Sadhguru: A poignant story from Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s life comes to my mind. When he was nine, his father, who worked in Goregaon, asked him to come visit him during the summer holidays. Together with his elder brother and another relative, Ambedkar boarded a train from Satara. The boys had gotten new English-style shirts tailored, wore silk-bordered dhotis and shiny new caps. This was their first rail journey and they were thrilled.
When they reached their destination though, no one had arrived to receive them. His father had not received the letter with their date of arrival. The station-master, who had mistaken them to be boys of an upper caste initially, due to their new clothes, perhaps, turned them out of the waiting room after learning that they were of a lower caste. They tried to hire a bullock cart, but no one agreed to take them along.
Finally, one of the bullock cart owners agreed to give them a ride, but he refused to sit in the cart and chose to walk beside it instead. Sitting with the Dalits would pollute him, he believed. It was a long ride, and no one would give them water on the way. They reached Goregaon the next morning, and the experiences during this journey left Ambedkar totally jolted.
This happened in 1901. Today, more than a whole century later, the same reality continues in rural India. Perhaps not to the same extent, but this idea that another human being’s touch could pollute you exists even today.
Despite this appalling situation in our society, we often hear about the need to do away with reservations. I understand where that is coming from. In a country like India, whatever laws you make, particularly those concerned with having certain privileges, they will be misused. That is the fact. But in the case of reservation for Dalits, we have to weigh between “use” and “misuse”.
Underestimating the Problem
This community, for millennia, has been discriminated against. If we do not bring them up with some privileges so that they reach the same level as the rest of us some day, it would be unfair. Those who underestimate the enormity of this problem should expose themselves to rural society and see how horribly discriminatory it can get. Dalits cannot enter your house from the main door; they cannot drink tea in the local tea shop; Dalit children cannot sit with non-Dalits…This is not acceptable for any human being! So, reservation is not a curse upon the country. This privilege of pedigree has to go.
Just because somebody is getting some reservation and some others think it is not fair because they did not get into a college or a course, it does not nullify this huge problem we face as a society. We need to understand that such issues arise because, for whatever infrastructure or education or facilities we try to create, we have too large a population.
Time to Review
Considering the level of development that the Dalits in this country are at today, I strongly feel that they still need reservation. But perhaps this is a good time to review our reservation policy. In a democracy, everything revolves around an election that has to be won. So nobody dares to talk about change, whether positive or negative, especially if it is anything that concerns a particular community, because it then becomes a volatile election-winning or election-losing matter. But we should not delay this process further.
A distinction could be made between urban Dalits and rural Dalits, because the maximum discrimination and disadvantage happens in rural India. Rural Dalits must be given far more advantage than those who are already living in urban societies.
Perhaps the first generation to get out of that social pit that has unfortunately been dug for them must be given reservation; for the second generation, it must drop a little bit; by the third generation, they should be able to get out of it. Two generations who have come out of it should voluntarily share the reservation with those who have not come out of it. This can come only from a sense of responsibility. These privileges exist because of a certain existing injustice. We should not make the privileges themselves into another injustice. For that, we need a more conscious society.
No Compromise on Competence
While reservation to get into a college might still be necessary, you should not simply pass a student because he belongs to a certain caste. By this, you are only bringing down the competence levels in the country. Give them opportunity and give them extra coaching to make up for whatever loss they have had due to a lack of proper schooling. But do not compromise on competence. Similarly, for jobs, reservations can help them enter a job, but promotions must come only with competence.
Finally, we should stop looking at people as this community, that caste, this religion, because all of us in India have only one vote. That means, by law, we are all equal. This equality has to manifest itself socially.
Essentially, that was Ambedkar’s vision for the nation and for the world as well. He championed social democracy, not merely political democracy. If you have one vote, I have one vote; that means both of us are equal at that level. Unfortunately, although Dalits in our country have equal rights by law, they are yet to achieve it socially. This generation of people must make it happen at least, because the very idea of India as a republic will fail if we do not fix this. A nation that invests in prejudice, that manifests in oppression of its own citizenry, cannot be a successful democracy.
Editor’s Note: In “Bha Ra Ta: the Rhythm of a Nation,” Sadhguru looks at the past, present and future of this nation, and explores why this culture matters to every human being on the planet. With images, graphics and Sadhguru’s inspiring words, here’s Bharat as you have never known it!
A version of this article was originally published in Hindustan Times.