December 11, 2005

Distance to drinking water

Follow up to my two previous posts, Price on Merit and Much Ado about 80000, about Mandal.


There are times when I feel the true measure of how much the Mandal Report has been criticised over the years is that "Mandalisation" is now a bad word. And that the reservations suggested by Mandal are assumed to be promoting "casteism" -- as if that was some horrible new monster, as if we have not suffered casteism for centuries.

The irony is that Mandal's is a detailed, painstaking and perceptive study. The irony is also that caste itself is a relatively minor consideration there. (One indication of that: the "C" in Mandal's "OBC" is not "Castes", but "Classes"; yet in most people's minds, it's "Castes").

So how does Mandal identify these Other Backward Classes?

Well, Mandal and his team conducted a detailed "socio-educational" field survey using 11 criteria. Each was assigned a certain number of points. Here are those criteria.

A) Social factors (3 points each, total 12)
    1) Castes/Classes considered as socially backward by others.
    2) Castes/Classes which mainly depend on manual labour for their livelihood.
    3) Castes/Classes where at least 25 per cent females and 10 per cent males above the state average get married at an age below 17 years in rural areas and at least 10 per cent females and 5 per cent males do so in urban areas.
    4) Castes/Classes where participation of females in work is at least 25 per cent above the state average.

B) Educational factors (2 points each, total 6)
    5) Castes/Classes where the number of children in the age-group of 5-15 years who never attended school is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    6) Castes/Classes where the rate of student dropout in the age-group of 5-15 years is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    7) Castes/Classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 per cent below the state average.

C) Economic factors (1 point each, total 4)
    8) Castes/Classes where the average value of family assets is at least 25 per cent below the state average.
    9) Castes/Classes where the number of families living in kuccha houses is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    10) Castes/Classes where the source of drinking water is beyond half a km for more than 50 per cent of the households.
    11) Castes/Classes where the number of households having taken consumption loans is at least 25 per cent above the state average.

As you see, the maximum any given community can score is 22 points. Those that scored 11 or more were, by and large, considered OBC and thus eligible for reservations.

But as you can also see, caste itself (factor #1) is given just three points. Other criteria include such considerations as the distance to drinking water, child marriages and dropout rates. By no means can these be called "casteist", and portraying them that way is absurd.

There is nothing to prevent a community of Brahmins, say, from being classified OBC. Also, Mandal estimated (para 12.22) that 52% of India's population were OBC and recommended 27% reservation for them.

Unfortunately, as with so much else about the Mandal report, the truth about these criteria, about the fractional emphasis on caste, has been utterly obscured.

There is more to say about Mandal that perhaps I will get to another time. For now, here's what a Hindi teacher in a Bombay college, an OBC from a village in UP, once told me in his Worli chawl:

    When they ridicule Mandal, they ridicule our aspirations. And this is why we look to leaders like Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. We know they are corrupt, but we know they are our leaders. The other guys will never allow us our share of power.

Somewhere in there, it seems to me, is the price of the pretence that merit matters to us.


wise donkey said...

:)) definitely didnt know the C in OBC stood for class not caste.
but is it just this much?

btw would agriculture be manual labour?

and i didnt understand the class criteria grouping
is it poor, lower middle...? what are the different classes according to the report?

and why is the child marriage a criteria. wouldnt it benefit a community (caste or class) to have a child marriage in big numbers?
child marriage exists is a fact, but its illegal too. but when on one hand we want to eradicate it , how on the other hand can we include people from that community and say, ok we will reserve jobs based on the criteria? what about communities where they have choosen to say no to it. arent we penalising them.
And wouldnt this vary with the state?
71 % in Bihar, 68 % in Rajasthan,64 % MP, 62 % Andhra Pradesh, vs
10 to 24 in Himachal, Punjab, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu? (this is for 18, but why the age 17 any logic for this?)

and whats this about females in work.(most females work, they dont get paid thats a different story). but is it again the right message?

Now why do we need this caste angle.
i am not that good in maths (or perhaps lazy) but if we didnt have the point 1 and just had classes everywhere, what would have been the impact on the society?

would it have really not benefited the underpriveileged if based on just the caste criteria?

after all a person from "lower caste" can fit the point
3 (though i find this deplorable)
4 (again i wonder if we need it)
5 6 7 8 9 10 and 11

Anonymous said...


You have seemingly provided an iron-clad argument for Mandal. To top it all you claim that there is nothing to prevent a "community of brahmins" to be considered OBC. The operative word is community. So, a poor brahmin who satisfies most of the critieria of mandal (excpet say the caste) and gets 19 out of the 22 points (just for his household) has no chance under Mandal. On the other hand, if Kurmis or Yadavs are classified as OBC, there is nothing to prevent a Doon schhol educated son of a IAS officer from getting reservation.

I though you believed in judging people as individuals, not brush them as groups. Yet you support Mandal.

Let me also note that in your last piece not all the anons' were one and the same. The last anon comment was not mine.

Lastly, you made a parody of my comments on "dominant job provider." Strangely, the Hindi teacher you quote also seems to take it seriously. Is it just because of identity? I wonder. If the discussion were about something that trivial, why do you think the current controvery about job reservation in the private sector, which is even more miniscule thatn the public sector. Is this also abotu identity. Comparing the jobs to total opoulation is ridiculous to say the leat. Most jobs require graduate degrees and the rest probably require high school graduation. The proportion of indians that are graduates is less than 5%. Now you can see why organized sector jobs loom large.

Of course, the major reason why organized sector jobs are desired is that in India, they come with virtual iron-clad security, thanks to the labor laws. The stability, respectability provided by organized sector jobs is what everbody hankers for. Why do you think we get 6 zillion applications for 1 job opening.

It seems to me that you are promoting some identioty politics and decrying others, although you will not state so directly and beat around the bush to make your point.

Goyal said...

I agree with Tanuj and wise donkey and think though the commission may have been made in good faith but they have ended up as bad tools for vote banks politics by our super crap politicians.

Dilip D'Souza said...

WiseD: I'm not sure what you mean by your question about poor/lower/middle. These criteria are used to identify sets of people who might be classifed as OBC.

It's not that the report perpetuates child marriage; it's that a community in which there's a higher than normal proportion of women being married young is likely to be backward, or poor, or less literate, etc. Similarly with the other indicators.

Of course it might vary with the state.

Tanuj: the word "caste" is used, as far as I can tell, as a mere convenience. I've been in villages asking for Pardhis, for example, and bene told: go check that caste that lives in those houses over there. I imagine that Mandal's survey must have gone similarly. But I say caste is a relatively minor consideration because people are welcome to point Mandal to a certain "caste" living over there, but Mandal saw his job as coming up with the criteria to test that "caste". Meaning, simply pointing to that caste is not enough.

Here's another example: in Gujarat, I once visited a cluster of huts which was populated by people of two different "castes" -- referred to that way by the people in the town, but actually a tribe (though even that word has some problems). There would be nothing to stop this community from being tested, jointly, on Mandal's criteria. That is, there's no particular "caste" involved here.

The focus is on more than just economic criteria because there is more to "backwardness" than just being poor. I don't believe there is lip service to economic criteria. I think Mandal thought a long time about what factors affect the status of a community. That is evident if you read the report.

The Hindi teacher has nothing against those who disagree with the report. I went to see him disagreeing with it, and in fact disagreeing with Mayawati and Kanshi Ram too. He was very willing to speak to me about all three. He referred specifically, and I quoted him that way, to people who "ridiculed" Mandal.

Of course it's a drop in the ocean. It was hardly the Hindi teacher's case, or Mandal's, or anyone's, that these 80K jobs will improve the lives of half of India. (Mandal says so explicitly). This is about aspirations, role models, shares in power, etc.

And finally, of course it is all for votes. So what? VP Singh ran for election on an explicit promise to implement Mandal, using that, as politicians must do, to ask for votes. He got elected. When he began implementing what he had promised, he got damned for that.

It's the politicians' job to attract votes. I see no problem with that. It's our job, as voters and citizens, to make sure that through that lens of politics and searching for votes, we get reasonable policies. (Goyal, this is in answer to you too).

wise donkey said...

well when i asked the class criteria, i just wanted to know if any specific income criteria for grouping.

for eg. there could caste "aderf" and caste "kopter" and one of them could be considered socially backward under the 1st criteria.
but just what should be the criteria for determining that a "class" is socially backward based on the 1st criteria? would it be something like annual income less than Rs.___ ?

or does this have nothing to do with Income and class is just to include community, for eg some sect in another religion which is considered to be socially backward?

you say "community in which there's a higher than normal proportion of women being married young is likely to be backward, or poor, or less literate, etc"
wouldnt that be double counting?

why do we need to add extra points?

if there are two communities, (based on class, lets forget caste for the moment) and they are poor and less literate (probably since they are poor) and one of the communities has a lesser percentage of child marriage, which community should the society encourage?
I am frankly suprised that you are not perturbed by this.
When i say the child marriage should not be a factor, a community which is poor and have a greater percentage of illiterate persons are not going to suffer since there the criterias mention them seperately.
In fact if it had been the other way round, people would have thought twice on child marriage. though i am not recommending that

similarly when did women earning become a sign of backwardness
(i prefer the word earning and not working since almost all women in India do work.)
what is the point of this criteria?

And the main question, if the word Caste had been omitted what would have been the percentage and the number of people who would have suffered?

And do you think a big percentage would have suffered?
does casteism exist in India, yes.
but if Mandal had been about not just addressing casteism, then why pretend to address casteism.
Mandal could have very well said here are the jobs, lets give it to the Other Backward Classes, who are determined based on these criteria :
literacy level (illiterate, dropouts, matriculate rates), current occupation,(manual labour)
family asset,
house type,
access to drinking water,
and the consumption loans.

Why drag caste into it, if its not for caste?

Thanks for explaining Mandal. But I am suprised at you for not questioning Mandal.

And I still didnt understand class of people, I just thought it would be poor people, i guess on second thoughts, income is not the sole criteria to label a class of people.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I see there's an anonymous person complaining that he's not "the same" as some other anonymous persons, and to buttress the point, he's now assumed the name Srinivas. Now that's calculated to persuade.

Whether this should be Monish or Sanjay or Mahesh or something else would be easy to find, accept that I am not interested in doing so.

But let's see:

You have seemingly provided an iron-clad argument for Mandal.

No, and that wasn't even my interest. I think Mandal was criticised wrongly, without full knowledge of what it says. My attempt here was to show what's in Mandal and say, OK, now let's see what there is to criticise. (And so I'm glad to see that Tanuj and WiseD raise valid criticisms in response). I have no problems with criticism of Mandal, but I'd like it to be informed criticism.

Lastly, you made a parody of my comments on "dominant job provider."

If I got up and said, the Telugu Desam Party with its ten (?) seats in Parliament is the "dominant" party in Parliament, I assume and hope you will point out that I am wrong. Because 10 out of 542 is not "dominant".

Similarly, if someone says the Government was the "dominant job provider", should the obvious error here be left uncorrected? Do the math: Government provided about 6% of jobs in 1991. Does that make them the "dominant job provider"? Is it a parody of your comment to point out that this is wrong?

Besides, you yourself (unless you're not that Anonymous either) pointed me to a paper whose figures are inflated, and which itself makes the 10% statement that proves your claim about "dominant job provider" is wrong.

There's nothing wrong in being wrong. There's everything wrong in whining about it.

Most jobs require graduate degrees and the rest probably require high school graduation.

Careful when you use words like "most" and "dominant".

Dilip D'Souza said...

WiseD: may as well get to your latest while I'm at this...!

As I understand the first criterion, the crucial word is "considered". This is why I see this as the only indicator of actual caste. This is the only case where someone could (for example) come up to a guy doing a survey and say: Go look at that caste, they are socially backward.

I don't follow your double counting concern.

It's not a question of "which community should we encourage". The purpose is to identify communities that are backward in some sense. Women marrying young is a good indicator of backwardness. Look at it this way: suppose we found a community indulging in cannibalism. We'd say that community is in some sense backward, even though we find it repulsive.

I think you need to look at the women working criterion in the context of the times Mandal was written, I think, in the late 1970s). A community in which an unusually high percentage of women worked was likely to be, again, backward in some sense. Think of construction teams, where to this day you will see plenty of women working.

As for omitting the word "Caste", you mean from each criterion? I'm not sure what you mean. I don't think the word is crucial to the results -- as I said, caste is just a word of convenience here.

But I do question Mandal, and have done so for some 15 years since I first heard about it and then got myself a copy of the report. It's because I question it that I wanted to read the report and understand what it was about. I think there's plenty of ground to criticise it, some of which you have raised, for example.

But as I said in an earlier comment, the least we can do is to be informed when we criticise it.

wise donkey said...

this is not about, my view on reservations or casteism but mainly about understanding Mandal. and i am really thankful for this post.

sorry if i seem to pester.
what i havent understood is the term class.
initially i just presumed class would refer to income, but later realised that , that need not be the case.

it would be useful to me, if i can have an example Classes considered as socially backward by others.

Anonymous said...

There is no question that ours is a deeply unequal society. There is also no question that we have to do something about it. The question is whether reservations are the best way forward.

While reservations benefit some from disadvantaged communities, it comes at a cost. The cost is not in terms of "merit" - whatever that means. I don't think the Civil Service exams - based on the Chinese Mandarin system - necessarily picks out the best candidates, so if "merit" is "compromised" there, then I have no real problems.

The problem, as I see it, is that once a reservation system is put into place, then it becomes impossible to remove it. Is any community going to concede that it has advanced to the point that it doesn't need these reservations? Americans are wary of the word quota, and I think with good reason.

A second point is the scope for manipulations. I have often thought of estimating the size of the "fake certificate market" in India; it must be huge given how much of our lives is governed by some stupid certificate or the other. Fake caste certificates are not unknown, and there is anecdotal evidence that the problem is not minor. For instance, in reading about BHEL (one of our "navratnas" - whatever that means) I was intrigued to know about the existence of a Dalit trade union whose main agenda was removing those employees falsely employed under the Dalit quota.

A third point with regard to reservations relates to the question of what is meant by justice. Is it equality of opportunity or equality in outcomes? Reservations seem to be about the latter. In the bargain, we have forgotten that there is a big battle to be waged over ensuring even a minimal level with regard to equality of opportunity. Most Dalits still do not get good primary level education or health care; are still discriminated against socially like being denied access to community resources like water; still do not have equal access to state resources like electricity provision. My sister, for instance, told me that in eastern UP, there were villages where the electricity supply stops at the threshold of the Dalit section of the village. You have done a lot of work on the groups which have been labelled "criminal": are they any the better for the reservation policy? Has it even touched their lives?

I would like to conclude this comment with a civil engineering analogy. When one encounters a dilapidated building, there are two options. We can "beautify" the outside while ignoring the rotten core. Or one can go to the core, straighten that and then worry about the beautification. Too many of our policies, including reservation, are reminiscent of the former. They are in a sense deeply elitist: They have a flashy superficial effect but leave the root of the problem untouched. They enable us to say things like "we have had women as prime ministers" or "we have had a dalit as president" but of course, the mass of women and dalits remain unchanged by all this. I frankly find the American method where changes are slow to occur but once they do, are more permanent better in this regard; to be honest, I find our system cynical and hypocritical.

In talking about the politics of reservation, one runs into the problem that any criticism of the system is seen as merely the self-interest of an upper caste guy. For the record, I am one such person. But it is worthwhile remembering that accusations of self-interest cuts both ways. If I am motivated by self-interest then so are those who support reservations. The question is whether there are any valid points even after one takes into account the obvious self-interest.

Anonymous said...

well... those are some tough criteria to crack... could someone just give me a list of people (castes/classes) who would be eligible for reservations in the name of OBCs?

ankan said...

I find it absolutely incredulous that
"caste is used as a mere convenience".

Do you really believe it Dilip? Does anyone believe it?