Tamil Nadu’s industrial development considered as high among the Indian states is most probably not due to collapse of caste system as the title of the article states – “Business Class Rises in Ashes of Caste System” by Lydia Polgreen published by New York Times issue 10th Sept, 2010. (Please see link to the article given at the end.)
Casteism might have lost its universal acceptance in the state due to renaissance in culture and religion began by intellectual and spiritual giants such as Dayananda and Vivekananda nationally and Ramalinga swami, Subramanya Bharathi and others locally in the erstwhile Madras Presidency spanning over the turn into twentieth century and mass participation in freedom movement led by caste reformists such as Netaji Subash, Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. The other factors are the leading role played by Dr. Ambedkar who drafted the Indian constitution providing reservation for lower caste people and rationality movement led by EVRamasamy that led to the birth of the ‘dravidian’ political parties with pro lower caste programmes that have been ruling the state since 1967. Now there is practically no casteism in any public place in the cities and towns of the state but it is there at the back of people’s minds and lives, (more conspicous in rural areas) where they form (both upper and lower) caste based associations, marriage alliances and religious celebrations. In politics caste leaders play a significant role and instances of practice of un-touchability at some spots still surface occasionally.
Yes, Tamil Nadu has the highest percentage of reservation in the country for lower castes – 69%, and it is for admission into educational institutions and govt. employment. In a state of nearly six crore people govt. employment openings as serious option to absorb the manpower is negligible. However education has become a great commercial venture resulting in the state becoming an education destination for students from all over India. It has nearly 400 Engg. Colleges which is way far ahead of any other state in India. The tally of private and govt. schools and colleges of Arts and Science are also impressive. But all this could not have caused high entrepreneurial development and prosperity (in the Indian context, one need to underline). Has the govt. done something to help the lower caste entrepreneurs flourish? The state govt.’s own fiscal support for business development of lower caste people is not substantial. In the current budget, a sum of Rs. 459 crores has been allocated for Backward classes welfare which is less than 2.6% of the total outlay and out of which only Rs. 35 crores has been allocated for business loans. That is about a tiny0.26% of the total outlay. Same figures for tribal welfare is not given in the budget speech but it is seen that total allocation is about double that of backward classes and there is no mention of business loans. As for private companies and lending institutions in India, they don’t usually make reservations in employment or funding.
So the author’s reasoning of high percentage of reservation for the lower caste people in Tamil Nadu being one of the causes for its ‘prosperity’ lacks real basis. It makes one wonder if her story has been bought by New York Times because it credits a govt. initiated reservation policy in India for ‘achieving prosperity’ at a time when the govt. in U.S. has embarked on an universal reservation policy – Jobs of America based companies are to be given to Americans only, not to be outsourced to anyone in other countries.
They ought to know that some commentators in India are in fact looking forward to an end to caste based reservation. They say caste based reservation has increased caste divide in the country rather than remove it. And so they would like it to be curtailed and ended at some point of time. They point out that caste based reservations were originally envisaged to be in force for only a decade after Independence but is continuing today, six decades later, more due to considerations of electoral politics in the country rather than due to any sincere attempt to remove casteism.
The author’s view that there is less prosperity in north India because there is more casteism there also seems to be an attempt to just bolster her inventive theory of collapse of caste system leading to increase in prosperity. Some centuries ago when casteism was at its prime in medieval India it was one of the wealthiest nations in the world. That does not conform to the underlying notion of the article that prosperity is linked to decrease in casteism, does it? Today, while it is to be agreed that there is more casteism in the north than south, the top prosperous states in India are in the north and so it is with the cities. Also the view that caste leaders have attended more to development goals in south while in the north it was political power is a very superficial one. Caste organisation and leaders are there in the south too and they have always tried to grab a share of the power.
What the govt. initiated reservation for lower castes has done is to help develop some degree of equality through education and govt. employment. Could then the higher number of people getting educated be the reason for higher entrepreneurial activity in the state pointed out by the author? Universal education alone need not lead to such a result. Kerala state situated adjacent to Tamil Nadu is the most literate state in India but it is also one of the least enterprising states. So the reason for entrepreneurial boom in Tamil Nadu and south India in general must have other reasons than universal or reservation induced education or greater ‘collapse of casteism’ in the south than north India. Chief among them could be the reduction of governmental control over business and greater availability of industrial finance open to all entrepreneurs in the past couple of decades. The state govts. in the south excepting Kerala have also taken persistent efforts to develop industrially by offering tax breaks and incentives to investors from within and without and developing infrastructure by building roads, ports and transportation. And not to overlook the availability of skilled and relatively more cooperative man power compared to other states.
Lastly this article seem to validate what Vir Sanghvi, the Indian Express columnist wrote recently. The West that had almost written off India in the seventies now finds India a good market for its own commerce and is upbeat about it. So stories favourably, though not necessarily correctly, explaining or extolling changes in India make good news material in western media.