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And aren’t OBC women “women”? Loud thinking on the Women’s Reservation Bill

June 7, 2009

The career of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament since it first appeared in 1996 as the 81st Amendment Bill, has been striking for the high drama and rhetoric of women’s rights that has accompanied it, the passionate opposition to the proposed 33% reservation for women in Parliament, generally being characterised by its supporters as anti-women and patriarchal. However, if we try to organize the welter of arguments that have been flying around for 13  years, we would find that while the proponents of the measure certainly base their claims on the idea of gender justice, the opposition to the Bill does not come from an anti-women position.  Rather, the latter arguments stem from either

1) a generally anti-reservation position (which I am not interested in here) or

2) a claim that reservations for women should take into account other disempowered identities within this group – that is, the “quotas within quotas” position, which says that there should be reservation within the 33% for OBC and Muslim women. (The 22.7% reservation for SC/ST women would come into operation automatically.)

In other words, the sharp opposition to the Bill cannot simply be dismissed as anti-women. Take for instance, Sharad Yadav’s much reviled comment, derisively referring to “short-haired women” (par-kati mahilaen) who would overrun Parliament. This has been widely attacked for its misogyny, but we do need to see it as expressing a legitimate fear that the composition of parliament would be radically altered overnight, in favour of upper classes and upper castes – the image of women with coiffed short hair drawing upon a common stereotype of westernized and elite women. Now, of course this stereotype is misogynist, or anti-feminst, or both, but as a feminist I do insist that this is not the point here, for no feminist can be under the impression that all the support for women’s reservations comes from strongly anti-patriarchal sources. Come on, these are the very parties that  consistently refuse to field women candidates, which have hardly any women in decision-making position unless they have the right kind of family-tree.  It is the patriarchal operation of these very parties  from CPI(M) to BJP (and all the others in between) for over 60 years that has made  reservations for women necessary in the first place.

So is the fear justified that the WRB is an upper-caste ploy to stem the tide of lower-caste men in Parliament? Let us look at the experience of reservations for women at the local level, in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), since 1992. Studies in several states (for instance, Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal) have confirmed that while there has also been a positive impact on the lives of women, mostly on the lives of the elected women; by and large, reservations for women have strengthened the entrenched power of the dominant caste groups of the area. That is, men of less dominant castes in PRI have been replaced by women of the dominant castes. A blanket reservation for “women”, it seems,  unsuprisingly, brings to power women of dominant groups and castes in society. In other words, an immediate filling of 33% seats with a supposedly undifferentiated category of “women” would certainly change the caste character of Parliament in the short term at least, to one more comfortable to many.  How else to understand BJP’s determined opposition to Mandal reservations and fervent support for women’s reservations?

“Women” versus OBC men – that appears to be the winning formula.

(This is why I am suspicious of the sudden introduction in JNU last year of 5 “deprivation points” – JNU’s excellent affirmative action policy works on a system of deprivation points –  across the board for “women” students, concurrently with the first phase of implementation of the Mandal reservations).

What I fail to understand is why the “quotas within quotas” position is so unacceptable to progressive people. After all, surely the idea of reservations for women in Parliament is not based on the understanding that the biological category called “women” needs to be represented? If we are arguing that the social experience of being positioned as “women” within current economic, cultural and political arrangements is disadvantageous vis-a-vis men, and needs to be reflected in Parliament, then we need to accept that this experience is inflected differently by caste and community – that is, the social experience of being an upper-caste, urban Hindu woman, while definitely shaped by one kind of patriarchy,  is nevertheless different from the experience of being an OBC or Muslim woman. Why should not the latter also have representation in Parliament?

Certainly feminists have long accepted this, hence our use of “patriarchies” rather than a monolithic “patriarchy.”

I agree it’s worth calling Sharad Yadav’s bluff, Sohail, but it would be much more effective to do so by conceding quotas within quotas!

38 Comments leave one →
  1. Assad permalink
    June 7, 2009 12:02 PM

    Brilliant post Nivedita! I have had similar reflections, but was afraid to express it for fear of being branded a misogynist.
    I am not against WRB at all, but yes, certain sections within women are more marginalised than the rest. I also heard from a bjp stouge the other day, that they support these reservations (on such a broad basis) also because they feel that the constituencies that will be drawn for the purpose will undermine minority communities that have a large holding/political power over a particular area….its all the more necessary now for women themselves to condemn such tactics.
    I also think that you hav made a commendable point here about women politicians that are in the public arena are more so because of the “right family tree.” This is true not of politics alone, but almost every field – be it those who manage to get their books published in famous publication houses as I realised in my college days, to those who are famous if not effecient lawyers because of a family legacy of advocates to even civil service officers! Its not very often that we see women being able to emerge independently of these factors, which is a matter of great pity and all the more reason to make resources available right down to the most subordinate classes.

  2. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    June 7, 2009 12:38 PM

    Well Assad, I must clarify that it is not only “women politicians” that are in the public arena because of the “right family tree” – these trees (and not the green ones, alas!) are constitutive of our public spaces for both men and women, whether politicians, film-stars or the corporate world. So if women form the bahu-beti-biwi brigade, men form the beta-bhatija brigade.
    My point here was that I find it revealing that political parties that give women no space at all, except if they have the right connections, are suddenly united across the board in being”feminist” and wanting to reserve seats for women.
    That said, I think we agree, as you put it, that “Its not very often that we see women being able to emerge independently of these factors, which is a matter of great pity and all the more reason to make resources available right down to the most subordinate classes.”

  3. June 7, 2009 3:15 PM

    What I don’t understand Nivi, is why should the OBC lobby not demand OBC reservations in Parliament just like there is SC/ST reservation – in other words, why do they want OBC reservation only amongst women and not amongst men?

    While I support OBC quota for both male and female in the Parliament of India, I think the panic over women’s quota suggesting that upper caste/class women will monopolise it is irrational. If a seat is declared women’s only, and an OBC politician had been winning it for three terms, there’s no reason why the OBC politician’s wife or daughter will not contest it. Dynastic politics is not an exclusive preserve of the upper castes.

  4. zainab1979 permalink
    June 7, 2009 5:20 PM

    “If a seat is declared women’s only, and an OBC politician had been winning it for three terms, there’s no reason why the OBC politician’s wife or daughter will not contest it. Dynastic politics is not an exclusive preserve of the upper castes.” – bang on Shivam! I also had the same doubt in my mind when I read Nivedita’s post.

  5. Prashant permalink
    June 7, 2009 6:37 PM

    I think it may be useful for you guys to look at the electoral system nepal adopted last year for the CA elections. It has ensured that more than 33 percent of the 601 strong assembly consists of women which is the highest in south asia. It also paved the way for the most inclusive house in nepal’s history in terms of ethnic diversity.

    This is what the parties agreed on.

    There were 240 seats in the first past the post system and 335 seats under the PR system (there were two ballots and in PR, a party would nominate candidates on the basis of vote percentage received). Under FPTP, there was just a general non enforceable normative direction in the interim constitution and election laws that the parties would have candidates that reflected all forms of diversity and give space to marginalised.(no separate reservation for dalits which was a big weakness) In PR though, there was a rule that each party would have to nominate among its candidates 33 percent women, 13 percent dalits (within which category there had to be 33 percent women),33 percent madhesis (33 percent women within this broad category), 37 percent janjatis with the women reservation within it, and a certain percentage was allocated to representatives from backward regions. there was a lot of confusion because when you added it all up, it came to 116 percent! But that was because of the element of overlapping.

    There were drawbacks of course. Many complained that the system would be incomprehensible to the common voter. Because the lists given in by parties to the EC pre polls were not closed, it meant that the party bosses got empowered to nominate who they wanted to post polls – within the broad framework laid out – entrenching the patronage system further. There were some who argued that ethnic identity – gender subsumed under it – would end up becoming the sole determinant of political choices if we adopted this. The hill upper castes fearing their stranglehold would be broken suddenly started that jaded argument of how this is reverse discrimination against them. But with the maoists, janjatis and madhesis pushing the inclusive agenda very strongly, the system was accepted.

    What did that leave us with post polls? There was only one dalit in a house of 205 in the previous parliament. This time there were close to 50, still less than their population share but a leap nonetheless. There were 33 percent women, more than 200 in a house of 601 – if i remember right, 29 women won in the FPTP system out of which 23 were maoist candidates and the rest came from PR. There were 200 madhesis and an even higher number of janjatis.

    The Indian case is obviously different in the absence of the PR system. But i think the nepal case shows the need to provide space to women within the broader categories of ethnic/caste reservation or, in your case, alternately provide space to women of disadvantaged communities within the broad women reservation bill.

    On the basis of what has been a fairly fruitful experiment here, I agree with your argument nivi.

  6. Prashant permalink
    June 7, 2009 6:39 PM

    This is the election law for those of you interested.

    http://www.election.gov.np/EN/pdf/CAE_Election_Act_2064_english.pdf

  7. June 7, 2009 9:26 PM

    So now India will have to learn from Nepal. This is what it has come to! :)

  8. suresh permalink
    June 8, 2009 2:06 AM

    Very interesting process in Nepal. One complicating factor in India is that the various states object to any dilution of their “share” of the Lok Sabha. This is why even though the constitution recommends one lok sabha seat for every 500,000 to 750,000 voters, the number of Lok Sabha seats has remained unchanged at 543 (the same as in 1971). So the PR system will have to be introduced in a way so as to leave the relative shares of states unchanged. In principle, that could be done.

    With regard to the caste and religion distribution, it varies across states. So, again the PR system will have to take account of this fact. In principle, again, this could be done. But I guess the modifications, not surprisingly, will make the resulting system more complex than that of Nepal and I am not sure it will be worth it.

    Many countries with a First-past-the-post system have modified their electoral systems to have a combination of FPTP and PR. Britain, for instance, has done so. While the UK General Elections still use the first-past-the-post, the elections to the regional assemblies (Scottish, Welsh etc.) and the European parlaiment all have a PR element.

    I suppose, like Britain and other countries, we too will modify our FPTP system at some point. The issue is being discussed actively within India, though mostly within “think tanks” and the like. It will take a lot more “dissatisfaction” before we develop the political consensus needed for a change of this magnitude: Note the difficulty we are having with the Women’s Representation Bill, which involves a far smaller change.

    Regarding reservation for OBCs: Are the OBCs underrepresented in Parliament? Muslims, yes: While they are about 13.4% of the population, their share of the Lok Sabha amounts to 7% or so, probably even less. But what is the share of the OBCs currently? If they are not underrepresented, then why reservations? I am just curious. (I’ve not been able to locate any figure giving the OBC representation in the Lok Sabha, so I’d be grateful if anyone can give it.)

  9. Rageina permalink
    June 8, 2009 3:11 PM

    This is fun.
    The best thing would be proportional representation for all. 50:50 seates reserved for men and women. After this 50% split we go about proportional reperesentation for every caste / sub caste, religion and tribe. Add to this a dash of handicapped quota. That would be the right logical way.

  10. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    June 8, 2009 4:51 PM

    Shivam, sure, it is possible to speculate that an OBC man’s seat would return his wife or daughter if it is reserved for women, but a) quota-within-quota would *ensure* an OBC woman in some seat if not that one. So what’s the problem, unless you have a problem with OBC women getting into Parliament (which you dont) and
    b) speculations apart, the experience of 20 years of PRI, as I have said in my post, is that reservations for women have tended to fill those seats with women of the dominant caste groups. Your logical speculation hasn’t worked there.
    Suresh, I agree with you that the FPTP system needs to be restructured, to be replaced by or to include some form of PR. But I would like to push that even further (because all change begins with dreams), and think of PR not only in terms of political parties, but somehow to think of a system which can give PR to politically salient groups on a short-term basis – for example, an anti-SEZ coalition, for example! PR with political parties alone does tend to entrench the power of party bosses, as Prashant’s info on Nepal shows.
    And about the current representation of OBC’s in Parliament, Christophe Jaffrelot’s work (“India’s Silent revolution. The Rise of the lower castes in North India”) shows that the OBC component in Parliament has actually gone up over the 1980’s. But that is is precisely my point – it is in order to counter this rise that “women” are being touted across the board from BJP to CPM.
    (I keep putting women in quotation marks because apparently, OBC and Muslim women aren’t women, only an abstract category called women counts, which in concrete terms works out to – upper caste women against OBC men).
    Thanks for the info on Nepal, Prashant. That’s certainly very hopeful, the transformation that has been effected in the Nepali Parliament.

  11. suresh permalink
    June 8, 2009 10:03 PM

    I am sure I will end up irritating you but here goes any way.

    But that is is precisely my point – it is in order to counter this [OBC] rise that “women” are being touted across the board from BJP to CPM.

    How so? If a constituency is reserved for women, then all candidates will have to be women. In effect, being a woman will play no role in the election in that constituency and the battle will be fought along other lines (like caste).

    The only way I can understand your point is if there is a further assertion that the pool of OBC/Dalit/Muslim women candidates is much smaller than that of women candidiates from “forward” castes because those communities are more socially conservative. (Other factors may be at play too.) The full argument would then be as follows: “Reserving a constituency for women biases the outcome in favour of women from forward castes because OBC/Dalit/Muslim women are less likely to stand as candidates since they are, on average, less well-educated and also socially more conservative. The Women’s Representation Bill is thus nothing more than a ploy to reduce the number of OBC representatives.”

    Perhaps. But, if one looks at the experience of OBC men, then that advantage (if at all) is going to be temporary at best. I am sure you know better than me that while the first OBC Chief Minister of Bihar was Karpoori Thakur in 1977, there have been none since Laloo and none (from the upper castes) who even remotely looks capable of taking over the post now. The Maithili Brahmins and the Bhumihars who dominated Bihar’s politics upto 1977 are nowhere in the picture now. Similarly, for UP, I think.

    If at all the Women’s Bill is aimed to do what you suggest, then all it will buy the proponents is a few more years. Perhaps not even that. May I gently also note that cynical political manipulation is not the exclusive preserve of upper castes, nor of men. Yes, they have been and are fully capable of such manipulation but then so are Mulayam, Mayawati and last but not least, Narendra Modi. The point is that there may be a hidden cynical agenda in the opposition to the Women’s Representation Bill also.

    For the record, I don’t like the bill myself but that’s a separate story.

  12. June 8, 2009 11:16 PM

    Nivi, I’d say there should be over-all OBC reservation in Parliament concurrent with SC/ST reservation. Just as SC/ST reservation would ensure Dalit women representation would go up if the women’s bill is assed, so would OBC…

  13. Mukund permalink
    June 9, 2009 1:23 AM

    Rageina, this 50:50 + sub-reservation for every caste idea is great. I suggest we add to it reservation to political parties on the basis of membership and we could get rid of the whole election process, saving thousands of crores.

  14. Mukund permalink
    June 9, 2009 1:40 AM

    Nivedita, you state that “by and large, reservations for women have strengthened the entrenched power of the dominant caste groups of the area. That is, men of less dominant castes in PRI have been replaced by women of the dominant castes”

    How do you logically derive the second sentence from the first. There is no indication, that the men being replaced belong to less dominant castes.

    The study seems to suggest that women of the dominant caste of the AREA gains. Whereas, you are trying to imply, women of dominant caste gain, at the expense of men of less dominant caste in GENERAL. This is misrepresenting facts. Also if the studies you are pointing to are true, there is no need to worry, as we all know that forward caste/other elitist groups form minuscule percentage of Indian population. Even in UP which has the highest %, the forward caste is only about 15% of population. So naturally the women from BC/OBCs will gain the most.

    PS: When you quote a study, you need to cite it to make your argument more authentic, so that others can verify what you are stating as a fact.

  15. Ishwar dost permalink
    June 10, 2009 1:43 AM

    Nivedita: अगर महिला एक अमूर्त (abstract) केटेगरी है तो क्या यही एससी, एसटी और ओबीसी के बारे में भी सच नहीं है? (इनके भीतर महिला-पुरूष. वर्ग आदि)। किस छोटी सी छोटी केटेगरी को मूर्त कहा जाए?
    परकटी महिला वाली बात लफ्फाजी के स्तर पर ही है। क्या मायावती छोटे बालों के स्तर से परकटी महिला नहीं है? क्या शरद यादव की पत्नी और बेटी भी परकटी नहीं हैं? ( यह बात कूमी कपूर के साथ एक्सप्रेस में छपे पुराने इंटरव्यू में शरद यादव ने खुद मानी थी)
    हिंदी में यह लफ्फाजी ‘अट भी मेरी पट भी मेरी चंटी, मेरे बाप की’ के अंदाज में होती है, जहां इसके ठीक उलट जब कोई पुरूष या महिला स्थापित सत्ता को चुनौती देती है तो कहा जाता है कि उसके ‘पर निकल आए हैं’।
    परकटी का एकमात्र मायना अभिजात्य महिला नहीं हो सकता। पिछड़े वर्ग की भी पढ़ी-लिखी महिला को ऐसा कहा जा सकता है। 1980 मैं छत्तीसगढ़ के पिथौड़ा नामक गांव( जो अब ग्राम पंचायत से पालिका हो गई है) में सबसे पहली बार मैंने यह शब्द एक साधारण से परिवार की बारहवीं में पढ़ने वाली दो बहनों के बारे में उस नगर के मारवाड़ी सेठों के लड़कों से सुना था।

    भाजपा इसका समर्थन कर रही है, यह कोई कसौटी नहीं हो सकती कि इसीलिए यह ओबीसी विरोधी कदम है। भाजपा ने बाद में मंडल के बारे में सुप्रीम कोर्ट के फैसले को माना था और शैक्षिणक आरक्षण का तीखा विरोध नहीं किया था। भाजपा को भी लोकतंत्र के भीतर काम करते हुए वैधता जुटाने के लिए कुछ न कुछ करना ही पड़ेगा। इसको हमेशा किसी साजिश से क्यों जोड़ कर देखा जाए।
    जहां तक टिकट देने का सवाल है, पंचायत में भी आरक्षण देने के पहले महिलाओं को टिकट कहां मिलता था? एक तरह का आरक्षण कई बार दूसरे तरह के आरक्षण की जगह बनाता है। जेएनयू के कदम की वजह जो हो आप इसके पक्ष में हैं या विरोध में? किसी कदम के समर्थन के लिए नीयत का सवाल हमेशा अहम नहीं होता। आरक्षण के बारे में भी लोग इसके पीछे की वोट बैंक राजनीति का हवाला देते हैं।
    पंचायती राज संस्थाओं में गांव एक छोटी इकाई होता है। वहां कई बार पर्दा या शिक्षा की कमी के कारण ओबीसी के बीच से मजबूत उम्मीदवार मिलना मुश्किल हो सकता है। मगर क्या पंचायत के स्तर की तुलना लोकसभा के स्तर से कर किसी निष्कर्ष तक पहुंचना ठीक है?
    जो बात शिवम विज ने उठाई है कि जब पुरुषों के लिए संसद में ओबीसी आरक्षण की मांग नहीं है तो ओबीसी नेताओं की इस असुरक्षा को क्या कहा जाए? वैसे 1996 में तेलुगु देशम और एआईडीएमके ने इस विधेयक को समर्थन दिया था। वे भी मोटे तौर पर ओबीसी की ही पार्टियां हैं, इसलिए शरद-लालू जुगलबंदी के और किसी कारण की तलाश शायद करनी पड़े।

  16. Rohit permalink
    June 10, 2009 7:08 AM

    Actually, Nivedita I’d be grateful if you could explain what you meant by women from the dominant caste being overrepresented in reserved seats. OBC’s unlike Muslims are not underrepresented in parliament. Their rise as Jaffrelot points out is due to a number of factors, none of which are destabilized by this bill. Since demography and local networks dominate decisions to nominate candidates, its unlikely that the party will nominate say a Brahman woman in a OBC majority constituency.

    Interestingly (and I am not sure what to make of thsi statistic) a greater proportion of reserved SC seats are occupied by women as opposed to general seats. Four of the nine women ministers are dalits.

    Interestingly, UP and Rajasthan have among the largest number of female MPs, comapred to “progressive” Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Kerala has no women MPs.

  17. June 10, 2009 1:02 PM

    I’d just like a link to these studies of panchayat reservations. I’m familiar with a few and i don’t remember them saying what they say you say. Could you give us a couple of references, since your argument pretty much hinges on that claim?

  18. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    June 12, 2009 11:27 AM

    Missed checking mail for a couple of days, and it looks like a very serious debate has developed. Thank you all (you too, Suresh :))
    Okay, first of all, I have actually written at length on this earlier, and I just pulled out the core of the argument from that essay – one version titled “The Elusive ‘Woman': Feminism and the Women’s Reservation Bill”, Economic and Political Weekly, October 21-27/October 28-November 3, 2000; and a slightly expanded version as a chapter in my book “Recovering Subversion. Feminist Politics beyond the Law” (Permanent Black Delhi and Univ. of Illinois Press 2004).
    What happens when you briefly lay out the core of an argument, esp for a place like a blog, is that all the nuances get ironed out, and of course, things like references.
    So let me make just a few brief clarifications here, and, with your indulgence, separately post that chapter from my book, in case somebody is interested!
    1. As the title of my book indicates, I am opposed to treating the law as a magic wand to bring about fundamental social transformations. So my engagement with this Bill is more about pointing to the limits of the law, tending as it does, to congeal identities. (Re Suresh, “I am not a fan of the Bill.” Nor am I)
    2. Some of the references I came across at the time, which is what I have in mind now, are cited by Janaki Nair, “An Important Springboard”, in a special issue of the journal “Seminar” on the WRB – No. 457, September 1997. (They include Indira Hirway, “Panchayati raj at the crossroads” EPW Vol XXIV No. 29 1989 and Utsahi Mahila Abhyudaya in UMA Prachar April-June 1996.) That issue of Seminar also has a very early version of the essay I am going to post on kafila. (We must remember that the experiment in WR at PRI level in many states pre-dates the Constitutional Amendments of 1992-3 that made it mandatory all over India).
    By now there must be many more studies available, but we do need to find those that focus on changes in caste-class equations rather than only on impact on women.
    3. Which is why, MS – it’s quite possible that all studies on the functioning of WR in PRI do not focus on this aspect. Depends on what question the study is asking – mostly they tend to look, naturally of course, at how women themselves, esp the women actually elected, have been affected. If the study does not ask questions about changes in caste-class equations as a result of WR, then that factor will simply not emerge.
    4. In any case, I dont believe my argument “pretty much hinges” (MS) on the claim of dominant groups’ power *actually* becoming entrenched. For example, I’m prepared to find more recent studies that show a reversal of that trend.
    5. Therefore, my question, as a political theorist, is this: what are the effects the proponents and opponents of the Bill seem to *expect*, and what does that say for the caste/gender equation in contemporary India?
    The timing of the first version of the Bill is significant – 1996. At that point, the OBC influx into Parliament throughout the 1980’s had transformed it completely (all references in the soon-to-be posted chapter!), and the Mandal Commission recommendations had recently been implemented in govt. services.
    Why I would expect a general quota for women to reverse this trend in Parliament would be the very reason why certain groups require reservations in the first place. An immediate blanket reservation can be expected to put in place into one-third of seats in the LS, the most well-equipped sections of women, i.e. upper-caste, upper-class women. For five years at least. (So Suresh, my point here is that a party will field a candidate they think most likely to win, i.e. the same reason they do not field women candidates generally. And such candidates are likely to be uc/uc, for historical reasons).
    Now, what will actually happen during elections no-one can tell. The results of the last two General Elections should have taught us that poll predictions are extremely uncertain, and that psephology is an overrated branch of knowledge production. So let us not even go into all the speculations about which castes parties will nominate etc., because all sorts of local factors come into play, and for example, to assume that
    “it is unlikely a party will nominate a Brahmin in an OBC constituency” (Rohit) is quite unfounded. If that were the case, no Brahmin would ever be nominated by any party, because there simply is no Brahmin-majority constituency!
    6. Hence my question – why the general outrage at the idea of quotas-within-quotas? It is generally dismissed as a ruse to delay the Bill, but this would delay the Bill only if you let it, and by Goddess, it has been allowed to do so! The damn thing has been hanging for 13 years, when if the qwq position had been assented to, perhaps it would have been passed long ago. In fact, it now looks like all the parties are prepared to dilute the 33% to 20% rather than accept OBC quotas!
    Why are they prepared to have less women in Parliament rather than 33% of whom some percent are OBC women? If women is what you want, women is what you will get, even with qwq! But you are prepared to have fewer women in Parl rather than OBC women!
    The calculations are electoral – the OBC parties and the OBC vote are not available to any of the major parties supporting the Bill.
    (Interestingly, inside BJP, Uma Bharati (she was then in it) was in favour of caste-based quotas EVEN FOR MUSLIMS!
    Surprise, surprise, she herself is of course a Lodha, an OBC caste.)
    So my speculations on what will happen in terms of who will actually be nominated, elected etc. are as good or as bad as all of yours. What I find most interesting is that fact that “women” are being touted as the raison d’etre of the Bill, when women seem to be most expendable when it comes to the caste factor.
    7. Ishwar, maaf kijiye, mein Hindi mein type nahin kar sakti, isliye roman lipi mein jawab doongi.
    a) Zahir hai ki jab Sharad Yadav ne voh muhavra istemaal kiya, toh voh koi unka moulik avishkar nahin tha, voh aise shabd hain jo ki aam taur se istemaal mein hain. Zaroor aisi mahilaen, jinmein atmavishwas hai aur jo sahasi hain, vagairah, har jati aur varg mein maujood hain – lekin yeh bhi sach hai ki varg aur jati ke phayde bade hain, isliye aarakshan ki zaroorat bhi padti hai!
    b) Rahi amoortuta ki baat – mein maanti hoon ki har asmita ko gadhne ke liye kaee aur pahluon ko hashiye par karna padta hai, lihaza har asmita ek tarah se amurt hi hai. Yahi vajah hai ki mera zyaada vishwas nahin hai “kanoon” par, jo ki har aisi asmita ko sthir aur sthayi bana deta hai.
    c) BJP ka samarthan maatr nahin hai koi vajah is vidheyak ko shaq ki nazaron se dekhne ki, lekin kya vajah hai ki BJP iski itni badi samarthak hai – kya yeh sawal nahin uth khada hota? Theek isi tarah BJP ke Saman Nagrik Sanhita (Uniform Civil Code) ka samarthan karna, mahila andolan ke liye gehre aatmachintan ki vajah bani, aur ab hum “samanta” aur “gender-adhaarit nyay” mein fark karne lage hain.
    Abhi tak qwq ke khilaf koi thos tark nahin aaya hai hamare saamne. Aap ne bhi koi aisa tark nahi diya hai, siwaay iske ke ki jab mardon ke liye aarakshan nahin hai, streeyon ke liye kyon ho. Zahir hai ki bina aarakshan ke, OBC mard seatein jeet rahe hain, yahi toh mushkil hai, baaki saari partiyon ke liye!

  19. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    June 15, 2009 9:23 AM

    Shivam, re your comment: “there should be over-all OBC reservation in Parliament concurrent with SC/ST reservation. Just as SC/ST reservation would ensure Dalit women representation would go up if the women’s bill is passed, so would OBC…”

    As far as I know, in the current proposal of 33% reservation for women, there is a separate SC/ST quota within it as per constitutional requirement, IN ADDITION to the 22.5 in Parliament as a whole.

  20. June 15, 2009 10:27 AM

    that’s great then!

  21. suresh permalink
    June 15, 2009 4:50 PM

    Why I would expect a general quota for women to reverse this trend [of increasing OBC representation] in Parliament would be the very reason why certain groups require reservations in the first place. An immediate blanket reservation can be expected to put in place into one-third of seats in the LS, the most well-equipped sections of women, i.e. upper-caste, upper-class women. For five years at least.

    Yes, quite likely. However, this is unlikely to be anything more than temporary (as I wrote previously) if the experience of OBC men is anything to go by. We know that in UP and Bihar, it took OBC men some time to assert themselves politically but once it happened, there was no looking back because the numerical strength is on the side of the OBCs. What makes you think that OBC women will not similarly put an end to any temporary dominance of the upper caste/class women?

    Secondly, your writing suggests that a “gain” of upper caste/class women, if it comes at the “expense” of OBC men, is necessarily bad. Why? How do we compare gender discrimination suffered by upper caste women and caste discrimination suffered by OBC men? Is there a way for saying that “this” discrimination is worse than “that” discrimination? Any way, if the objective is to “protect” the gains of OBC men, then, as Shivam suggests, we need a separate quota for OBC men too.

    Thirdly, as Andre Beteille has been saying for a long time (including today’s Times of India), the very nature of a quota system is such that it targets the relatively well-off among the targeted group. This aspect is not going to change even if you have a separate OBC quota for women. For one, the OBCs are not homogeneous and what we will most likely see – as we have seen elsewhere – is that a few groups among the OBCs will corner the benefits. The problems and conflicts that we have seen elsewhere will probably appear here as well.

    Again, to clarify: I don’t like the WRB but I am not taking a position on that here. I am just responding to two issues that Nivedita brought up: (i) the upper class/caste women v/s OBC men conflict, and (ii) the argument that blanket reservations will result in upper caste/class women cornering all the benefits.

  22. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    June 16, 2009 10:09 AM

    Suresh: “as Andre Beteille has been saying for a long time (including today’s Times of India), the very nature of a quota system is such that it targets the relatively well-off among the targeted group.”

    This is the creamy layer argument which in my opinion, is deeply flawed. Reservations to institutions of higher education, jobs etc. will HAVE to target the relatively better off. After all, there is a reason why it is the creamy layer of the general category too, that gets into colleges and jobs. It is only those who have already had some access to schools etc, and been able to amass some “cultural capital” who can even hope to make it to college, jobs and so on. If you exclude the “creamy layer” from reservations, you will very conveniently, have reserved seats going unfilled.
    By the way, I wouldn’t see Beteille’s views on reservations as those of an “objective” sociologist. His feelings against reservation and Dalit politics are so deep-rooted and visceral that he argued vociferously during the debate on taking caste to the UN Convention on racism (in Durban and more recently, in Geneva), that race and caste cannot be equated because caste is a sociological category while race is biological. Now, such a statement would not be made by a sociology undergraduate student, that race is “biological”! It is astonishing that Beteille’s desire to use all possible arguments to keep caste discrimination “inside the home”, as it were, should have pushed him to putting his own academic credentials into question.
    In short, Beteille and creamy layer arguments in general are anti-reservation, and as I said right in the beginning, that issue for me is beyond debate. I am simply not interested in defending reservations as such – we need them if we believe in social justice, and I’m glad they are here to stay. I only want to debate how to make them more effective, reflect more socio-political identities etc.
    As to whether we can say “this” discrimination is worse than “that”, it is precisely because we cannot, that complicated ideas like qwq and so are being considered. If we could simply say all women are oppressed and all men are not, or something quick and simple like that, these discussions would not be necessary.

  23. Yabasta permalink
    June 16, 2009 12:11 PM

    Wonder, wonder, Suresh that you (and Beteille) have discovered that OBCs are not a homogenous category. And the ‘general category’ or the the open category? That is homogenous? Would you be where you were – or any of us – if we had not cornered the seats of 80 percent of the poorer upper castes and others? How is it that this talk of creamy layer only becomes relevant when you talk about dalits and OBCs? May be we should possibly think of a way of economic reservation within the general quota. By the way, your perverse logic of ‘numerical strength being in the favour of OBC men’ has not worked in the case of the poor of any category – who are the largest in numbers anyway. Ultimately, it is a question of power not numbers.

  24. Kavita Krishnan permalink
    June 17, 2009 1:10 PM

    I’m posting an article I’ve written, based on the editorial of the weekly news magazine of the CPI(ML) (Liberation), the ML Update, Vol 12, No. 24, 16-22 June 2009.) Reading the posts here helped me clarify my thoughts on the issue quite a bit, so thanks to all here…

    Revisiting the Women’s Reservation Debate

    Once again, the debate over Women’s Reservation Bill has resurfaced, in the wake of the President’s speech promising to enact 33% quota for women in assemblies and parliament as well as 50% quota in panchayats. After 13 years of delays and vacillations, the women’s movement and progressive forces are naturally demanding that the Government and main ruling parties, who no longer have any excuse not to enact the Bill, walk their talk this time without any further delay.

    The cacophony of misogynistic rhetoric voiced against the Bill since 1996, and revived this time around, has rightly invited outrage. However, let us set aside the anti-women baggage for a while, and re-examine the main case against the Bill, as articulated mainly by parties and leaders claiming to represent the dalits and OBCs. The crux of the debate is: will the Women’s Bill in its present form militate against OBC representation in parliament and benefit only elite, privileged women, and must it therefore include a quota within quota for OBC women, as a precondition for passing the Bill?

    Does the women’s quota indeed represent a threat to political representation of oppressed and backward castes?
    In the first place, we must note that provision has already been made, in the Bill, for 33% quota for women within the existing 22% SC/ST quota. So Mulayam Singh’s warning to the (dalit woman) Speaker in his parliamentary diatribe against the Bill, that the Bill, if enacted, would prevent her own entry into Parliament, is obviously baseless.

    The question of quota within quota for OBC women is more complicated – mainly because of the fact that there is no existing OBC quota at any level in representative institutions. The question of OBC quota in assemblies and parliament is being brought up only in response to the Women’s Bill. Even in Bihar, where the state government headed by the JD(U) (the party of Sharad Yadav, the most vocal opponent of the Women’s Bill) has instituted 50% quota for women in panchayats, there is a quota within quota for women from SC/ST and Most Backward Castes (MBCs), not for OBCs as such.

    OBC representation in assemblies and parliament has, by all accounts, increased significantly since the 1980s. If 33% seats are reserved for women, will it result in a decline in OBC representation? Won’t OBC women win seats which OBC men have been winning? No, say the opponents of the Bill – arguing that elite, educated, privileged, usually upper caste women will steal a march over OBC women. The lion’s share of the benefits of women’s quota, they say, will accrue to the more privileged upper caste women.

    This argument seems to be founded on a fallacy about the nature of electoral and political mechanisms. In reservation in general, it is true, where it is individuals who compete for limited seats – in jobs or education – it is the more privileged who are likely to corner the lion’s share of quotas. For instance, in the case of OBC quota, intended to correct the underrepresentation of OBCs in jobs and higher education, working class poor and women from these castes are less likely to avail benefits as compared to those from the same castes who are relatively more privileged educationally and economically. But the question arises: while OBCs continue to be underrepresented in jobs and higher education, necessitating the OBC quota, how come they are fairly well represented in parliament and many assemblies? Why has the upper caste domination in Indian politics been decisively broken, without any quota? The reason is that OBC political forces have ridden a wave of popular social mobilization that has asserted itself since the 1980s. Politics – including electoral politics – is all about contending social mobilizations, where the caliber and privileges of individual candidates is relatively secondary. This is the reason why a Phoolan Devi (the former bandit) won electoral battles even without any OBC quota. It is one matter that parties have been reluctant to field such women candidates, thus necessitating a women’s quota, but the example of Phoolan Devi suggests that when given a chance, OBC women have not fared worse than their male counterparts in electoral battles. The same social forces which benefited male OBC leaders has played in their favour too, and their lack of educational privilege has not come in the way of electoral success. The point is that politics is not a personality contest, and there is simply no reason why OBC women should fare badly in comparison with upper caste women once the Women’s Bill is brought into effect. Even the apprehension that OBC women might be denied tickets because they would be seen as less ‘winnable’ than more privileged women, doesn’t hold water. Winnability, in our electoral process, is decided less by individual privilege alone – and more by the position of candidate and party in the social balance of forces. It is this which is the biggest factor in parties’ decisions to field candidates. There is no reason why a party, in a constituency where their position in the social balance would favour an OBC candidate, would choose a non-OBC candidate in case the seat is reserved for women. Reservation for women would not alter the social balance of forces – it would only eliminate the aspect of gender discrimination from the social equation in that particular election.

    Why is OBC quota proposed only in response to the Women’s Bill, while it is not seen as necessary in general? Opponents of the Bill retort that it is precisely to counter the threat of growing OBC assertion in politics that the upper caste dominated parties have embraced the Women’s Bill. Again, such an argument is based on a fallacious and superficial understanding of the basis of the increased OBC representation in politics. OBC political assertion reflects the growing assertion of an emergent kulak class in agrarian India. To reduce it to the assertion of the marginalised ‘backward castes’ alone would be to ignore that it also reflects the assertion of a powerful emergent landed class, which represents a more privileged layer within the backward castes, while, however, positioning itself as the voice of the genuine social aspirations of the backward castes as a whole. The ruling class including the dominant national ruling parties have, to a large extent, accommodated this kulak class and its political representatives, which have not proved in any way a hurdle to the economic and social policy thrust of other ruling class parties. The initial expectations from some quarters, that these parties would prove a hurdle to communal politics or to neoliberal economic policy have been badly belied. Tensions might remain between powerful ‘regional’ players and national formations, but the latter, while they might seek to replace the regional outfits, will do so by accommodating the OBC-kulak forces rather than by jettisoning them. Moreover, the Women’s Bill is highly unlikely to overturn the power of the agrarian kulak class in the balance of social forces. Rather, the same political logic and process that has benefited OBC male leaders is likely to benefit OBC women as well.

    Sharad Yadav, in a recent interview in Tehelka, rephrased his ‘parkati’ brand of argument against educated, urbanised women leaders, in more palatable and even words. He said Sita-Savitri were usually seen as representative of Indian women, and he instead wanted the Draupadis – women who dared to fight Mahabharatas for justice – to find political representation. “If the weaker sections of the society are not included, only people like Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat will be seen in the Lok Sabha, not the true Draupadis who represent the real India,” he said. Brave words. But there is a problem: Brinda Karat, a prominent leader of the left-led women’s movement, cannot be called an advocate of ‘Sati-Savitri’ even by her worst detractors. In contrast to the considerable efforts of the women’s movement and the Left-led women’s groups, what has Sharad Yadav or his party ever done to mobilize the Draupadis against patriarchies? The accusation of being ‘elite’ and cut off from Indian culture and social reality is a favourite one to level against women’s movement activists – and Sushma Swaraj would happily join Sharad Yadav in thus branding the women’s movement as un-Indian! Such accusations ignore the fact that if women’s movement leaders from middle class, educated backgrounds represent one kind of relative privilege in respect to their working class sisters, politicians of ruling class parties – including OBC leaders from kulak backgrounds, also represent considerable class (and gender) privilege, and are not unmediated ‘natural’ representatives of ‘deprivation’. The idea that educated middle class women – as leaders of the women’s movement or as representatives in political are somehow less authentic and less representative of the ‘real Indian women’ needs to be challenged very strongly, because such arguments are inevitably deployed to legitimize patriarchies in the name of ‘Indian culture,’ falsely suggesting that ‘authentic’ Indian women are those who accept and embrace such patriarchies.

    It is not our case that ‘OBC parties’ and leaders like Sharad Yadav or Mulayam are more anti-women than those from the Congress or BJP. Rather, they are pitting the OBC agenda against women, not simply because they are anti-women or even because they feel more threat from the Women’s Bill, but because they perceive a political benefit in flaunting purported concern for OBCs. Sharad Yadav, for instance, is clearly seeking to use the Women’s Bill issue as a timely tool in his bid to pose as OBC messiah and step into the shoes left vacant by the decline of Laloo Yadav. Today, in any case, there is no unity even in the camp of OBC leaders and parties, on the ‘quota within quota’ position. Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) has strategically chosen not to endorse his party colleague Sharad Yadav’s stand on the Women’s Bill. In Parliament, Mulayam Singh too said not a word about ‘quota within quota’ for OBC women, choosing instead to suggest the even weaker mechanism of a party-wise quota of 20% tickets to women candidates.

    In his speech in Parliament, Mulayam Singh said that with 22% reserved for SC/STs, and 33% for women, there would be no space left for upper castes and backward castes. He said that leaders like Advani, Joshi, and others had reached the Lok Sabha through hard struggles, and the Women’s Bill would ‘destroy this leadership.’ He also employed the usual misogynistic spectre of women in parliament relegating men to domestic work, saying “those thumping tables today will tomorrow be left thumping mattresses at home,” and lamented the ‘state of affairs’ where women like Sonia, Mamata, Jayalalitha and Mayawati were calling the shots everywhere. Interestingly, these arguments were clearly targeted not just at OBCs but specifically at upper caste leaders (even naming them), and even more interestingly, his implication that women elected through quotas would not be the product of ‘hard struggles’ and would destroy able leadership, actually echoes the meritocratic arguments posed by protestors against OBC quotas. Clearly, be it Sharad Yadav or Mulayam, the arguments against the Bill are not just emanating from ‘concern for OBC representation’, but rather these leaders have complex and distinct motivations that have necessitated different articulations and emphases at different political junctures.

    We do not oppose a ‘quota within quota’ on principle, nor do we reject it on the spurious argument that ‘women’ are an undifferentiated category uninflected by caste and class. In fact, it would be our greatest concern that women from oppressed castes and classes get their share of representation. What are objectionable are the attempts to use the OBC issue as a smokescreen to stall the Women’s Bill. To employ an analogy: would it not have been highly objectionable if the implementation of Mandal recommendations on OBC quotas in jobs and education had been stalled for years on the pretext that a quota within quota for OBC women, or for that matter economically deprived OBC students and youth, was a precondition, to accommodate the apprehension that these sections might be less able to benefit?

    The need of the hour now is to pass the Women’s Bill in its present form without a moment’s further delay. If indeed experience reveals that women’s reservation is resulting in any appreciable decline in OBC representation, OBC quota in assemblies and parliament, in general as well as within the women’s quota, can be accommodated through amendment.

  25. Ashish permalink
    August 5, 2009 10:47 PM

    It is sad to read all these coments, looks like social reformists from JNU are writing these comments. Fact is any kind of reservation will perpetuate caste/gender discrimination. In a progressive society principles of inclusion and exclusion should apply to all and not to certain categories. A quota system results in mediocre system damaging the nation. Look at US, it never introduced quota system. need of hour is affirmative actions for the have nots. For God sake dont include OBC reservations for discussions as this is the biggest fraud inflicted upon this country by the yadvas, kurmis, south Indian non brahmins. India is paying for it and continue to pay for it

  26. Sundaram permalink
    March 9, 2010 10:15 PM

    This time, this important debate in any real sense is almost entirely absent from the media and even intellectual circles, except that we are essentially fed that the Lalu-Mulayam-Mayawati brigade is behind sabotaging the historic advance for women. Just to remind ourselves how undeserving they anyways are.

    I am still not very clear on this.

    OBCs have anyways come to represent themselves in the parliament even without any reservations and hence their women would axiomatically enter once this women reservation comes into effect. I still find it vague and a little simplistic.

    Why not then women also, like OBCs, should be left to their half-of-humanity population to reflect themselves naturally in parliament? If this cant be left because women are not politically mobilized community like OBCs, then why to leave OBC women?

    Also, in this scheme, we are basically, in place of providing affirmative action for focused groups, encouraging OBCs to mobilize themselves for their women on caste lines in designated women constituencies. Is this not perpetuating caste-lines effectively? At least caste-based reservations principally doesn’t do so.

  27. Murali permalink
    March 11, 2010 1:47 PM

    Since JNU’s Mandal implementation is briefly mentioned in the article: is it that none at Kafila has seen this and therefore no mention of it has been made anywhere? (reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes story in which the dog failed to bark): http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?263782

    This is classic Commie hypocrisy at its glorious best. When the YFE chaps used ‘merit’ argument to counter reservations, the choicest epithets were thrown at them. When the Commies themselves, that too at the mecca of JNU, do that, deafening silence prevails.

    A leftie is a misogynist, classist, racist and casteist at his/her core, with a thin veil of ‘progressivism’. That’s all.

  28. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    March 12, 2010 11:03 AM

    Murali, the tone of your comment exhausts me on the very first reading, the assumptions you make are staggering, and I dont really think any clarifications are going to help because your mind is made up. Nevertheless, three points:
    To conflate “kafila” with “classic commie” and with “misogynist, classist, racist and casteist lefties” boggles the imagination of anyone who reads anything at all that is posted here.
    Two – you clearly have no idea of the battles raging in JNU over reservations, in which “left” is ranged against “left”, far from being “deafening silence”, there are pitched battles, but you prefer to make up your mind on the reportage of the mainstream anti-reservation media.
    Three – kafila writers all write here over and above the other work and politics they do, and it is simply not possible to respond to each and every issue we feel strongly about. It’s easy radicalism to dash off two lines demanding to know “why no response from kafila on this that or the other issue of national importance” implying that our radicalism does not reach your high standards.
    In short, you’re clearly very comfortable in your self-righteous little space, so do stay there, and by all means avoid trying to figure out the complexity of the political field.

  29. sarah permalink
    April 29, 2010 2:25 PM

    Would it take SC/ST women to sacrifice?

    Dear Nivedita:

    I agree completely to the points you are making here in favor of OBC women, but I request you to look into the benefits that the WRB brings for SC/ST women.
    First, this bill as you rightly suggested will give opportunity for elite, upper caste Hindu and Muslim women, undoubtely, but will also open the door for SC/ST women through quota within within, hitherto represented by SC/ST men.
    Second, is OBC, a constitutional category or a statutory category, devised by the popular politics? I agree there are other marginalized sections in India too, such as shudras and minorities. however the latter are not constitutional category? And it is not only baseless but mischevious to compare situation of SC/ST women with that of OBC/UC/Minority women, particularly Muslims. If we were to talk of Muslims alone as a minority then we may have to discuss the Macdonald awards and its aftermath. Scholars like Zoya Hassan in particular needs a good education on constitutional provisions for SC/ST on the basis of their caste and not religion. What were the Muslims doing in 1935, she may want to ask her leaders? Anyways, it is not only mischevious but unconstitutional to negate the importance that SC/ST community has been accorded with, thanks to Ambedkar.

    Now my question to you is: on what basis do you demand political representation of an overrepresented community (without reservation)? The whole idea of reservation in parliament is of adequate representation to begin with. I agree that is overrepresentation of Upper Caste and will be a matter of concern if there are upper caste Hindu and elite Muslim women representing women’s issue. Agreed.
    However, I dont agree to the political representations of OBCs in the first place, ? Are they really deprived, and socially marginalized? Can you identify such communities within states of India ? Morever, educationally and socially backward are not necessarily economically backward. And what about the dominant caste such as Jats, Yadavs, Ahirs, Thakurs, Koyri, Kunbi, Leva Patil, Patedar, Nadar, Reddy, Kammas, Thevars, etc etc…… there is a whole OBC economy which one cannot deny. I agree OBC (Hindus) are ritually lower than UC but above SC. But OBCs were never an outcaste, or a disadvantegous community or suffered heinous practises of untouchability. In fact they were part of the caste system and in the recent times have been committing atrocities against SC women more than any upper caste. OBC women aint no different from upper caste women, if you were to look at dalit women and their testimonials. I see OBC intellectuals and activist talking of the bill and its negative implications to them but not of the benefits that it brings to SC/ST women. My only concern is of SC women in particular who remain the most vulnerable women in Indian society. And I hope at least this time she does not have to sacrifice for Savarnas.
    regards
    Sara

  30. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    April 29, 2010 4:49 PM

    Sara,
    The reservation for SC/ST women within the WRB would in no way be affected by an OBC quota. And while OBC women are powerful vis-a-vis SC women, they are marginal vis-a-vis UC women. Hence the need for quotas for all three categories – Muslim, OBC, SC/ST. Otherwise UC women will replace OBC men, basically, in Parliament, and I dont think that is necessarily a good thing.

  31. sara permalink
    May 1, 2010 12:51 AM

    Nivedita,
    It is not a question of whether SC/ST women will be affected by an OBC quota, becasue, SC/ST in itself are a special and separate entity.

    I agree that there is a possibility of UC women challenging/taking away seats that belonged to OBC men but one wonders if the constituency is reserved for women, wont OBC women stand in election against UC if it is not reserved seat of SC/ST?

    The fundamental question is this bill aimed at bringing representation of women more than OBCs Vs UC. Does this bill mean nothing for empowerment of the least empowered? And by the way, are OBCs underrepresented in parliament? In fact dominant caste OBCs are over-representing and it is them who dont give chance to the actually disadvantaged communities from the OBC section. We need to reexamine who should be given OBC status.
    I think this bill cannot be looked merely as congress mastermind to curtail participation of OBC politics. This bill is more than OBCs as well since it for the first time, talks about quota for SC/ST women. This bill will ensure rightful representation of SC/ST women.

    I also wonder what stops OBC men who are in parties like the congress, BJP, RJD, SS, SP, BSP nominate OBC women candidates at the party level itself?

    I also wonder why dont scholars understand that SC/ST women are constitutional categories unlike the OBCs and Muslims, statutory categories, so why compare them, it is not only baseless but mischievous.

    The latter and their representation at legislature will require constitutional amendments. Second, OBCs in itself has no homogeneous identity, it such a heterogeneous category, and are some of OBCs socially and educationally backward? Ezhavas, Nadars, Thevars, Yadavs, Kunbi, Patedar, Reddy’s, Kammas, Kappus, Sali, Mali, Teli, to name a few are OBCs, some of the new capitalist class and traditional congress leaders come from these so called communities.
    I think, the political interest of OBC men seem to matter more than representation of women (UC and also SC/ST) here. I also feel everything cannot be located in terms of political equations.

    I agree there should be demand of limiting upper caste women, they should not over-represent and so the OBC men and women.

    Underrepresentation is the key of this bill, and I dont see OBC being underrepresented in parliament in any ways.

  32. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    May 1, 2010 9:46 AM

    Sara, you raise important issues, but your general argument against OBC reservations are applicable to SC/ST too, and for that matter, to women – for instance, the heterogeneity of OBC’s as a group. Isn’t that true for SC/ST and for “women” too? Does this heterogeneity delegitimize the reservation demand?
    What it does do, is complicate the discussion considerably, but if heterogeneity of a group is used to shut down demands for reservation, that only feeds into anti-reservation arguments as a whole. For instance, what you say about OBC’s (“dominant caste OBCs are over-representing and it is them who dont give chance to the actually disadvantaged communities from the OBC section”) is the standard argument made against reservations for SC/ST too.
    It would be productive to consider other forms of affirmative action than reservation – for instance, the deprivation points system followed by JNU that takes care of the heterogeniety and the so-called “creamy layer” problem too. But that is another debate.
    As for OBC’s not being under-represented in Parliament, OBC men are there, OBC women are not. And the whole point is that it makes a difference. If you dont believe that it does, then why the WRB at all?
    And as for the argument that OBC parties should just field more women candidates, does that not hold for SC/ST communities too?
    Or are you simply arguing that the benefits of reservation should not be extended beyond the SC/ST communities? That is going to be a difficult argument to sustain – logically, politically, ethically.

  33. sara permalink
    May 2, 2010 12:34 PM

    Nivedita,
    it is not only baseless but mischievous to compare situation or reservations of SC/ST to that to OBCs. What you are doing is refuting is a constitutional fact that there is a major difference between SC/ST and OBC. The difference is that of constitutional and popular politics, statutory. The concept of creamy layer or of dominant does not apply for SC/ST, since it is based on different parameters.

    Lets go back to history for a minute, 1935 list was exhaustive list to begin with and it identified untouchable caste’s and tribes. I wonder what OBCs were doing at that point in time? Fule, Periyar never argued for reservations in politics, and I am sure, there would have been considerations at the communal awards if shudras had articulated their position. OBCs of today, before Mandal counted themselves as Savarna, lets no forget that.

    You mention, why dont SC/ST men should be extending their ‘benefit’ to their women as I propose it for OBC men, this comparison is utterly impulsive. Why?

    A. Constitution made a temporary provision of giving adequate representation (political) to SC/ST communities, which definitely accounted the total size of population ie included men and women of both SC/ST category. Now, this was never realised by women or let say usurped by SC/ST men. So, this bill as I see, will mandate SC/ST men, and the electoral process itself to give representation (and not benefits of reservation) to SC/ST women.

    My arguments are not simply to suggest that no reservations for other marginalized communities, but I am looking at history before Mandal, wondering what had happened to these so-called deprived and marginalized communities in 1914 (Risley’s census work, where they documented themselves as savarna/aryan caste/communities, or their status in census on Gaav Gadha (where they referred to Mahar, Mang, Dhor as of inferior race) and their own status as superior. what were they doing in 1932 during the communal awards. They had aligned with Hindu interest and identified themselves as savarna. OBCs have always been part of Hindu caste system and were never an outcaste like untouchables.

    Now with some fundamentals of SC/ST and OBCs, let look at what Ambedkar, a champion of constitutional rights for SC/ST apart from being intellectual giant of the century had to say, his position has been very clear, he has already mentioned that SC itself is a distinct political entity in Indian democracy. SO lets not compare OBC and SC. OBCs of today formerly shudras are an intrinsic part of Hindu order. they themselves hold the Hindu order.

    My argument Nivedita, is reservations of any form in India had taken into account social history of India at the time when it was formed. It had taken into account every possible factor more than I and you understand. please lets not apply logics, political or ethical position to compare situation of SC/ST with that of OBCs. It is blunder to compare. I hold that reservations (not benefits/welfare/profit as you understand) for SC/ST has a history of different nature than that of OBCs. I stand in defense of constitutional rights vs popular politics played particularly by today’s OBCs.

    This bill is not that simple, and this is definitely not limited between upper caste women vs OBCs. It is not so. To my mind, OBCs are savarna’s irrespective of whatsoever you may think of them. The fieldview of caste is certainly important in this case. Look at Khairlanje. who committed heinous atrocities on Bhootmange family, Khobragade family, and Meshram. Before Bhootmange’s were killed they had killed an educated Meshram boy. Who committed these crimes? they were OBCs. Further, who protected this bunch of OBC men and women, who collectively committed atrocity on dalit family which included two dalit women? Maratheshahi. In fact, if you are following that news, you will know that Khairlanje has been rewarded that village as dispute-free village and awarded one lakh rupees. wow. of course, it is dispute free, as they were successful in driving out three mahar’s from their village. what does one say about this situation. and there are so many more khairlanjes in TN, Kerala, central india, western india and even north east states. you may choose to ignore on this matter.

    Ethical positions cant be chosen as it suits interest, they have to be consistent irrespective of the narrow interest. In this sense I argue will it take sc/st women to sacrifice for obc men and women? In spite of being someone of that social location where feuds such as Kunbi, Maratha, Lingayats, Thevars, Nadars, Thakurs continue to committ atrocity against Dalit women, I can understand the demand of reservation of OBCs unlike their selfish interest of not looking beyond their own benefits. I am yet to hear/meet one OBC who has even referred to the right of representation of SC/ST women that this bill will bring. So ethical position apply more for OBCs than SC/ST in this case.

    Nivedita, you will have to understand the basic and fundamental difference between SC/ST and OBCs. Or else, you will compare and contrast situation of SC/ST with that of OBCs . I dont consider them even arguments but simply ignoring the historical and basic facts.

  34. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    May 3, 2010 9:44 AM

    Sara – Re the WRB, given current political configurations, I doubt that it will get passed in its present form (without quotas-within quotas), and it may continue to hang fire for another 15 years. Is it better to have a WRB in the q-within-q form or not at all, becomes the question.
    There are of course, “basic and fundamental differences” between all sorts of different groups that require affirmative action, not just between SC/ST and OBC’s. I am not convinced that this particular difference is significant in ways that other differences are not. But perhaps we will have to agree to disagree, Sara…

  35. sarah permalink
    May 3, 2010 6:35 PM

    Nivedita,

    Can you name Who are the ones that requires affirmative action (voluntary programs) vs reservations( constitutional programs) in case of India and on what basis? And in continuation to that, why do we not discuss history of reservation, you seem to be ignoring that completely.

    I know we disagree, but the point is I am amazed at the course of the discussion on reservations and anti -reservations debates. I cannot believe my ears when constitutional provisions for SC/ST are compared with every possible category who wants reservations, without really looking at the history of this nation and its social groups,.

    What I know is some of the leading intellectuals and activist are involved in making such unconstitutional demands and have involved in mischevious comparision of SC/ST with every possible group who merely is trying to get reservations turned in their favor. Look at Muslims, and Sachar committee report, why do they have to compare SC/ST as though its a milestone. I disagree to the baseless comparisions, particularly with OBCs and Muslims, since both of these groups have committed atrocities against Dalits and continue to do. and have never suffered stigma of being who they are as SC had to suffer. You seem to be ignoring Ambedkar too. wHY?

    Anyways, we disagree on fundamentals. I understand affirmative action policies and not reservations for every possible groups. Tomorrow, Brahmins would also say they are a minority and others are Hindu OBC, SC.ST, Tribes, Muslims, please reserve our seats. Indian society is all about Avarna, Savarna and Vanvasi. Minority religion also have their own version of caste orders. You cannot ignore social facts over politics of demands.

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