I was born in Calcutta and grew up without the demonic interference of caste influence in the society. Bengal has been unbiased, open and warm to all citizens of every caste from other states. Marwaris from Rajasthan, traders from Gujarat and Madrasis from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, engaged themselves effortlessly in various vocations and skills.
Manual labourers were mostly from Bihar, from coolies to Rickshaw pullers, policemen and tram drivers. Punjabis monopolised as taxi drivers, Nepalis as Gorkhas, Oriyas as cooks and chefs, including in some favourite Chinese restaurants that I knew. Tamils and Malayalis were bi-layered, one occupying top positions in several English companies that operated in Bengal, and the next and more popular as typists and stenographers.
We moved freely without ever being branded by our castes. The near four decades of communist rule had dismantled the caste complexities, even as the nation often exploded with Mandal commission report and such, over reservations or the lack of it. Similar was the comfort of other minorities, Christians and Muslims, despite that the Bangladesh war resulted in a million or more taking refuge in Bengal, with commonality in language, food and other habits with the locals, only religion being different.
It is painful that our nation is now restive again with members of SC/ST revolting over a Supreme court ruling barring automatic arrest and registration of cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The Act may have been necessary once upon a time when a feudal upper-caste society harassed people from the lower caste, but it cannot be denied that the Act is oppressive and grossly illegal like the infamous MISA which had to be recalled.
Has India not moved forward that such portions of law must remain in force, and which can summarily arrest people, on the pretext of attacks on members of SC/ST? How to prevent the misuse of such a provision, much like a vindictive woman wrongfully alleging molestation and rape to spoil the life of an innocent man? Law must give an option for a fair and equal opportunity to both sides, the accuser and the accused.
It’s seventy years, and we are still fighting to get recognised as Scheduled Castes/Tribes or Other Backward Castes. Giving the downtrodden and economically backwards an equal opportunity, or even a favoured position in obtaining a quality education, but without diluting education itself by providing grace marks and letting caste compulsions prevail over performance. The falling and failing standards in the overall administration of the country could be resulting from a blind adherence towards promotion of sub-optimal standards based on caste equations rather than merits.
If the policy of such appeasement continues in respect of appointment of administrators and officials, it could severely retard the growth of our nation and push it to the brink as we witness now. While empowering the socially backward and ensuring equality among its citizens is of paramount importance, it should not compromise on quality. Reservations must end in time to secure the end of a flight of valued brains abroad.
The low periodical whispers of mandating private organisations to accord similar reservations like in the government are heard more frequently and in louder voices now. The private sector too will then perform like the government, and if it ever comes into effect, would be a retrograde move pushing the country several centuries backwards.