big companies. The Commission has recommended that separate financial institutions should be set up to help them organize their occupation on a cooperative basis. These cooperatives must be controlled only by the rural artisans. Furthermore, these rural artisans must be given training in the use of modern instruments, modern methods and style. A comprehensive charter of demands for the entire rural OBCs, those in farming and rural artisans, based on these recommendations of the Mandal Commission, could galvanize the rural masses into a concerted action.

There is yet another dimension to the prospects opened by the Commission. The Commission has broken fresh grounds and has carried out its investigations into the conditions of the backward sections among Muslims and Christians, thus transgressing religious divisions. So far, only Hindu dalits or OBC commanded attention, but the oppressed and the backward among non-Hindus were not given consideration. The Commission has shown, with substantive evidence, how backwardness-social and educational-prevails even among religious communities which avowedly do not believe in caste. They believe in the equality of man. Yet there exist divisions of 'high' and 'low'. These 'low-castes' among Muslims and Christians are derived from their Hindu origins, but perpetuated after conversions, though a long time ago, and are parallel to similar Hindu castes.

The Mandal Commission recommendations for Hindu OBCs are applicable to non-Hindu OBCs also, thus the struggle for the recommendations of the Mandal Commission can unite all the exploited and oppressed masses irrespective of religious divisions. Their struggle against high caste domination and exploitation can become the struggle against capitalist-landlord exploitation and therefore a struggle for equality and social justice.


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