Centuries of Discrimination Reality or Myth By Sanjeev Nayyar August 31, 2006 The proponents of 27% reservations for OBC argue that it would help them overcome centuries of discrimination. I wondered! If indeed, such was the animosity between the forwards and backwards how did the Indian Civilization survive for over 5,000 years. A Google search led me to ‘The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the 18th century’ written by noted Gandhian Dharampal. The book gives, at the beginning of British rule number of schools and caste composition of students. The author referred to British & Indian archives and reproduced reports of surveys undertaken by the British (between 1800-1830) in Madras Presidency amongst others. Relevant findings are: Caste Division of Male school students Madras Presidency* Based on Collectors reports reviewed by Governor Sir Thomas Munro on 10/3/1826. Speaking Language Brahmins, Chettris Vysee Sudras Other Caste Muslims Total Male Students 1. Oriya 808 243 1001 886 27 2,965 2. Telegu. 14,014 7,676 10,076 4,755 1,639 38,160 3. Kannada 1,233 1,014 3,296 1,332 329 7,204 4.Malayalam 2,230 84 3,697 2,756 3,196 11,963 5.Tamil 11,926 4,442 57,873 13,196 5,453 92,890 Total 30,211 13,459 75,943 22,925 10,644 1,53,182 % of total 20 9 50 15 6 100 *The Beautiful Tree by Dharampal. Later a more limited semi-official survey of indigenous education was taken up in the Presidency of Bengal. Adam’s 1st Report on Bengal states that every village had atleast one school and in all probability Bengal and Bihar with 1,50,748 villages, there were 1,00,000 schools. Two he inferred there were app 100 institutions of higher learning in each district of Bengal meaning app 1,800 such institutions and 10,800 scholars in them. The Madras Presidency and Bengal-Bihar data are a revelation. It is unlike the various scholarly pronouncements of the past 100 years or more, that education of any sort in India, till very recent decades, was mostly limited to the twice born amongst the Hindus. In the districts of Madras Presidency and two districts of Bihar it were Sudras and castes considered below them who predominated in schools. Then, why do Backward Classes find themselves in the position they are in today? Some reasons are- Educational institutions were funded by revenue contributions made by community and State. About one third of the total revenue (from agriculture & sea ports) was assigned for the requirements of social & cultural infrastructure. These seem to have stayed more or less intact through earlier political conquests. The British, however, increased the quantum of land revenue and adversely changed the terms of payment. They centralized its collection thus there was hardly any revenue to pay for social & cultural infrastructure. Also the means of the manufacturing classes (small scale enterprises or SME in today’s parlance) were greatly diminished by the introduction of European goods. Craftsmen esp. those engaged in making cloth, manufacture of metals etc were through fiscal & other devices reduced to a state of homelessness. Both these factors ensured that indigenous educational institutions were denied funding and thus consigned to history. Results were serious. One, it led to an obliteration of literacy and knowledge amongst the Indian people. Two, it destroyed the Indian social balance in which, traditionally, persons from all sections of society appear to have received fairly competent schooling. Three, this and similar damage in the economic sphere led to a great deterioration in the status, socio-economic conditions and personal dignity of those who are now known as scheduled castes; and to only a slightly lesser extent to that of the vast peasant majority encompassed by the term ‘backward castes’. This continued during most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. From about the end of the 19th century, various factors began to attempt a reversal of what had resulted from previous British policy. In time, this led to what are today known as Backward Caste movements. The manner in which their objectives are presented seem to suggest as if the ‘backward’ status they are struggling against is some ancient phenomena. In reality their cultural and economic backwardness (as distinct from their ritualistic status on specific occasions) is post 1800. Basically, what all such movements are attempting is to restore back the position, status, and rights they had prior to 1800. Unfortunately, things did not improve substantially post Independence. Instead of increasing supply of education facilities Govts stifled its growth through excessive regulation. Under the guise of protecting SME’s govt policies have made them inefficient. Another interesting fact is that the nomenclature used to describe backward classes has kept changing. In the 1890s they were called The Depressed Classes. In the early 1930’s Gandhi gave the name Harijan to untouchables. The Government of India Act 1935 introduced ‘Scheduled Castes’ for the first time. Since the 1990s the word Dalit is commonly used for backward caste. Is there a comprehensive All India definition of who is a Backward? Or would it succumb to the vagaries of vote bank politics. A few years ago the Rajasthan government declared Jats as a backward community. Ironically, in neighboring Punjab Jats are landowners and very powerful. Are there any solutions to the current impasse? Increase supply of education facilities through deregulation and a transparent All India legal framework. Two encourage entrepreneurial spirit. The government must promote ‘Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship’ with say the late Dhirubhai Ambani (did not complete his schooling) as its inspiration. With so much emphasis on education I am compelled to remember Mark Twain’s words. “I do not allow my schooling to interfere with my education.” Education is life-long. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. Sanjeev Nayyar is Founder www.esamskriti.com. His id is exploreindia@vsnl.net p.s. – The article is based on inputs from ‘Beautiful Tree’ and ‘Rediscovering India’ by Dharampal. Esamskriti | Essays | Quotes | Photographs | Feedback | Contributions | Advertise | Reader's Contribution | Home Powered by dimakh consultants http://www.esamskriti.com/html/essay_index.asp?cat=788&subcat=787&cname=reservations