Friday, August 28, 2015

Hard It Is, Hardik Patel: The Upper Caste Conspiracy in Gujarat

(An ugly face in 21st century Indian politics: Hardik Patel)

They say Hardik Patel has a baby face. They also say that he is all twenty two years old yet he could gather millions of people in Ahmedabad and ask for reservation in jobs and opportunities for his rich and powerful Patel community. He wants some sort of demotion for the Patils who are also known as Patidars from their upper caste status to the Other Backward Community status only because he, curiously and perversely feels like many others in the upper castes do these days, believes that the upper castes are left behind due to reservation policies. Jats and Gujjars in North India have been asking for this demotion for quite some time for the same reasons. They all want opportunities in education and job sectors as they believe that the major chunk of it has been taken away by the lower castes due to reservation. By late 1980s, when Vishwanath Pratap Singh became the Prime Minister of India, he had tried to implement the Mandal Commission Report that assured caste based reservation to many backward communities. North India had shown then the ugliest caste-ist face possible at that time by interrupting public life through strikes and even by self-immolations.

The demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992 could not have been the direct fall out of the Mandal Commission Report but the upper caste consolidation in the lines of reservation was definitely an outcome of it. With Babri Masjid, the upper caste-ist ideology of Hindutva could take roots in the Indian soil. There has been no stopping of it since then. Today, when Hardik Patel asks for the demotion of his own community in order to avail the fruits of caste reservation he attempts nothing but the perverse distortion of Indian history which is primarily ridden with caste burdens. Perhaps, the history itself is a caste narrative in India in which the upper caste always subjugated the lower caste and reservation policies of the Indian Constitution are the only protection available for the backward and other backward castes. Hardik Patel’s chubby face, which has now become a talking point, however does not lend any cuteness to his argument as his intention is not to read history but to distort it.


(Indian Talibans demolishing Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6th December 1992)

Hadik Patel has been in the making for quite some time. If you are a keen observer of the clues of opinion formation in the public domain as manifested in the postings seen in the facebook and other social networking sites, one could clearly see how cartoons and narratives make the SC/ST and OBC reservations look the dirtiest thing that has happened to Indian history. These pictures and narratives tell us how the backward and other backward communities have been eating away the major portion of the social opportunities leaving the upper castes high and dry. The upper caste supporters make it look like a social crime. It comes to us like a surprise revelation. See, have you ever noticed how our resources and opportunities are taken away or given away by/to the lower castes in the name of reservation, all these pictures and narrative seems to ask. If you repeat a lie several times it may look true to unsuspecting people. There are so many social theories doing the round like this. For example, the statistical falsities that propagated the idea of Muslims taking over Hindus demographically by 2050. A recent religious census conducted by the central government revealed categorically that Hindus are 97 crore and Muslims are a mere 17 crore. The difference is a whopping 80 crore. If Muslims have to overtake Hindus in number they may have to do nothing but engage in procreation.

The fear of lower castes taking away the opportunities of the upper castes is not a new thing. Through various ways of persuasion this idea has been injected in the social psyche ever since the reservation policies were made clear by the governments during the post-independence years. Taking the popular fiction and film narratives as a starting point of investigation, we would find out that in all those we see the upper caste heroes losing pride and property through the heinous activities of the lower caste villains. We hardly have lower caste heroes or heroic identities. In the popular narratives the lower castes appear as powerful yet comical and villainous only to lose grace before the righting capacities of the wronged upper caste villains. A lower caste hero is seen as someone who has usurped the space of the upper caste hero. He cannot stay there for a long time in his heroic throne. Sooner than later he would be relegated to side roles or villain roles. If not he has to migrate to other language movies where he could become either a righteous police officer or ferocious villains or outright comedians.

(Due to his lower caste origins Kalabhavan Mani cannot be a permanent Hero. He has to become villain)

The rise of the lower caste to the positions of power and affluence is a social fear ingrained to the psyche of the upper caste that has been trained to believe that the powerful positions are genetically, generically meant for them. But the new economics and the rise and proliferation of the urban spaces have brought in a different reality that blurred the demarcating lines between the lower castes and the upper castes. The newly emerged middleclass did not work in the lines of castes as the lower caste could raise his status while the upper caste struggled to maintain his position within the middleclass. The promotion as well as demotion within the castes has been driven by economic factors that worked functioned neutrally to certain extent. However, this was not an ideal scenario either. Surnames, complexion, region, language, education, sophistication, customs, rituals, marriages et al played very strong roles in further segregating the society. The blurring of caste lines in the urban spaces at times fails when the above mentioned categories become reasons for demarcating people within the economic level playing fields. While a dark complexioned girl is automatically pushed to the back office jobs despite having good skills in handling a front office, a fair skinned girl (obviously from an upper caste) is brought to the front desk even in the corporate offices where money makes sense than castes. In the hospitality industry also one could see caste working in these lines.

These stray examples are familiar enough to tell us how the caste system is still rampant in our country and it needs so many decades to bring around an even society that would perhaps be called as a casteless society. As of now, we have all the reasons to believe that this division is going to further widen than mending the ruptures caused by caste-ist thinking. Our politicians, policy makers, social engineers, social workers and so on have been working towards the annihilation of castes for a long time. But the demand of Hardik Patel and people like him is meant for collapsing all these efforts and to take India to the dark ages. Hardik Patel, while asking for the demotion of Patels to the OBC, does not consider the fact that the Patels do not need reservation as they have been enjoying power and affluence since the establishment of the caste system. Reservation is something that assures opportunities to the dispossessed. It is a long term process towards establishing an equal society. It is not a process that will continue till the end of the world. Once the caste based inequalities are erased through politics and policies and our country as a whole gain confidence to do away with reservation on caste lines, this will fall off naturally. In a society where everybody has merit in their respective fields there is no demand or need for reservation. In such a socialist situation only reservation for the lower castes will be taken off or reversed or altered to include the present upper castes.

(Manual scavengers should only produce scavengers, as they say)

Hardik Patel claims that his community, though affluent, still has so many poor people who lack in opportunities. Doesn’t he think that as a social leader of an affluent class, he could handle it from within through charity and equal opportunity efforts, exactly the way Sikhs do in their community? There are so many communities in India, for example Parsis and Jains, that do not ask for reservation but they maintain their society very well without letting it fall below a standard. The lower castes that get reservation today have been the victims of the very caste system that has created Patils, Jats and Gujjars. To become equal with their subjugators, the oppressed ones need equal opportunities in all the sectors for a long time till they gain confidence to stand up to their former oppressors. At present that is possible only via reservation. Though our current reservation policies cannot be called fool proof, the counter narrative against the reservation system is not the right alternative as it is ideologically ridden and carefully created to thwart the possibilities of the lower castes coming up in socio-economic and cultural lives. They are status quo-ists and they want the leather tanners to be leather tanners forever and the bhangis (scavengers) to be bhangis forever.

This large scale movement to take India to the old Feudal days is absolutely unjustifiable because Hardik Patel’s idea is not to give equal opportunity to his community though that is the claim, but in fact what he wants is the blatant demand of taking reservation away from the lower castes. He wants to be demoted to an OBC but a lion even if he is called a dog cannot be a dog. He will show his lion’s character if not today, tomorrow. He wants to occupy the social and political space that the OBCs have been occupying through reservation and by snatching that away from them by making further cut to it by enrolling his own community into the list, what he wants is to push out the other backward communities. Once he gets the reservation, he could at once avail the fruits of it and further subjugate the other OBCs. It is also curious why he would like to become an OBC; why not a Dalit? That is where exactly his hidden agenda of Ghar Vapsi lies. If he becomes and OBC he will be always a Patil converted to OBC for convenience. It is just for record sake. And the role of the OBC is ambiguous and is collapsible within the society. But becoming a Dalit means assuming a clear identity of being a Dalit. Being a Dalit means going several rungs down in the caste hierarchy. This will debilitate him from his false pride. He uses the same technique in his Ghar Vapsi. A Dalit converted to Christianity is never brought back to his Patel caste. Instead he is generically brought back to Hinduism and here Hinduism means Dalit.

 (The procession carrying the dead body of the Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal in Mumbai. It is not just Patel power)

Many people ask why there could not be the implementation of creamy layer and economic reservation policies. Though these suggestions sound really good and feasible there is another danger involved in it. Suppose, if we go by creamy layer, that means the economically affluent class within the castes should be taken out of the reservation schemes, there will be large scale corruptions happening in the implementation of it. The same thing would happen if we go by economic reservation. By massive bribing people could influence the officials and lower their economic status on paper and avail the benefits meant for the lower castes through reservation. The economically and socially deprived millions from the lower castes will be further pushed out of this scheme through the rampant corruption that is happening these days even in the case of availing the APL and BPL (Above and Below Poverty Line) ration cards. Many affluent families, by bribing the ration supplier and Panchayat members and political parties get BPL ration cards so that they could get more food benefits from the government while the deserving one struggle as they don’t have the ability to bribe the concerned parties to get a BPL card. This irony has been happening in our country for a long time and if we let the economic reservation to replace the caste reservation, the lower castes and the Dalits are going to be pushed further down the socio-economic hierarchy and it will pave way for the returning of feudalism. Though many people think that making some caste into OBC could solve the present problems in this country they are disillusioned and politically na├»ve. This demand of the Patels for OBC status is more of a social conspiracy than a political conspiracy and the baby faced Hardik Patel knows that he could stall the country for some time, if not forever. 

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