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Issue #3: Castelessness

India Ink
Issue #3: Castelessness
By India Ink Team • Issue #3 • View online
Good afternoon!
This week’s newsletter was delayed - our schedule was thrown off last week as two members from the team were traveling. But our newest article went live yesterday so here’s the newsletter as quick as we could get it to you!
Today, we’re talking about the idea of “castelessness” and reservations. There seems to be a constant debate about reservations in upper caste circles - about if they work, when they will be stopped, etc. But the framing of reservations as something that the majority “gives” to the minority who suffered because of their caste hides the truth. In this 8000 word paper from 2013, Satish Deshpande explores how if we truly mean to annihilate caste, it isn’t enough just to understand how it disadvantages lower castes. We also need to understand the advantages it grants to upper castes. Read the summary below or click through to the site and get the full version.
Our video this month will also elaborate on this subject. Here’s a sneak preview:
In 1969, 13000 people attempted the IIT entrance. By 2001, it had reached 150,000 - more than ten times. by 2006, it was 300,000. In 2011, almost half a million people would write the exam - and only around 3% would get admission.
It’s amazing that there are 500,000 people writing the exam - but it’s even more amazing that we - as a country - accept the fact that the right 3% were picked. We seem to genuinely believe that the best students are chosen to join IIT.
Hopefully everyone will enjoy the video. It should be out in one week!
If you’re interested in how we choose our articles and our writing process, we describe it in our latest Building in Public post. Here’s an excerpt:
Then, I give Thomas an oral summary of what I’ve read and managed to retain in my head. This exercise automatically forces me to focus on the core argument that I’d like to highlight and the most important supporting details. Ideally, at the end of this conversation, the person I’m talking to should have a clear idea of the text without having read it.
Once that’s accomplished, we have a discussion about headline, which is super important, because it decides the angle/framing of the entire article. This is also the point at which we discuss the “why you should read this” section of the post – that basically involves answering the all-important question of why this text might be relevant or useful to a potential reader.
You can read the full version here.
The India Ink Team

Who is the General Category reserved for?
1. There is a strange paradox in India today. Upper castes constantly insist that they don’t see caste or benefit from it. For them, caste identity is no longer associated with hierarchy and discrimination, but with modern concepts such as merit and development instead. But for lower castes, their lives seem to be defined entirely by caste — even their best achievements are always tainted with the stigma of reservations.
2. This state of affairs can be traced back to the days of the freedom struggle. By the early 1900s, Congress leaders, who were at the forefront of the nationalist movement, knew they had to do something about caste – either reform it or abolish it. But they didn’t agree on what those words meant.
3. As British rule over the subcontinent approached its end, the Congress realised that it needed to solidify its claim of representing “India.” In order to achieve this, it blocked the Dalit demand to be treated as a separate group, thus enlarging its vote base and masking its upper caste identity.
4. After independence, India’s new constitution abolished discrimination based on caste. Even though it allowed “compensatory discrimination” in the form of reservations in order to remedy the damage of the caste system, it framed this as an “exception” to the rule.
5. This meant that caste was now – legally speaking – only a source of disadvantages. Upper castes could see themselves as “caste-less” – all the advantages they had derived from caste could now be represented as the result of hard work and “merit.”
6. It was only in the 1980s, when the Mandal Commission proposed reservations for OBCs, that there was broad public debate about how the unreserved or general category had become a space reserved for upper castes who were less than 20% of the population.
7. Today, it seems that younger generations of upper caste families might actually genuinely believe their own claims of being “casteless”. Since their parents transformed their caste capital into wealth and social capital, they don’t see the role of caste in their lives.
Who is the General Category reserved for? - India Ink
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India Ink Team

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