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Friday, Oct 17, 2003

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Stop the rot

B. S. Raghavan

FAR from India evolving into a casteless society, assertion of caste and community identities is becoming more and more aggressive, to the point of promoting internecine violence and vitiating orderly governance. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the northern States, especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where invariably it is caste rivalries that dictate the course of politics and calculations of political parties and leaders.

Strangely, in Tamil Nadu too, despite the impetus given to social reform movement by the likes of E. V. Ramaswami, hailed as Periyar (the great) or Thanthai (Father), the tentacles of caste, if anything, are ironically getting to be more pervasive and tenacious than ever before. So much so, the State has seen the clamour for caste-based reservation assuming absurd proportions, with the added incongruity of a majority of population claiming to be backward, instead of taking pride in being forward! Although the original rationale of the reform movement was to put an end to the domination of Brahmins in various walks of life, the feuds now centre around the numerous non-Brahmin castes by which the State is riven, often turning bloody beyond description. What makes the picture uglier is that the obsession with caste is no longer confined to the Hindus, but has the Christians and Muslims also in its vicious grip.

Whether North or South, the entire process of governance itself has been drained of its credibility by the pulls and pressures of caste. Every decision, every action is viewed through that distorting prism. When a long time history sheeter of Tamil Nadu is shot in a police encounter, huge processions and public meetings are organised by members of the community to which he belonged praising him to the skies despite his unsavoury antecedents.

The first essential step for rooting out the rapidly spreading rot of casteism is to make only economic backwardness, and not castes and communities, the criterion for concessions and reservations.

The enlightened sections, especially the youths, of the scheduled or backward castes should boldly renounce the demeaning label, proclaiming that they are inferior to none and are ready to be treated on a par with others. In fact, the younger generation offers the only hope for combating casteism and curing the polity of a debilitating disease. Already, there are heartening reports of young applicants for seats in colleges and for jobs refusing to indicate their castes and demanding to be dealt with on their own merits. Such instances should multiply and sweep the nation.

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