As a kid, it was hard for me to understand the concept of caste and why it was there in the first place. As I grew, I developed a strong sense of dislike for the quota system, I witnessed some poor upper caste people being denied admission as they did not have the quota, while a SC/ST candidate got in to top colleges despite scoring lesser marks. I hated the quota system, so despite being a BC I pledged myself not to use the benefits of quota at any point of time in my life.
However over a period of time the way I looked at things started to change. I started understanding the concept of ‘Cultural Capital’. The term cultural capital was first coined by Pierre Bourdieu and it refers to the non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means. Though it was officially coined in the late 20th century, it has been used to explain several social phenomenon for a long time.
In the British Raj, after a detailed census the authorities came up with a report saying that “A poor brahmin is well equipped to get better education and job opportunities than a better off dalit”. It is true till date, the reason being the Brahmins have the cultural capital. They have a particular way of life which evolved over centuries because of their supremacy over other castes. They for long lived together as colonies (agraharam) and have the right contacts to get things done. So despite being poor they will not be robbed of opportunities. On the contrary the dalits were oppressed for over 10 centuries by the upper caste, so the very mindset of the community is to survive rather than excel. This can be proved by several facts, all the Indians who won Nobel prizes were brahmins. Despite being extremely poor (who had to toil for 3 square meals a day), the great mathematician Ramanujan ended up in UK, with all the facilities. It is because he was recommended by Seshu Iyer, Ramaswami Iyer and Narayana Iyer at different times, if not for them he would not have got the recognition. Jews currently make up approximately 0.2% of the world’s population, however they have won more than 25% of all Nobel prizes given away till date. They have won 29% of all the awards related to science and technology in the US. The Jats, who currently make up 3% of India’s population has won more than 50% of Arjuna Awards. In 2010 out of 39 Arjuna awards 22 were won by Jats. Jats were known for their martial arts, physical fitness and their competitive spirit. They had the cultural capital when it came to competing, so even an average sporting talent will get the right support and mindset when born in that community. Other communities might have the same physical build and capabilities, but they don’t have the sporting culture of the Jats. So to excel in any field there are certain required parameters other than money, physical and mental capabilities. There are numerous other examples, the bottom-line though is, the SC/ST over centuries were deprived of that cultural capital. In my opinion the quota system in place is well justified.
Though the whole caste system came in to place for a good reason, over a period of time it was hijacked by the upper caste people. Based on our ancient texts, the caste was never determined based on birth, but by virtue of the occupation. The segregation based on occupation helped in excelling at the occupation one chooses to get in to. So if a person is in to sculpting he will join a community who are sculptors and hence get in to a conducive environment where he can excel in the occupation of his choice. So people instead of being forced in to particular occupation can choose and excel in the ones they like. However over a period of time the Brahmins and the Upper caste people changed the concept and made it favorable for themselves. They kept the knowledge for themselves and kept other people in the dark. There started the oppression, and since then a particular community was targeted and was never allowed to grow. While the kings who ordered to build the temples were hailed and the priests get the opportunity to go anywhere in the temple, the community that actually toiled hard to build the temple was sometimes even restricted to enter the temple. The weavers who worked hard to produce a silk saree never had the opportunity to wear one, the people who made the best footwear, never had anything to cover their feet.
Some of the greatest contribution to ancient Tamil literature, Art and science came from the so called lower caste, even the great thiruvalluvar was born to a lower caste mother. In Shiva Temples in South India 63 Nayanmaars are worshiped everyday, and most of them belong to the lower caste, those who were hunters, grave diggers and so on. In our ancient culture greatness was never bestowed upon somebody based on the birth, but based on their deeds. However 10 centuries back the upper caste people hijacked the entire concept and oppressed other communities. The oppressed communities slowly forgot about their ancestors and their heritage, and just because of their birth they were oppressed. Generations of this oppression made them lose their cultural capital, and today they are reduced to a state where getting education and a job became a great achievement.
So in my opinion there should be quota system at-least for another 30-40 years, so that the benefits can trickle down to every SC/ST and then should be slowly phased out (however I doubt that it would happen with the political parties who just use them as vote banks). However more importantly the need of the hour is a renaissance among dalits, they should start to realize and appreciate what their ancestors have achieved and take pride in their rich heritage. They should create a cultural capital which will aid the generations to come. Only such an approach, can put them in the right frame of mind. However I don’t agree with the concept of quotas in promotion, it is meaningless and is going to do more harm than good for the country, and is being done to take the attention away from the scams.