PUCL Bulletin, August 1984

A comment on the reccomendations of the Mandal commission
By Aruna Singh

The controversy generated by the recommendations of the Mandal Commission has obfuscated many issues which need a deeper analysis. There is no doubt that the main recommendations and the demand for their implementation must be supported from the viewpoint of democratisation of Indian society.

The main objection of the critics of the recommendations is the use of the case/community criteria to analyse backwardness. But when we say that India is a backward country, it is normally stated in terms of a mass of statistics about the number of people over the poverty line, the number of illiterates etc., the people are portrayed as an amorphous mass of human beings. However, the backward are people closely tied into the caste or community that they were born into, connected by thousands of threads by the work they do and the cultural, traditional practices they still follow into a structure that has come down to us since centuries. And we know that over 75% of our people live within these relations in poverty and backwardness.

This aspect of reality is forgotten by those who put forward a more progressive sounding argument - that only economic criteria should be used for reservations. On the one hand are the critics who are against caste as a criterion. On the other are those who voice an unqualified support for the Commission's recommendations as being revolutionary in their sweep. Both fail to observe the real base and thereby limitations of the Commission's approach and recommendations.

The Commission has identified 3743 castes and communities as belonging to the OBC on the basis of three types of criteria - social, economic and educational. But even in those criteria supposed to be social two of the four relate directly to the kind of work done by men and women of the community. Similarly it is a now well-known fact that the drop-out rate of school-going children of a particular caste is related significantly to the economic conditions of the people and their socio-political consciousness. This clearly reveals that the backwardness of these communities is related to the entire economic - political structure of India.

The undemocratic nature of Indian society lies not merely in the restrictions on our fundamental rights or their non-implementation, but is connected to the economic and political structure of our society. For, without basic amenities to a decent life, the fundamental rights themselves cannot be enjoyed. In India, land is concentrated in the few hands (10% of rural households control almost 55% of cultivable land while 35.23% own hardly 2.07% of land). Industry too is highly concentrated in the hands of the top business house. The case system still operates. Social and economic power is monopolised by a small proportion of the population.

The scheduled castes and tribes and the OBCs live mainly in villages, owing none or little land. Many of them are forced to sell their labour in order to survive. Some of them carry out their traditional occupations still in conditions of servitude to the rich. They command no social prestige, nor do they have a political voice except as vote banks. In the cities, most of them are found in the unorganised sector working as labourers, in petty trades, or carrying out their traditional occupations, while the well-paid, secure, government jobs and other professions are the monopoly of higher castes.

It is in the context of this structure of our society that we have to evaluate the recommendations and accept their limitations. The recommendations centre around reservation of 27% of all central government jobs for the OBC. The campaigns for the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations have also focussed only on this demand. Therefore, though there are other recommendations in the report, for instance, land reforms, cooperatives for artisans, they have not been discussed much and the main debate of both, proponents and opponents, has centred around the reservation of jobs and seats in educational institutions.

But the implementation of these recommendations does not tackle the roots of backwardness in our society. The very criteria that have been used to define backwardness, like high incidence of manual labour, illiteracy, lack of drinking water sources, are real problems and they cannot be solved through the implementation of job reservations. The backwardness of these castes and communities, as pointed out before, is rooted in the very socio-economic structure of relations at the village level. Without touching those, backwardness and poverty cannot be eliminated.

The other ignored recommendations of the Commission are related to this structure of backwardness, but the expectation is that they can be revoked through executive fiat and implemented through the intervention of the bureaucracy. But India has had more than one attempt at democratization of our society from above and it has led us nowhere. The implementation of radical land reforms requires the participation and mobilization of people themselves. A mobilization that cuts across casts lines to include the vast majority of the scheduled castes, tribes and others. Without this mobilization such recommendations, implemented from above can (as has been so far) only be distorted to benefit a few, thus negating the very process of democratization.

Besides, reservations, though necessary, can help only a few members of the backward castes. At present the relatively well-paid, high status, white collar jobs and professions are a monopoly of the higher castes. To counter the existing prejudices the tremendous competition in the face of which it is difficult for the discriminated to stand, reservations become important. But who can take advantage of these reserved jobs? Those who have already passed school education. It will give a thrust to those who aspire to study further as reservations for scheduled castes has done. But just as the majority of the S.C. remain, even today, caught in the web of exploitation and backwardness in the rural areas, so will the OBC, even with enhanced reservations. Moreover, the slow growth of our economy points to limited expansion of these jobs, thus limiting the chances of even a majority of the educated getting them.

The wider task of fighting backwardness will still remain. For struggling for the democratization of our society is not a concept restricted to the sphere of politics. It includes social and economic aspects and only through the people's struggles to solve these basic questions can this democratization of our society be completed.

Home | Index