In a milieu of collectivistic perceptions, the most thoughtful and aspiring individuals are always sacrificed to the demon of stereotype. India is plagued today by a system of reservations and affirmative action which, from the university to the workplace to the parliament, establishes quotas and preferential treatment for so-called “backward castes” and “other backward castes” (OBCs) for no reason but that of their caste status and their ancestors‘ oppression by the millennia-old caste hierarchy.
Caste-consciousness in the past had precluded aspiring lower-caste individuals from holding occupations beyond the menial and repulsive, such as street-sweeping, manual toilet-cleaning, and funerary work. Education had been withheld from them by force, and it was thought better, in the words of the god Krishna, “to do one’s own duty poorly than to do another’s duty well.”
This notion of deterministic duty, the opposite of self-determined volition, is the key to any collectivist system which seeks to ingrain an individual’s “place in society” into him. Today, the official direction of collectivist prejudice has been inverted, but its essence, rooted in caste-consciousness, remains the same. In the words of author Shashi Tharoor, in today’s India, “you cannot go forward unless you are a Backward.” The Federal Government reserves 50 percent of parliamentary seats and university positions for lower castes, while numerous state governments have raised the bar to 80 percent.
In 1992, when the affirmative-action system rose to that degree, tens of top university students born into “upper castes” but never personally conducting any crime of institutionalized discrimination committed suicide by self-immolation in outrage that their prospects for future prosperity had been robbed from them by collectivist quotas. Intellect, character, and determination are discarded in any system of institutionalized collectivism. Either one is barred from advancement as a member of a traditionally inferior group, or as a member of a traditionally superior group, in favor of the traditional “victim” group.
The only proper means of resolving India’s caste conflict, as well as the turmoil present within any culture of “reverse discrimination” is to abolish all institutional considerations of circumstantial collective identity, including race, caste, and socioeconomic background. If an individual’s education, career opportunities, and relationships with his colleagues are to be determined by personal qualities, such as industry and character, those shall become the emphasis of the individual’s attention, the jewels which he shall have to offer instead of the oppressor or victim status that would have elevated him in a collectivist society.