Representation, Inclusion and Social Justice: A Futuristic Perspective on Affirmative Action from India

Prof Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow, CSDS, New Delhi, delivering the Ayyankali Memmorial Lecture 2011 at S S University, Kalady. 29 July 2011

While speaking on social inequality in India in an international conference at Kochi, Prof Gopal Guru of JNU recently said that “if you speak about social justice you are marked in Delhi.”  The influential elite sections talk about mere ‘equality’ on a day to day basis in the capital according to him.  The whole debate of equality of opportunity that formed one of the ethical foundations of social inclusive programs like reservation in our country has been hijacked and rendered meaningless by the historically privileged sections in the capital who monopolize the power centers and high offices throughout the country.  From the anti Mandal riots to AIIMS anti reservation agitations by ‘Youth for Equality’ the people of India have witnessed this caste Hindu conspiracy and sabotage of representation and democracy for a few decades now.  Strong opposition and hidden conspiracies are growing in all sectors of state power, education and public service against the inclusive policies of the state ensured by the constitution.

The School of Renaissance Studies at S S University, Kalady invited Prof Yogendra Yadav of CSDS, New Delhi for the Ayyankali Memmorial Lecture 2011 on the 29th of July and the topic was “Reorienting Reservation.”  Prof T M Yesudasan who chaired the event contextualized Ayyankali in the greater struggles of the people for equal human rights and dignity in a society marred by caste for thousands of years.  He defended the use of force and violence by Ayyankali as “creative use of violence” for the emancipation of the people.  He also linked the debate to the current land struggles in Chengara and similar places in Kerala.  It is well perceived that the strategic political interventions of this immortal dalit leader from Kerala are self defensive rather than counter violence or creative violence as such.  The purpose of self defense and the fundamental human right for life render it even morally correct and politically imperative.

For making reservations more inclusive in terms of gender and class

Prof Yogendra Yadav began by explaining the ethics and rationale of affirmative action and expressed his solidarity with the basic humane rationale of inclusion and representation in a constitutional democracy like India.  He also explained the paradigms of equal opportunity and the metaphysics of merit.  But he emphasized the importance of making the whole system more inclusive in terms of gender and class along with caste.  As an expert in North Indian society and polity he appealed for reorienting the measures and procedures of the implementation of reservation in order to distribute social justice in a more egalitarian way.  His comparison of Indian model with the U S model and the issue of black people proved effective.  The U S has managed to give some kind of nominal representation to the African Americans only after the civil rights struggles and almost 200 years of affirmative action.  Just 50 years of reservations in India is grossly insufficient in ensuring the just and sustainable inclusion of the people at the social bottom.

Critiquing the "National Media" for gross exclusion

There are contested points in his arguments for the omission of creamy layers and certain sections of OBCs from reservations.  His argument against proportionate inclusion also seems to be insufficient.  It is a well recognized reality in India that the dalit bahujans who are the beneficiaries of inclusion gain voice and agency for speaking for the rights of their respective social sections and communities in and through the affirmative process.  If these educated and vocal sections are severed just after a generation there would not be any assertion and articulation for the just defense and sustenance of the inclusive policies that are being sabotaged day in and out by the monopoly groups in high bureaucracy.  It would become a prerogative and charity of the elite caste Hindu sections in high office who consider affirmative action as their munificence and sacrifice of ‘merit’.  More than this it is also a cunning injection of the economic criterion in the social justice policy.

On the ethics and politics of representation

Constitutionally reservation is for social and educational backwardness and not for economic depravity.  The simple logic is that reservation is not an economic uplift program in India where inequality was based on caste and gender rather than class for thousands of years.  There are plenty of other economic uplift programs run by the state on public funds.  The SC/STs and OBCs together called the dalit bahujans were considered as untouchables irrespective of their class and gender positions.  Marginalization and social exclusion in India was fundamentally based on caste for centuries.   Even if you make a faithful survey in the 21st century the reality would be evident that the caste Hindus hold larger proportion of land and other capitals in comparison to the larger chunk of the population comprising of dalit bahujans and minorities.

Prof Yogendra’s rejection of proportionate reservation is also inadequate in closer view.  According to him inclusion as per population percentage of the social group would fix your identity to birth; and human agency, will, labor and desire are discarded in such a perspective.  It is considerably true that the autonomy and free will of the individual are less accommodated in this method but it is again empirically evident that the individual citizen in our country experience full freedom in choosing reservation or to reject it as her personal choice.  The argument of fixity of identity does not stand valid on this basic premise of personal choice in opting quota.  It is also important to note at this juncture that these arguments of economic reservation and the argument against proportionate inclusion are traditionally raised by the elite advantaged caste Hindu or Savarna sections of the society against the very policy and practice of affirmative action in India and some of them have moved the supreme court with these anti people and anti democratic arguments.

Any way it is highly significant that some sections of the academic community in Kerala are discussing important issues related to social policy, equity and justice that are directly related to the lives of the people and democracy in our society.  As Prof Yogendra himself observed such a memorial lecture in the name of a dalit social leader is still an impossibility in the North Indian Sanskrit universities. His acknowledgement of the cultural critical tradition in India epitomized by Phule, Narayana Guru and Ambedkar also seems significant. His critique of the so called self fashioned National Media is timely and apt.  The imitators of American capitalist models must ensure social diversity and publicize their social profile, especially the private owned media.  His collaborative works with Satish Deshpande and other scholars during the anti Mandal riots on the representative inclusion of the National Media are still valid and futuristic.  Dalits were literally absent in the so called National Media during the early 1990s according to their empirical survey and OBCs were less than five percent.  These are some of the key issues of social exclusion and inequality that civil society and the state have to address today and tomorrow.

Prof Yogendra Yadav’s Response:

Dear Ajay Sekher,
Thanks for such a careful and meticulous comment on my lecture. I am grateful to you for appreciating some of the nuances of the lecture. I can see that you and I may have a difference of opinion on two matters: the treatment of creamy layer and the principle of creamy layer. But I would like you to fully appreciate what I propose in these two respects: I am not proposing an exclusion of the ‘creamy layer’ but only putting them as last beneficiaries in their respective categories. On proportionate representation, I do not oppose the fact of SC, ST reservations in proportion to their share in population. I am opposed to the idea (proposed by some reservation enthusiasts) that the entire pool of edcuation and jobs should be divided for each caste/community in proportion to their share in population.
May I request you to please take a look at my article Rethinking Social Justice (am requesting Ashish to send this to you)  for a detailed understanding of my position. Hope this would sharpen your critique even further.
Gratefully yours,
Yogendra Yadav,
Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054 India
Office Phone: 23981012 (telefax Lokniti, CSDS), 23942199 (PBX, CSDS)