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.