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Demonization of Upper Castes

By: M.V. Kamath in his weekly syndictaed column.

   A massive effort is being made by the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo
Prasad Yadav, Kanshi Ram and his consort Mayawati to damn the so-called upper
castes as the ones that kept the so-called Backward Castes suppressed all these
centuries. A giant guilt complex is being sought to be thrust on the upper
caste and many of them, unfortunately, are succumbing to it. It is time the
truth is told.

    Consider the educational system before the British took over the reins of
power. Before arriving at a conscious policy regarding education in India the
British carried out certain surveys of the surviving indigenous educational
system. A detailed survey was first carried out in the then Madras Presidency,
between 1822 and 1825. The survey indicated that 11,575 schools and 1,094
'colleges' were then still in existence and that the number of students in them
were 157,195 and 5,431 respectively. The much more surprising information which
this survey provided is with regard to the broader caste composition of the
school students. According to it those belonging to the Shudras and castes
below them formed 70 to 80 % of the total students in the Tamil-speaking areas,
62% in the Oriya-speaking area, 54% in the Malayalam-speaking areas and 35-40%
in the Telugu-speaking areas.

    Most of the jobs dealing with production such as weaving, dyeing, smithy,
carpentry, metal-work were practically the monopoly of Sudras and what today
would be described as backward castes. The brahmins were hardly in the picture.
Agriculture, again, was practically the monopoly of the so-called backward
castes. Extensive Government records maintained by the British show that from
1800 onwards "a very large" proportion of the rural population enjoyed the
rights of meerasdars, i.e., hereditary proprietors and cultivators of land. In
the district of Tanjore, for instance, in 1805 out of 62,048 meerasdars, only
17,149 were Brahmins; and 1,457 were Mussalmans.

    According to a scholarly journal (PPST Bulletin, Vol. 3 No.2), while brah-
mins would have received Sanskrit education, "in most areas, the predominant
proportion of those receiving non-Sanskritic education came from the 80% non-
elitist population". Nobody grudged them that access to productive (in contrast
to Sanskritic and academic) education. The so-called upper castes made no
effort to barge into an educational system which was the prerogative of the
non-elitist castes.

   Economically speaking the non-elitist castes were pretty well-off. Agricul-
tural productivity in India was very high in the 19th century. On comparing
the Indian data with that relating to British agriculture around 1804 it was
found that the productivity in India, was "several times higher' than in
British agriculture. What surprised the British even more was the finding that
the wages of the Indian agricultural labourer in real terms were substantially
higher" than those of his counterparts in Britain. And it was then remarked
that if they were high at that time (around 1800 when Indian economy was on a
steep decline) how much higher must wages have been before such decline began.

    In other words all talks about the upper castes oppressing the OBCs and
others for "centureis" is so much rubbish. Data for 1806 of consumption of the
"more prosperous", "families of medium means" and the "lowly" make even more
significant reading. The consumption of pan per year in a family of six among
the more prosperous was 9600, among those of those of medium means 4800 and
among the lowly 3600. The consumption of ghee and oil was in the proportion of
3:1:1 approximately and pulses 8:4:3. The total per capita consumption among of
the more prosperous was Rs 17-3-4, among those of medium means Rs 9-2-4 and the
lowly Rs 7-7-0. Economically speaking, then, there really were no "backward
castes". That is a fig of imagination of the Mulayam Singh Yadavs.

    But then what happened? The British collection of revenues assumed terrify-
ing proportions. Even during the reign of Aurangzeb the maximum revenue receip-
ts never exceeded 20%. The Maharattas, at most collected 25%. But the British
started collecting 50-60% of the gross produce as revenue from all sources.
This took away all the surpluses from the villages which could no longer main-
tain any chhatrams, temples, tanks or school. Many of the ancient rajas were
stripped of their political authority and were turned into zamindars on the
British pattern of land holdings with this difference, that while the British
landlord paid only one tenth of what he received as rent (from the cultivator)
his Indian counterpart had to pay nine tenths of what he was expected to
collect. Wealth was exported to Britain. The loser was  both the upper-caste
zamindars and his tenants that they could no longer support.

   With the introduction of English in the educational curriculum, the impove-
rished landlord caste took to it at a faster pace. Medicine, engineering, etc.
which, in the pre-British period, was practically the monopoly of the Sudra
caste, now gradually came to be within the grasp of the so-called upper castes
for no fault of theirs. To blame these castes as 'oppressors' is neither here
nor there. The vocation of brahmins, especially was not such as to evoke envy
or serious competition. Though, as SV Desikachar has noted in his excellent
study Caste, Religion and Country, that many a brahmin acquired power and weal-
th and became a part of the competitive world, as a caste group, brahmins
remained low in economic status. Evryone valued his services as a priest and
astrologer, as a literate person and a scholar, but no one was keen on supplant
ing him.

    If there is any culprit, it is the British administration which played
havoc with the Indian economy. According to the Wellesley Papers, the highest
paid officer of Tipu Sultan, namely, the Governor of the Chitradurg Fort had a
total salary of Rs 100 per month. When the British took over, the British
district collector received a salary of Rs 1500 a month and a member of the
British Governor's council Rs 6000 to Rs 8000 a month. Now that was exploita-

    The Mulayam Singh Yadavs and others of his ilk are ignorant of history and
sociology. The so-called upper castes are not responsible for 'oppressing' the
OBCs. On the contrary they would like to help but can hardly do so if a caste
war is waged against them by the likes of Kanshi Ram. Reservations and other
mechanisms will not improve the lot of the OBCs, nor can they help in establish
ing a casteless society. A casteless society can only be established by the
exertions of the upper castes and not by the hate-mongering of the likes of
Kanshi Ram. SCs, OBCs and others need the upper castes. Putting the latter down
in an act of vengeance will only retard the process of eliminating caste from
our society and the country. We need cooperation, not confrontation for India
to grow rich once again.

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