Thursday, October 15, 2015

LJA Reservations

Delegitimization of Lokavidya:
The basis of the demand for reservations/special assistance

Based on available historical evidence, we know that during the vedic age (pre 300 BC) relatively free access to knowledge by all castes and study of Vedas was encouraged irrespective of caste/avocation. Sometime thereafter(between 300BC and about 600AD) acquisition of vedic knowledge by castes other than the Brahmins, was discouraged. During this period there were great movements (Buddha, Jaina) that questioned many 'beliefs' associated with vedic thought and caste-hierarchy. The subsequent 'reformation' saw the idea of inter-caste equality becoming prevalent , though the basis of equality was seen more in a philosophical and moral sense rather than on other 'tangible' facts. Subsequent history tells us that the struggle against caste-hierarchy was continuous and had many ups and downs. Most of such(Bhakti) movements sought to preach an equality among different castes (including dalits); but all of them were based on some idea of universal equality 'in the eyes of God'. The knowledge-basis of the caste-system was almost never alluded to in any practically demonstrable form; so the concept of equality did not cover the realm of knowledge, that definitively characterised(identified) the various castes and sub-castes comprising society.

The requirement of knowledge, 'outside' the knowledge concerning productive & service processes, was largely about 'uncontrollable' natural processes that affect, often very adversely, the activity of the producing & service sections of society. Such 'acts of nature' eg flood, drought, epidemics, pest attacks etc, were not understood or predictable. Special knowledge was needed to either predict , mitigate or prevent such 'acts of nature'. The study of astronomy(astrology), medicine, weather/ climate etc was probably greatly encouraged by this need. The classes which had the time and inclination to such study, developed these diciplines and, over a period of time, acquired a pre-eminent position in society because of their possessing this specialised knowledge. This was largely the caste of Brahmins- who were generally given to the study of Vedic literature as a whole-time occupation. The ability to predict and/or control/mitigate such adverse 'acts of nature' thus gave an 'awe-inspiring' position to possessors of such knowledge(much like present-day scientists- especially doctors). [In the west too, Astrology was developed by early astronomers such as Ptolemy,Copernicus,Kepler etc as a 'science' of predicting natural events that could have a bearing on human activities. Most of these men were from the Clergy i.e those who had chosen a 'profession' of study of religious texts].

The apportioning of such 'commanding heights' to this 'specialised' knowledge resulted in others, especially the productive and service classes, acceeding that their knowledge as relatively 'inferior' . This incidence of heirarchy in knowledge, however, did not affect the activity of these productive classes ,they continued their avocations and made inventions to suit their needs.There is no evidence that this hierarchy was life or livelihood threatening. In course of time an operatively hierarchical caste-system came into being. The challenge to the Vedic-knowledge based world-view began about 600 AD with alternate world-views, such as Islam, Christianity etc., gaining currency. This led to large scale conversions of 'lower' jatis and panchamas (outcastes). However, Lokavidya and Lokavidya-based activity did not get adversely affected in the entire period upto about the 18th century.There is also no evidence that inter-caste rivalry/conflict (during this period) was ever life or livelihood threatening.

The advent of direct British rule (around the turn of the 18th century) saw changes brought about in various aspects of governance, education, market, trade, communication etc. The concept of Government jobs/employment, as an assured means of livelihood, took shape. The basis of this 'employment' was the acquisition of knowledge that would facilitate and sustain suck work- viz education in British established/promoted schools/colleges and the acquisition of degrees/diplomas from such institutions. The castes that took, almost immediate, advantage of this 'new livelihood opening', were the brahmins- who just shifted their whole-time study activity from vedic literature, astrology, mathematics etc to English-based knowledge pertaining to governance, jurisprudence, science etc. A new concept of 'employment' took currency in society and these upper-caste sections could secure ' permanent' jobs and an assured source of income in this newly fashioned livelihood!

With the economic ascendency of such sections of the upper castes, Lokavidya Samaj began to see itself in a disadvantaged position and began to regard Lokavidya as 'inferior' to the knowledge acquired, largely by the upper castes, in the newly established schools and colleges. The British government's preference for a system of education that promoted economic, social and cultural activity, directly linked to Imperial interests(governance, market, industry etc), led to the delegitimization of Lokavidya, especially in the ranks of the Samaj.

In course of time the concept of 'forward' and (relatively) 'backward classes' came into being in public discourse and very large sections of Lokavidya Samaj saw themselves( and were seen to be) 'backward' relative to the 'educated' classes, most of whom were Brahmins. From about the late 19th century, demands for reservations in government employment and/or special assistance to these 'backward classes', began to be a rallying point for the 'dispossessed' sections of Lokavidya Samaj. The Imperialist power saw two advantages of supporting the demand for reservations. Firstly, it served to formalise a new(increasingly antagonistic) division in Indian society, especially among the Hindus(who constituted a very large section of the population); and secondly, it warded off any united challenge to the hegemony of modern(school-college based) education. The concomitant processes of delegitimization of Lokavidya and antagonistic caste-based division of society, soon took firm root in the minds of the people and gave birth to a new trend in politics i.e caste-based political movements.

The anti-British freedom movement was, by and large, led by men and women from the upper(forward) castes, who strove to maintain an united front of people of all religions and castes, in the struggle for independence. The process of delegitimization of Lokavidya, that had gained momentum with the advent of direct British rule ,however, brought about , in addition to religious antagonisms, new fissures in the unity of the Indian peoples' struggle for independence. The division along religious lines was secured effectively with the partition of the country -first in Bengal and then with the creation of Pakistan. The caste antagonism led to movements for reservations/special assistance and even for separate constituencies for dalits/tribals. The fight against inequality, exploitation and poverty was diverted into a fight for and against reservations! It continues today and dominates public discourse during elections, at the workplace, in the trade- union movement and even in the (modern) farmers' movement.[Dryland farmers are seen to be 'inferior' to irrigated-area farmers; even though their knowledge-base(of sustainable organic/natural farming, pest resistant seeds etc) is far superior in terms of drought and pest resistance practices and in terms of harmony with natural environment].

The path to liberation from knowledge hierarchy

The solution to this impasse cannot be found through providing reservations to all sections of Lokavidya Samaj. Rather it should be based on the recoginition of equality between every aspect of Lokavidya-based activity and (all of them) with modern-knowledge-based activity. The heirarchy of knowledge should be done away with.
How is this to be done? One starting point would be the re-legitimization of Lokavidya both within Lokavidya Samaj and in society as a whole. The local market is the arena where there is economic and social interaction between various sections of the Samaj. Commodities and services are exchanged. The value of a commodity is largely determined by its 'market' value rather than by the labour content and certainly not on the knowledge content. If the emphasis on value of a product/service is shifted from market-determined terms to (inherent) knowledge-based terms, then a transformation in 'terms of trade' will begin to take place and with it a movement toward a more equal social order bereft of inter-caste rivalry and acrimony.

The demand for 'equal wages for all work/labour on par with government employment' will kick-start a movement for the removal of inequality between univeristy-based knowledge and Lokavidya and the concomitant rural-urban, Bharat-India divide.

The 'development' and 'backwardness' debate will also be recast in an altogether (more humane) mould and a true contemporary concept of equality and harmony with nature will take shape.

2nd October 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment