What are the reasons for backwardness in India

The appeal of backwardness

The Jat caste is violently demanding to be recognized as backward. This status means access to privileges in training and in the labor market.

After days of rioting, the northern Indian state of Haryana is gradually returning to normal. Since the regional government announced on Sunday that it was preparing a law to recognize the Jat caste as a backward class, protests have subsided. The riots in the state bordering the capital Delhi to the west had left 12 dead and more than 150 injured in the past few days. Property damage in the millions has arisen. In Delhi, drinking water has been rationed since Sunday because demonstrators blocked an important pipe. It was not until early Monday morning that the thousands of soldiers dispatched to the unrest area managed to regain control of the canal.

A quota for every second person

Backwardness is generally not a desirable quality. The fact that the Jat fight for this status with such vehemence is explained by the associated privileges. A quota system has existed since 1950 for the most severely discriminated population groups in the country. A certain percentage of university places and public service positions are reserved for the tribal peoples known as Adivasi and for the Dalit, who are at the lowest level of the Hindu caste system. According to traditional beliefs, the latter are considered impure and were previously referred to as untouchables. Despite the prohibition of the concept of untouchability, which is inhuman in every respect, there is still strong discrimination against Dalit.

In the hierarchical Indian social order, however, other communities, mostly from lower castes, are underprivileged. Therefore, in the 1980s, the support system was expanded to include these so-called “other backward classes” (OBC) with the result that around half of the Indian population falls below a quota. The Supreme Court has ruled that no more than 50 percent of public positions may be awarded through quotas, but this is not observed everywhere. Correspondingly fewer places are available to members of unsupported castes.

The frustration over this is the main reason for the rebellion of the Jat, who mostly own land and can therefore hardly be regarded as discriminated against. Violent clashes erupted in Gujarat last year when one of the most economically influential castes, the Patel, demanded backward status. Such efforts can also be observed in other parts of the country.

With the inclusion of ever larger parts of the population in the quota system, this increasingly fails to achieve its purpose. However, the funding policy always had a clientelist tinge. In regional policy, the caste identity is often the most important factor, and the national parties vie for the support of the larger castes. Giving in to the demands of the Jat, who make more than a quarter of the population of Haryana, must also be seen from this point of view.

Inefficient quota system

Apart from these distortions, however, there are doubts about the effectiveness of the Indian quota system. It is true that the proportion of Dalit in public administration has actually increased. However, this has hardly had any impact on the social and economic position of the population group, which continues to be strongly discriminated against. Even a bloated state sector can only accept a fraction of the job seekers, the informal sector continues to shape the Indian economic life. Studies show that only a small upper class within the promoted castes has access to the privileges granted. In addition, the quality of the already lamentable bureaucracy suffers from the rigid personnel requirements.

The continued great importance of the caste system inhibits social mobility and cannot be broken through quotas alone. Jobs for many would be more important than guaranteed government offices for a few. Prime Minister Modi has promised to create this, but trust in the government is waning among the population. Modi, India's first head of government, who himself comes from an officially backward caste, is all the more likely to fall back on the clientele policy of his predecessors.

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