Thoughts on economics and liberty

India’s great shame: SUPPRESSION of a quarter of its population (#1)

J.S. Mill pointed out a very important thing in On Liberty, that social norms can tryannise equally or even more than governments. The advocate of liberty is therefore not merely concerned about misuse of government power, but about misuse of social power. 

India's mistreatment of those it calls "Scheduled" castes and tribes (a term created by the illiberal Indian constitution which gave recognition to religious/social categories) is well known across the world.

Not so well known is that such discrimination is perhaps on the increase – mainly because it has been so strongly institutionalised through affirmative action.

First watch these three videos that were shared by Anil Sharma of FTI. I'll provide comment in a subsequent blog post. (All I'd like to note at this point is an extracts from BFN – that follows these three videos)

VIDEO 1

http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-week-end-slide-show-untouchability-on-camera-ra-ones-dilruba/20110910.htm

VIDEO 2

VIDEO 3

EXTRACT FROM BFN

Many things are deeply wrong with Part XVI of the Constitution:

  •  Sociologists and anthropologists can use terms like tribes and castes, but not a government. A government only recognizes citizens. Period.
  • As already indicated, Part XVI perpetrates grave injustice by punishing people who have not, as individuals, participated in any crime.
  • By recognizing these castes and tribes in our Constitution, we have effectively frozen them forever. Our culture and society should remain free to evolve and change in any way that its people individually choose to, so long as they remain accountable for their actions. In any event, the time has come for people to move from tribal modes to a modern, individualist mode sooner rather than later.
  • Affirmative action increases caste-based inequality. If the caste system would have disappeared on its own in, say, a hundred years in capitalist India, the socialist intervention of reservations will now sustain it for ever. Thus, our Constitution has made it very hard even for the best social reformers of Hinduism to do anything about the caste system now. There has never been greater awareness of one’s own caste than in today’s India. We don’t know our politicians by their views any longer, but by their caste. Perhaps even primary school children think about their caste now.

These things should be completely out of the reach of a government. A government should entirely focus on the economy, on the education of our children, on teaching them the wonders of science. The way to break the back of the invasive and insulting caste system is the following:

  • abolish reservations;
  • remove all references to any religion, tribe or caste in the Constitution;
  • review, and where possible repeal, any law in India with the words Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain or Sikh included in it; and
  • ban the census of India from asking us silly questions about our religion or caste. Let us only be Indians. Period. That should do.
* * *
I am not denying the deplorable practice of caste discrimination. I strongly oppose it, it being one of my reasons for choosing not to be a Hindu (I have, in addition, many other reasons for opting out of the business of religion altogether). Nevertheless, eliminating the caste system is not a matter for a government to get involved in – it is a matter purely for social and religious reformers.
Similar discrimination or stereotyping has occurred in the past in every part of the world. Ending these things needs a different approach. Even as George Washington was taking on the role of American presidency after the 1776 Declaration of Independence, he owned hundreds of slaves. Thomas Jefferson, the man to whom we owe the sentiments of the Declaration, also owned over 180 slaves; even as late as in 1824. Similarly, providing equality and adult franchise to women took a very long time coming in the USA. In other words, there has been massive discrimination in the past even in today’s relatively free societies.
The lesson here is that while a government can set minimum standards and punish people if they violate these standards, the task of preparing a society to accept these standards requires social reformers to spend decades, if not generations, in preaching the message of reform. Yes, governments can set in place non-discretionary outcomestandards, and they should. In the case of caste discrimination, the government can do the following two things:
  • Ensure that poverty is eliminated and all children receive education of decent quality up to their twelfth year. This will involve a total revamp of the school education system, as outlined in Chapter 6.
  • Enact an Equal Opportunity Act in order ‘to enforce everyone’s right to equality of opportunity; to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of various attributes’.[iii] A government can definitely control people’s behaviour, even if can’t change people’s feeling. Such a law will clarify, extend and enforce Articles 15 and 16 of our Constitution. The government would then need to build a very strong capacity to enforce this law.
But to ask a government to do anything beyond these two is not realistic or reasonable. If a government attempts social reform, it faces the following problems:
  • Governments are not credible. Their sincerity is questionable. Members of a government are not qualified to touch our hearts and to make us change. People know that politicians are on the lookout for votes.
  • The opinions of the political class or the bureaucracy merely reflect existing social opinion. They can’t become reformers, anyway.
  • Bureaucracies established to ‘reform’ the society have no interest in eliminating the social problem, for if that problem goes away then they will lose their jobs! 

The diagram below tries to distinguish the role of government from that of social reformers.

It is therefore up to social reformers to initiate community-based action to educate and change people’s minds and hearts. When we feel really bad about the terrible things that continue to happen in Indian society, we can try to do the following few things:

  • We can begin by setting aside, in differently coloured piggy banks – labelled separately as ‘Ending the Caste System’, etc. – all the money that we would have been otherwise willing to let the government take away from us in taxes for the purpose of social reform (say 1 per cent of our income?). Presently, this money would go towards establishing mammoth ineffective bureaucracies which are focused entirely on increasing the problem.
  • Instead of then funding the government through this 1 per cent increase in our taxes, we can get together with others who believe in similar causes and form associations to promote our chosen causes. There may already be many such associations in existence that need volunteers like us. Let us network with other like-minded people and expand India’s social capital. Let us build civil society.
  • Once we are satisfied about the quality of work of these associations, let us then break open our piggy banks and fund these associations.

We will be pleasantly surprised by participating in such associations that social causes are impacted quickly, economically and very effectively. In addition, those of us who belong to a so-called ‘high caste’ should not forget to clarify to our children that we will be equally happy if they marry a person from a social category considered by un-enlightened Indians to be ‘lower’ than ours –as long as the person they choose is of good character. We can also use non-caste titles in our names. Finally, we can place the entire offending religion on notice and publicly declare that we will abandon it if it refuses to reform.

 

 

[iii] This is a paraphrase of the objective of the Victorian Government’s Equal Opportunity Act.

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6 thoughts on “India’s great shame: SUPPRESSION of a quarter of its population (#1)
  1. Bhagwad Jal Park

    I agree. The government can never OFFICIALLY recognize casts, religions etc. Social analysts can, but when the government does it those are made official and actually makes them stronger.

     
  2. Anil Sharma

    Dear Sanjeevji,
     
    A very well written article. I support your idea that there is a need for an organisation (NGO?) to work for removing discrimination that is so widespread in Indian society.
    I also liked the solutions that you have proposed in the last paragraph.
     
    Jai Hind

     
  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Bhagwad
    Glad you agree. Our differences are actually very small. If you think through the assumptions that have (mostly based on liberty), but allow accountability to be strongly added to the mix, you will arrive at the classical liberal view. That day I’d hope you’d join FTI and lead India.
    S

     
  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Anil

    All citizen efforts are non-governmental efforts, whether these be direct efforts (e.g. Gandhi’s personal efforts) or through an organisation (NGO). In other words, let private citizens choose to fight discrimination at all levels through whatever means they can muster. No point in asking the government to do this for us, though.

    Note that starting an NGO and running it is not an easy job, and also creates its own problems. I’d encourage you to directly write about these issues in the media.

     
  5. Prexa Shah

    Dear Sanjeev Sabhlok Sir,

    Glad to read the article. I totally agree having and sustaining an NGO is itself a tough task. I rather believe people shall take initiative on their own. But I also know a single person cannot take the journey ahead. We all like minded people shall come together and move forefront to take up the project of making India casteless. Our cultural mindset needs reform. This can be done in many ways like you suggested. Intercaste marriage, reforming educational mindset, publishing movies, media awareness and lot lot more. We people of upper caste can definitely take the march forward. But I need to know where are these like minded people? Can I get any contact details?

    -Regards,
    A struggler to end caste discrimination

     
  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    You can write to me at sabhlok@gmail.com but note that I’m not available for anything apart from political action – swarna bharat party. see its website

     

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