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Other Backward Classes

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OTHER BACKWARD CLASSES

The term backward casses has not been defined properly,either by the sociologists or by the Constitutio-makers.The backward classes are a large mixed category of persons with boundaries that are both unclear and elastic.They seem to comprise roughly one-third of the toatal population of the country.They consist of three main categories-the scheduled castes,the scheduled tribes and the other backward classes.The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are comparatively better defined and they form roughly 22% of the total population according to the 1971 census.The other backward classes is a residual category.Their position is highly ambigous and it is not possible t give an exact statemen of their numbers.

Defintion of other backward classes

Though the term backward classes is popularly used by sociologists.It is not defined properly.Still for our purpose of study,we may define it in the following way: 1)Justice K. Subba Rao,former chief justice of india,defined “backward classes” as—“an ascertainable and identifiable group of persons based on caste,religion,race,language,occupation and such others,with definite characteristics of backwardness in various aspects of human existence-social,cultural,economic,political and such others”. 2)We can generally define backward classes as those social groups or classes or castes which are characterise by low leteracy and lack of education,poverty,exploitation of labour,non-representation in services and untouchability. 3)In simple words,the term backward classes can be defined as a social category which consists of all the socially,educationally,economically and politically backward groups,castes and tribes.

“OBC” means “other backward castes.” This is a legal term; it was used early in the Mandal Commission report, issued in 1980, which included recommendations for reservation of seats for OBCs. These were the castes between the three “higher” varnas and the Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes), and amount to about 50% of the Indian population. They were previously considered “shudras” under the traditional varna (caste) system, that is those who were the lowest of the “clean” castes. During the colonial period they were known as “NonBrahmans” and in several parts of India – especially in the Marathi- and Tamil-speaking areas, they mounted militant movements challenging Brahmanism. In most of northern India, in contrast, movements were more Sanskritized, with the Yadavas encouraged to identify with Krishna and think of themselves as of the lineage of Krishna, while the Kurmis (peasants) were taught to identify with Rama. There is a great hierarchy among the OBCs. The group considering themselves “highest” are the mainly peasant castes (Kurmis in north India, Kunbis in Maharashtra, Vellalas in south India, etc) and the herding (Yadavas, Dhangars, Korbis) and gardening (Malis, Sainis) communities. Ranging below these are the various artisan and service groups – goldsmiths, blacksmiths, barbers, washermen etc. This linkage of caste with profession is unique to the Indian caste system. Ambedkar had described caste as a “graded hierarchy” with a ascending ladder of status and a descending degree of contempt; Phule had talked of how the “ignorant Kunbi looked down on the ignorant Mahar, the ignorant Mahar scorned the ignorant Mang” – these were expressions of this hierarchy of caste, in which every group tried to claim a higher status than another. Kancha Ilaiah has described Dalits and OBCs as the “productive castes” – in contrast to the three highest varnas (Brahmans, Ksatriyas or rulers and Vaishyas or banias/ merchants) who are exploiters living off the proceeds of their labour. The term “bahujan” meaning “majority people” is also often used for these groups.

What is the Percentage of OBCs in the Population?
The Mandal Commission estimated their percentage (based on extrapolations from the 1931 Census, which was the last Census to ask questions of caste) at 52%. Later elites have preferred to use the data from surveys, which give a much lower percentage. But the most efficient surveys (the National Sample Surveys) are fallacious – because they rely on self-identification, and many OBC groups lack the consciousness of benefits, or don’t find enough benefits, or prefer not to use a stigmatized “backward” identity. Between the 1999 and 2004 NSS surveys there was a rise in the percentage of OBCs, showing the increase in consciousness; we might expect a “rise” in further surveys. It is best to use the Mandal Commission data.
How does the Contemporary Economic Situation Affect OBCs?
Traditionally the jajmani system (Balutedari in Maharashtra) in which various OBC artisan castes performed their duties and received a share of the village harvest is dying away. Many of the old occupations are gone, replaced by modern forms; e.g. the Mang rope-making is heavily affected by the availability of plastic ropes. Few OBC artisan castes now perform their traditional occupations. However, a major factor in brahmanic domination of the caste system from the beginning has been to ban the “shudra” castes from receiving education. The OBC groups are highly lacking in education, especially in the quality English education which has led to good jobs in services or the organized sector. Most therefore are caught as manual labourers in the low-paid, disregarded “unorganized” sector. If not agriculture labour, they do other menial work, hauling bricks, working on construction sites, wandering here and there as migrants. A few from the farming communities have benefited from the modernization of agriculture and have become rich capitalist farmers. These aspire to all the ideology and material benefits of brahmanisation, and seek to spread this among the economically poorer of their own groups. This provides a material base for brahmanisation among the OBCs. Education is still a major problem for OBCs, especially in the rural areas. The education they get is overwhelmingly of poor quality, in the vernacular (and in a brahmanized version of the vernacular); and all the promises of providing compulsory universal primary education have remained on paper. While OBC groups such as Marathas are now producing writers of novels and poetry, almost all their parents were illiterate. Because of lack of education, especially English education, OBCs remain far behind Dalits in modern technology such as use of internet, blogs, egroups etc.

Constitutional Remedies for Other Backward Classes
To bring all those who are considered the socially and economically backward on par with the rest of the society, it is a must that they should be assisted in all possible ways. Education which can accelerate amongst them the process not only of conscientisation but also of becoming economically independent should be made accessible to everybody. Government of India describes OBC as "socially and educationally backward classes", and government is enjoined to ensure their social and educational development.
Importance:
Besides the SCs and STs, there exists a huge proportion of people who are identified as socially and educationally backward classes. Talk of implementing similar welfare measures to this section (OBC) has ignited resentment especially among the high castes. However, it is the constitutional obligation of the government under Articles 340(1). 340(2) and 16(4) to promote the welfare of the OBCs.
Steps taken:
Article 340(1) gives presidential power for appointing commission to label communities as OBCs.
Article 340(2) appointed commission will make needs assessment and take necessary actions.
Article 15(4) states are empowered to take any special initiative for betterment of the OBCs.
In 1953, first commission was constituted. They were responsible fordetermination of the criteria for the identification of OBCs, investigation of the conditions of these people, make suitable policies for their wellbeing.
The commission did the following:
1. They determined the criteria on the basis of: a) relative low caste position, b) relatively low educational status, c) inadequate representation in decision making bodies and economic participation.
2. The listed backward communities.
3. Recommended for a census based data on backwardness, treatment of women as backward, and reservation up to 70 percent of seats for backward groups.
In 1979, the Mandal Commission was set up, with similar task. They did the following:
1. Used social, educational and economic criteria.
2. Used social position, manual labour activities, early age at marriage, above state average women participation in labour activities as social criteria.
3. Used school attendance, drop out rate, below state matriculation rate as educational criteria.
4. Used possession of asset per family, kuchha house inhabitation, distance from source of drinking water, loaning behaviour at least 25 percent negatively higher than state average as economic criteria.
Ramiah (1992) noted the debate regarding OBC is far from resolved. It is important to note that with provisions for betterment of the social backward classes India’s nation building process would be benefited. With more participation of people from weaker section we can really think of a country having policy which benefits all. However, it is important to do periodic evaluation of the processes through which we visualise benefits for OBC people.

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