OPINION | Do Forgotten Communities Have a Chance and Space in 2019 Elections?
Some communities among OBCs and SCs still remain invisible and don't find space in modern skill development schemes because the modern state has not identified their skills appropriate to suit modern markets.
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More than hundred castes in rural India have been catogerised as General, Other Backward Castes and Schedule Caste by the modern Indian State. These categories emerged during the colonial rule and were appropriated by Indian states that emerged after Independence.
The lists of castes under these categories kept changing, but categories itself remained the same. The cluster of artisanal communities in our traditional premodern society was fractured into two categories - OBC and SC.
More than 40 such communities are organised on the basis of skills and artistic endeavour, and became invisible in the OBC and SC categories. Few communities among OBCs and SCs became vocal, visible and dominant in politics, but many of them still remain invisible. Development projects launched by the government do not reach them.
Benefits of some state-sponsored projects do reach them as trickledown effect. However, the bulk of the benefits are cornered by dominant communities among the OBCs and SCs. The State seems to have failed in ensuring equal distribution of resources.
The skilled artisanal communities are also under threat from mechanised and capitalist production, and aggressive multinational markets.
Our State has not yet been able to offer alternative livelihood for them. The only option left before them is to become mere physical labourers to find work either under MNREGA or in infrastructure projects.
In modern skill development schemes, these communities don’t find much space as their skills are not identified by the modern state as appropriate enough to suit modern society and market.
The communities also seem hesitant to transform themselves as merely labourers. Among these communities, Kumhar (potters), Badhayi (carpenters), Lohar (ironsmith), Luniya, Tamboli (betel seller), sonar (goldsmith) come under the OBC category. Communities like Kori (weavers), Nat, Musharrs (rat-eaters) Baheliya (bird catcher), Bansphor (bamboo cutter), Shilpkar (Dalits artistes), Kalabaj come under SC category.
Both Hindus and Muslims are part if these communities. We can have a Hindu Darzi and also a Muslim Darzi (tailor), Hindu Naayi and Muslim Naayi (barber), Hindu Manihar and Muslim Manihar (bangle seller), Hindu weaver and Muslim weaver.
These artisanal communities cross all the categories created by the modern state and form a cluster based on their skills and identities. They are mostly invisible communities in political debates and on the agenda of the contemporary state. They don’t have political participation in our democratic polity.
It is very difficult to finds leaders from these communities active in political parties. One may hardly find pradhans and mukhiyas from these communities; MLAs may be rarer still and MPs the rarest.
Though small in numbers, together these communities constitute a larger vote bloc in the electoral system. They are, however, still looking for political parties who may raise the issues pertaining to their livelihood.
Many of these castes have not yet acquired the capacity to do politics. They have not yet produced competent community leaders. They have also not acquired the capacity to launch their own caste-based parties as Kurmis and Rajbhar have successfully done. Politics for them is not only about getting the ‘Lal Batti’, but may work as an agency to disseminate state resources to them also.
They need politics for their survival, to acquire identity and fight for their livelihood. Without political representation, their voice will be not assertive in our democracy. If political parties fail to accommodate them, some of them may launch caste-based parties in the future, though it may take them a long time to acquire political skills and capacity.
The Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party should have reached out to them by now. Due to the absence of these two parties from their life, they are looking towards national political parties like the BJP and Congress.
The Congress clubs these communities into the ‘poor’ category, but needs to evolve a mechanism to differentiate between the poorer and the poorest even within the category. This is a cluster of the community that has lost traditional means of occupation, but not yet found alternatives.
Our democratic politics must also cater to these communities in the upcoming election.
(Badri Narayan is a Social Scientist at GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad. Views are personal.)
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