Societies are very complex. It’s one thing that dictates individuals in such manners that most of the times, individuals don’t have any other choice but to behave according to societal norms. Many times, individuals of a society don’t even realize that they are acting according to the societal norms. Some societies are rigid as in they allow lesser flexibilities to their individual members or in many cases, individual members act in rigid norms to protect society. It is a two-way process. This complexity multiplies due to the existence of multiple societies. Sometimes, different societies work in harmony with each other, many times they are fiercely competing, even eliminating people from other societies for the sake of just strengthening their own society (true animal instincts). If this wasn’t enough, another dimension to the societal complexity is added by the fact that each individual belongs to multiple societies at the same time. For example, in your own family, say all the members belong to a particular caste/religion. That’s one common society. Now, you as a young 25 years old may associate yourself with liberal political ideologies. Your brother may associate himself with conservative political ideologies. This is just a glimpse. So many societies are at play all the time dictating your behaviours in manners you don’t even realize. Before dwelling on this issue and how societies work in dictating your behaviour and you behave in maintaining societal order, a good way to start is with the origin of societies itself.
Societies: The origin
Societies aren’t exclusive to humans. You probably know this. Species ranging from birds, baboons, chimps, to even fishes and lobsters have some form of societal order at some level. What do I mean by societal order? A more fundamental question inherent in this question is, “What is a society?” A society is more or less associated with an ordered group. Why ordered? Because you and your friends going out for a picnic on a weekend doesn’t make that group a society. On the other hand, suppose you’re part of a group (say a bicycle club) who regularly goes for long bicycle rides on every Sundays. That group is loosely a form of a society. What’s the difference between first and second group? First one was a temporary agglomeration of individuals for a common one-time goal i.e. picnic. The second group has an order. It takes bicycle excursions each Sunday. Its members are more or less same set of individuals. The second group has an order to it. Now, we have a basic understanding of “what”. Let’s look into the question of “why”. Why do we need society? Because society brings order, which individuals alone can’t achieve. What’s the use of order? To achieve certain goals which are shared by individuals. Let’s revisit our example of bicycle club. It’s members share a common goal of cycling. Reasons for their cycling may be different from individual to individual (individual variability) Some of them may be passionate about cycling, some of them may want to achieve their fitness goals, some of them may have interest in photography and pursuing that interest via cycling. As individuals, of course, they can go cycling every Sunday. There are few difficulties in going for cycling alone though. The first difficulty is being regular. Average individuals find it difficult going for cycling alone, every Sunday. There are few reasons for it. The first reason is the absence of an orderly rule. Bicycle club has a rule (in loose terms) of going for cycling every Sunday. Yes, it may be optional for members, but still, other members would go even if you’re not going on a particular Sunday. That brings me to the second reason. People pull. Suppose you have been going to the club’s excursions for three weeks. You might have become familiar with some members. This familiarity acts as a pull. We want to be familiar with, be friends with people. That’s one of our animal instincts. More friends, more cooperation. Less competition for resources. Another form of people pull is attraction and charisma. In the group, you may be subconsciously attracted to someone. There are very few stronger pulls than that. The bicycle club in a way is not only helping you with your goal of cycling but it is also satisfying your instincts of people pull. A societal order is desirable in two ways: it lets individuals achieve their common goals (by cooperation, shared resources, infrastructure, etc.), it brings individuals together which in turn satisfy animal instincts of being with someone.
Origin of society can be understood by a simple fact: “resources are limited, there has always been competition for survival”. Societies offered survival advantages. For example, a fish in a school of fish is more likely to survive from a predator than a fish swimming alone. Obviously, species forming groups for their common goals of survival were getting selected in natural selection over the course of time. Societies among species started developing more complex features (some of which I will discuss later in this post) for better survival chances. The more complex the brain became, the more complex societies became. However, a problem associated with the complexity of the brain is that individuals also became more complex. This increases individual variability. As a result, many individuals don’t follow societal norms strictly. For example, ants have military level order and discipline. A very tiny percentage of humans have such order and discipline. Order and chaos are always at odds with each other. Societies, certain individuals work for achieving order among a group of individuals. Chaos (uncertainty) is created by individual variability and external factors (other societies, nature, etc.).
Individual variability & Hierarchy
Almost every other human to have ever lived on earth had a different, unique DNA sequence in totality (though a large number of parts DNA sequences from genomes of different individuals are identical). Even twins who have identical DNA grow out to be completely different persons. People are differently capable. Some are more industrious, some are physically strong, some are math wizards. But then, the vast majority of the population are just mediocre at best when compared to the top 10% of the population. By mediocre, I meant less productive, less talented, less industrious, physically and mentally weaker. That’s the hard truth. Always has been.
It is not necessary that intelligent people are also physically stronger. Many qualities are independent, exclusive. While many are related and being good in some aspects may boost your chances of being better in other creative outputs as well. Individual variability is quite apparent in society. What is not apparent to many people is the extent to which this individual variability causes grossly unequal outcomes. This phenomenon is known as the Pareto principle (also known as 80/20 rule). What does this rule say? It says, “for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” Where does this rule apply? Everything that involves creative output. Music, acting, youtube production, politics, wealth, academia, etc.
The Pareto principle also applies to taxation. In the US, the top 20% of earners have paid roughly 80% of Federal income taxes in 2000. We heard a lot of surveys saying that few rich people own more money than half the total population of a country. Heck, the amount of money owned by Bill Gates alone is more than GDP of a large number of countries! Is this unfair? Yes, as pointed out by various thinkers such as Marx, Ambedkar. Is this because of capitalism? Heck, no. Marx was wrong. Before providing an explanation for this critical statement, I would like to present another example of Pareto principle which will help in my explanation. We all love music. Just think for a moment about the music industry in your country. In India, we have so many singers, music directors, so many songs. Yet, 80% of the songs in say the 90s were sung by 20% of the singers (Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan and few others). There were other good singers as well such as Suresh Wadekar, Anuradha Powdwal. But three singers I mentioned ended up taking up a vast majority of the songs of the 90s. What’s the explanation for that?
Coming to why Marx was wrong. It is very difficult to start producing output in the very first place. A bankrupt person will find it hard to get a loan compared to a middle class working person. It is very difficult to get from 0 to 1, slightly less difficult from 1 to 2, and so on. The progression of an individual depends on the resources available, his own behavioural traits (deterministic vs content). It so happens that highly focused, deterministic, intelligent, industrious person normally achieves a high level of success in a free and fair society. Since these qualities are quite rare (IQ graph). Hence, a small percentage of the population ends up accumulating large percentages of wealth. This causes Hierarchical differentiation of the population. Hierarchies exist in every kind of creative outputs. Wealth, sports, science, politics, academia, to even your thoughts. Yes, there are hierarchies in your thoughts as well. Some thoughts, you value more than others, some people you value more than others, some products you value more than others.
Hierarchies are inevitable in a free and fair society!
In fact, hierarchies give one of the most important meaning to our lives. At any point, our natural instinct is to climb up the hierarchy. It gives us motivation, it keeps us driving, working hard to achieve our goals. And when we do achieve our goals because of our hard work and competence, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings. Pleasure, confidence giving hormones (serotonin) starts secreting way more when you climb up the hierarchy. As an example, consider the journey of a research professor X. X was an aspirant of IIT in his school days. He worked hard, got Computer Science at IIT Kanpur. That was a hierarchical jump. Being a student of IIT Kanpur CSE, he is above more than 99.9% of the engineering students in the hierarchy. He worked hard in University too. His CGPA 9.7. Again, in top 1% of the institute. X got selected for PhD at MIT. Again a hierarchical jump. Every time he got a hierarchical jump, he experiences a satisfying, confident feeling of achieving his goal (hormones at play). Working hard as a PhD, few post-docs and he became a research professor. X became the topmost researcher in his field. Top of the hierarchy. Among 12 lakh JEE aspirants, among 10000 IITians, among 700 CSE students, among few hundred top PhDs, among few dozens of top post-docs, X became one of the topmost researchers in the world in his field. At every stage of the hierarchy towards the top, the number of people starts dropping quite significantly. It is very clear that combination of qualities required to climb hierarchies is rare in a general population. Then, there is also the constraint of resources.
Hierarchies aren’t bad as communists would make you believe so. But there are some issues with hierarchy, more specifically due to individual’s behaviours towards people of other hierarchies and resource constraints. Examples would be the colonial societies of Asia, Africa, communist regimes in Soviet, Venezuela, Cuba, Mao China, Nazi Germany. In each of these societies, individuals in different hierarchies suppressed, exploited and even killed individuals of other hierarchies. It is a general consensus in general population (most of whom are in lower hierarchies) that only individuals of upper hierarchies are exploitative and suppressive towards individuals of lower hierarchies. While this is true in a lot of cases (British India), there are many examples where individuals of lower hierarchies suppressed and even killed individuals of upper hierarchies. Individuals of upper hierarchies are more powerful. How can individuals of lower hierarchy cause any damage to the upper class? Well, one thing is individuals in lower hierarchies are far more numerous than individuals in upper hierarchies. If lower hierarchies make a consensus among themselves, they can cause significant suppression and even elimination of upper hierarchies with deadly consequences. Communist revolutions had a similar theme in 20th Century. Individuals of lower hierarchies united to overthrow the established system which they believed were suppressive towards them. Overthrowing the system was done by eliminating rich, productive and competent agriculturists and industrialists. What happened afterwards? In erstwhile Soviet Russia in the 1920s, over 6 million people died of famine in present-day Ukraine. Why? Because the so-called suppressive upper class were actually the 20% most competent people of the population producing 80% of the output. Agricultural output collapsed. The famine occurred and millions died. There is a similar theme across most of the communist regimes in the world.
You might have noticed the problem with the solution provided by the communists for solving the hierarchical differentiation. First of all, hierarchical differentiation is inevitable in a free and fair society as I mentioned, it isn’t bad and it gives our lives true meaning and motivation. But it is also true that individuals can be exploitative of the individuals from other hierarchy. Another problem is that what about 80% of the population who owns just 20% of the wealth? What about their employment, quality of life? We have already seen that solution provided by communists are no good. Are there any other solutions? Yes, there are. A diverse economy based on demands ensure that the top 20% is absorbed and spread out quite well and there are still jobs left for the rest of the population. A lot of semi-skilled, unskilled jobs provide economic growth and opportunities to the rest of the population. Scandinavian countries have mostly solved this problem. Japan, Israel have almost solved this problem. Many societies of the past had tackled this hierarchical problem very well. With this idea in mind, let’s look at the Varna society of ancient India.
Societies, individuals are highly complex. The same is true about societies and individuals of the past. One shouldn’t look into history just as different groups, tribes, identities of people competing against each other. We should also take individual variability into the account while analyzing social construct of the past. One of the peculiar social constructs of ancient India (Bharat) was Varna system. Varna system is one of the most brilliant societal systems I have come across that attempts to solve the issues I have previously discussed with the hierarchical differentiation of the population. Sadly, this system has been extinct since ages and won’t work in today’s situation. It’s still worthwhile to see how our ancestors figured out the problems associated with hierarchy and how they achieved a solution without much compromising on the productive and creative outputs of the society.
What is Varna system? It is a division of society into four Varnas (hierarchies) on the basis of the occupation of a person. The four Varnas are Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra. Brahmans were placed at the top of the hierarchy followed by Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. It is worthwhile to be noted that Brahmans weren’t necessarily the wealthiest or the most powerful individuals in the society. Kshatriyas (especially royal families), Vaishyas (especially large traders) were generally wealthier than Brahmans. In fact, Brahmans had to earn their livelihood just on the donations of a limited number of families every day. Some Brahmans tend to be richer (doing yajnas of the royal families) while a good number of Brahmans were extremely poor too. Sudama, a childhood friend of Krishna was one of the poorest characters in Bhagwad Purana. So, there was a lot of variation within a Varna too. Not all Kshatriyas belonged to royal families. Many of them were just foot soldiers, fighting wars and protecting societies. Many Kshatriyas were at odds with each other. Another peculiar thing about this system was, it was a dynamic system and individuals could rise and fall in the Varna based on their deeds, actions, competence and occupation. For example, Valmiki was a hunter (Shudra by birth) who later rose to Brahmana status and wrote Ramayana. Vishwamitra was a Kshatriya by birth but he later became a Brahmana. Founders of the Gupta empire were probably traders (Vaishyas) but they rose to the Kshatriya status. There is a specific episode in Mahabharata where Yudhishthira and a Yaksha debate on the moral principles of that time. To the specific question by the Yaksha asking about one’s Varna, Yudhisthira answers clearly and emphatically that nobody can claim their Varna by birth but it is by deeds only.
Why Varna system was needed? It is difficult to say who started the Varna system or why it was started. Even the question, “when was Varna system started?” isn’t clearly answerable due to various problems associated with dating Rig Veda. But we have a rough idea of some of the outputs (books, philosophy, literature, GDP, architecture, etc.) of the societies of that time. Bharat (India) was by far the world leader in GDP, philosophy, mathematics, medical science, engineering, spiritual texts, etc. during ancient times.
India started losing the crown of the world leader in science, technology, mathematics and even medicine to some extent from 9th, 10th century onwards. This was just few hundred years after Indian society and Varna system proliferated into numerous Jatis (Castes). In fact, many texts, smritis talk about the start of Kali Yuga when individuals of different Varna started deviating from their duties and started following ill practices. With time, there were so many Jatis that Varna eventually lost its true original meaning. That eventually lead to deterioration of Indian society, especially in the fields of science and technology. I will discuss why this happened while discussing Caste system. Here, let’s analyze what was so special about Varna system that it leads to high creative outputs from the society in almost every field.
First of all, Varna system recognized and accepted that hierarchies exist in a free and fair society. As I mentioned before, individuals of different hierarchies can be feisty and non-cooperative with others. Varna system assigned duties to different Varnas. Based on occupations, individuals were assigned different Varnas. Obviously, son of Brahmin is more likely to be a Brahmin and son of a Shudra is more likely to be a Shudra. That is true even today. Another feature of Varna society was, it was liberal (creative) in thoughts, ideas, philosophy, spirituality but conservative (industrious, productive) in work and occupation. Religion as we know today didn’t exist during that time. Rather people debated ideas, thoughts, questioned existing philosophy and produced enormous amounts of texts. Harsha was a Shaivite who patronized Buddist monks. Ellora caves have Hindu, Buddist, Jain temples built side by side. People used to change their philosophy and spiritual belief from time to time. Brahmins followed a plethora of philosophies. Some were followers of Vedas, some Upanishads, some revered Bhakti and Bhagwad Gita. Yoga, Samkhya, Mimansa are some of the other spiritual and philosophical systems of that time. Liberalism in thoughts, ideas and the culture of debates and questioning (Bhagwad Gita is a question-answer dialogue) lead to a very progressive society during ancient times. On the other hand, free and fair economy and hardworking Shudras and business-minded Vaishyas made India gold sink (Sone ki chidiya) of the world.
Were Shudras exploited by upper classes? It is important to note that Shudras were mostly unskilled labourers. At times, extraordinary Shudras rose to power and Varna depending upon their competence. However, things are always hard for lower classes. It is true even today. That doesn’t mean ancient Indian society and Varna system was particularly exploitative of Shudras. Untouchability was started around 8th-9th century that too against Chandals (meat eaters, scavengers). On reading texts of that time (Mahabharata, Ramayana in particular), one can find many instances which shows cooperation between different Varnas (including Shudras). The rise of Karna to power, Lord Ram hugging tribal hunters, Ram eating ber already tasted by Shabri. It is hard to point out the extent of cooperation among Varnas but they certainly weren’t at throats of each other as evident by the creative outputs of that time. Moreover, Shudras were also employed as dasas (personal servants) who used to live in same houses as their employers.
The direction where society would progress was normally (not always) dictated by Brahmins and Kshatriyas. The most important quality to be a Brahmin was to be knowledgeable and always truthful. Their literature was exclusively in Sanskrit. Naturally, it was difficult to be a Brahmin and their community eventually turned out to be the smartest of all communities. Varna system worked very well for centuries (even few millennia, not sure). However, a time came when individuals deviated from their duties, cooperation between Varnas decreased and the tribal feeling among groups of individuals reappeared. The reason why Varna system was so successful is that it tamed tribal instincts of the society and promoted cooperation and liberalism, all while being conservative in work and occupation.
The only essential common factor among individuals of a particular Varna were their occupations. Individuals of any Varna had a lot of variations in terms of their thoughts, geography, race, language, etc. Although our ancient societies had units, groups of individuals, none of the groups were so rigid and conservative as in Jatis of medieval times turned out to be. The idea of Jati (Caste) is a very attractive one for a group of individuals sharing similar thoughts, occupations, geography, etc. To have a group that protects the interest of its individuals along with making rules so as to not allow individuals to deviate or be misguided. The problem with this system was it made society more rigid and tribal. Bharat had diversity since ancient times in its population. Once, the idea of Jati got seeded into the society, every other group sharing common identity started making their own caste and rules. The rules of the Jatis were made in order to preserve culture, structure and identity of the Jati. Society basically moved from individuals at its core to Jatis. It was assumed (even today) that interests of an individual are in alignment with interests of his Jati. This was a step backwards towards tribalism in a larger sense. While this lead to progress of some of the advanced Jatis, particularly traders of Gujrat, Kerala, some backward Jatis becoming more conservative lead to severe obstacles in the path of its individuals. Different Jatis progressed at quite different rates and society was no longer free and fair for the individuals, the reason for that being restrictions imposed by Jatis on its individuals. Certain jobs were reserved for certain Jatis. One of the biggest restriction was the ban on marriage outside their Jati (even true today for many Jatis). Caste system offered a lot advantage too. Cooperation in work, defence, preservation of culture, tradition, the evolution of distinctive food, practices, religious beliefs, etc. However, it had a tribal touch and Bharat wasn’t able to stand united at times due to conflicts between different Jatis. At the same time, sense of brotherhood among individuals of a Jati rose to incredible heights. Rajputana legends in this regard are noteworthy.
My thoughts on Caste in modern times
In today’s India too, the Caste system is highly prevalent and deeply rooted. It has a purpose. It can preserve India’s diversity, rich culture, traditions, food, language, clothing, etc. I have two major complaints with the Caste system of today’s India. First, they should be open to inter-Caste marriages. No Shastra, Hindu text prevents anyone to marry people of their own choice. Plus, it’s unconstitutional too. So Castes should become more open to people from other Castes all while ensuring that their own cultural identity remains preserved. My second biggest complaint with Caste system today is their meddling with governments, states and politics. Let’s explore my second complaint in detail with the analysis of Reservation system of India.
Reservation system in India
I always used to take pride in the statement, “India is the biggest democracy in the world.” Fundamental rights granted by our constitution offers equality to all citizens, except that there is a catch. Next year, there will be Lok Sabha elections. I will be eligible to contest for becoming a member of parliament, except that I can’t contest from my own constituency. Why? The seat is reserved for Scheduled Tribes. If an eligible citizen isn’t allowed to contest elections and its voters aren’t allowed to choose any eligible leader of their choice, then the natural question is, “Is India a democratic country in a true sense?”
One student has to score over 200 marks in JEE to get any hopes of getting into IITs (India’s premier education institutions), while the other can score just 70-80 and he would not only get a seat in one of the top IITs but he would be exempted from paying any tuition and mess fees. My complaint here is not directed against the student or even the reserved community. My complaint is against the reservation system as a whole and now I will tackle each argument in favour of reservation one by one.
Arguments in favour of reservation: There are some castes and tribal communities in India which are relatively backwards in socio-economic factors compared to other castes and communities. To bring them on par with other communities, we have the reservation system in place so that people from backward communities can get decent representation in the society. Also, these communities were historically exploited by upper communities. Hence, they deserve more attention and resources in order to bring them to the mainstream society on par with other communities.
My response: “SCs are backwards because they were suppressed by the upper class in the past.” Is everyone sure about this? This is it? Yes, in the past 800 years before independence, a subset of individuals from upper castes exploited Dalits in many ways. There was untouchability, they avoided contacts with Dalits (Harijans) and most of the Dalits were unskilled labourers while upper castes especially some of the Brahmans hold higher bureaucratic positions even in Mughal societies. This is just a small part of the problem. Again, this is one of those victimization arguments that somehow blame others and society for self-incompetence and lack of productivity. Dalits also have their own caste system. Isn’t it possible that there might be some rules, ideas, practices within those castes that prevented the growth of the majority of individuals of backward castes? The reasons for the disparity in outputs of different societies aren’t so easy and straightforward to formulate, especially when we are talking about history. History, especially medieval Indian history is full of aristocracies of individuals against individuals, religion against other religions, societies against societies and so on. We shouldn’t use the argument of historical suppression to justify reservation. Our understanding of historical societies aren’t comprehensive and many times subjected to ideological narratives of the historians of today as well as the past. Another major point that the historical argument missed is individuals of upper castes in India too had to face many aristocracies and suppression. With the advent of Islamic rule in India during medieval times, religious liberty in the Indian society was gone. Temples were destroyed and a large number of Brahmins were killed or forced to adopt Islam on a regular basis. The whole of Kashmir which was the centre for Shaivism and Vaishnavism was “Islamised” by persecuting lakhs of Brahmins and destroying temples. This was the common theme in most of India. Brahmins lost a big chunk of their livelihood which they used to earn by doing yajnas, kathas, etc. How would you correct these historical aristocracies and suppressions? During British rule also, whenever upper castes (zamindars) were subjected to excessive taxes, upper castes put pressure on working labourers. Suppression and exploitation had a trickling effect on society down the hierarchy. Many zamindars lost their livelihood, land rights to such extent that they also took part in many places in the revolt of 1857. Things were really tough for every class in the Indian society during the British era. Obviously, economically stable families had it less difficult than poor families. That’s always the case. But we can’t ask an apology from current British citizens for the same. It’s not their fault, they aren’t the same as their forefathers.
How about today? Even today, a larger percentage of higher posts in bureaucracy, politics, academia is held by Brahmins compared to SCs and STs. Mind you, SCs and STs are more numerous than Brahmins, reservation system favours SCs, STs by a considerable margin and at least 2-3 generations have been benefitted from the reservation system. You might say that this even further strengthens the need for the reservation system for giving them equal representation. This is a very fallacious and dangerous idea. Why is this fallacious? Because its aim is to achieve a society based on equality of outcomes. This is a very bad idea for both the backward communities and productive output of society as a whole. Every society (castes, regions) have their own hierarchy of values. Outputs of individuals are affected by societal norms, parenthood, the kind of resources, environment, opportunities available, luck (such as natural disasters) and above all, self-competence. Now, when you talk about low outputs from a society due to suppression by other societies, such suppression effects environment, resources and opportunities for the suppressed society. Whatever happened in the past, we have a democracy now. We can ensure that everyone has been provided with equal opportunities, sufficient resources (highly variable due to geography) and good environment for development. Instead of making this a top priority, our constitutional makers took a short-cut approach and reserved seats for the backward communities everywhere in government institutions. They too knew that this wasn’t the right way and hence, they made a provision that reservation was to be there for 10 years. But governments keep on extending reservation duration, percentage and even created a new Other Backward Communities (OBC) group and made reservation provisions for them. Although many commissions have been made before making decisions on the reservation policies. But mostly, these policies are politically driven and part of vote bank politics. How many reputed social psychologists, economists were involved or even consulted in the decision making?
General categories have to work harder (a lot harder in many cases) just to get the same job or university compared to SCs, STs. The difference between OBCs and general categories though comparatively smaller is still significant. Isn’t this the exploitation of general categories?
“But reservation has lifted a large population of SCs, STs, OBCs. It has achieved its goal, at least to some extent.”
At what cost? Consider the case of IIT admission. A general category student couldn’t get into IITs even by scoring 230 and an SC student got a seat by scoring merely 110 marks. That’s a huge difference. Now getting an IIT tag helped the SC student to get a decent job and livelihood. On the other hand, that general category student had to struggle a lot, may even end up quite low on hierarchy compared to the SC student despite being significantly more competent.
When a system prefers lesser competent individuals just because they are born in a particular Caste, that’s the definition of a truly oppressive and tyrannical system.
My follow-up question to this argument is, yes a good number of individuals from backward communities have been benefited from the reservation system at the cost of more competent individuals and productive outputs of the nation; let’s ignore the cost for a moment and ask a question, have those “backward” societies progressed as was truly intended by the reservation system? There has been a natural progression in some aspects mainly due to improvement in education, health, infrastructure and economy. But in many ways, reservation system has crippled our society, especially backward communities in many ways. Reserved castes are highly aggressive and sensitive when it comes to reservation issues. Recently, a Supreme Court order related to removal of automatic arrests of individuals in cases involving SCs invoked a large-scale nationwide protest by the “backward” communities. Mind you, this is just a small order. Imagine the outrage if Supreme Court someday asks the government to introduce creamy layer in SCs and STs. India may experience large-scale riots in that case. Every now and then, a new community comes up asking to be recognized as “backward” and demanding reservation. This is laughable and at the same time dangerous. Laughable because communities today are aspiring to be “backward” and dangerous because it is fuelling identity-based politics which by far, is the most dangerous form of politics.
Why is the idea of reservation dangerous?
Because it fuels identity-based politics. Mayawati gets 20-22% votes of UP in every election despite being one of the worst CMs of her time. SP for Yadavs; CPI, CPM for poor, Muslims, Dalits; Mamta for Muslims, backward communities. There is a theme here. Communities which are lacking in socio-economic progress are targetted by political parties for vote banks. Every party targets poor, labourers, farmers. Now consider what Nazis did in Germany. They eliminated Jews and gave preferential treatment to “Aryans”. Communists regimes in many countries eliminated “rich” by playing the identity-based politics of the so-called “victimized” and poor. These were identity-based politics played at extreme ends. We haven’t reached that extreme end yet but we are on the same path. Had it not for democracy, we would have experienced similar fates by now.
What reservation does is it creates strong identity-based community vote banks. These communities are extremely protective of their reservation rights and other privileges from the government, to such extent that riots aren’t uncommon when a reservation related issue is discussed. No political party today can afford to even speak a word against reservation.
Forget about having a discussion, we have reached a point where no politician can speak a word against reservation. For a nation like India where religious, philosophical, scientific ideas were subjected to thorough questioning, debates, discussions, the fact that our policymakers can’t speak even a word against reservation is very disheartening. The way things are going, I can foresee our grand-grand-grand children still competing for JEE in this skewed reservation system in the year 2118.
Reservation system completely ignores individual variability
Individual variability is an important societal property as I have already discussed. Individual’s thoughts, needs, experiences may very well be very different from what his caste demands. The person who is tagged from “backward” community may be the smart, progressive, wealthy and person from “upper” castes may be poor (a lot of priests and Brahmins are quite poor, a lot of Dalits are rich, in higher positions). True democracy provides equality to all individuals. Individual’s needs, rights are protected. His needs, rights aren’t decided by which community he belongs to.
What happens when an individual experience a hierarchical jump without facing same competition as other individuals?
He will not experience the confidence-boosting hormone surge which body rewards for true hard work. Those individuals may doubt their competence and severely lack in their self-belief. They end up underperforming in such circumstances. That’s not an easy situation to be in. Reaching higher in the hierarchy without proving your competence as equally as your colleagues isn’t a good idea. Sensitive individuals may even develop an inferiority complex in such situations. Such situations sometimes lead to depression and suicides. A comprehensive study by clinical psychologists is needed on this subject. Dwelling with these thoughts for a while and one can easily figure out that “individual rights & well-being” aren’t well thought off while making reservation policies.
If not reservation, then what?
SCs, STs, OBCs form a large section of our population. It is also true that a large percentage of them (especially SC, STs) are underperforming in socio-economic factors. But so are many Muslims, many Brahmins, many sections of our general category population too. Our policy-making should be focused on empowering individuals instead of providing freebies to certain communities. Constant improvements in schools, colleges, health, infrastructure down to the last village are the starting steps. Competitive scholarships for poor (irrespective of categories), incentives for innovators, job creators, entrepreneurs, skill development programs and obviously steps to reduce corruption. Indian societies need behavioural transformation too in many aspects. One such example, a shift from being lazy to being disciplined and productive as the Japanese. Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is a commendable step in bringing such positive behavioural transformation. Behavioural transformations are needed especially in government services, public sectors to promote competent individuals. Such a transformation cannot happen unless there is the reservation system. “Backward” societies would slowly catch up with its individuals getting more educated and rising hierarchical ladders with the help of their competence only. Such competent, responsible and strong individuals will automatically bring positive changes in their societal values with time.
I am no expert in Islam, how their society functions internally or about their religious literature and belief system. However, some issues with Islamic societies are obvious, apparent and these issues follow a similar pattern all over the world. I will discuss some of them.
First of all, one has to agree that there are some serious issues with Islamic societies. All over the world, there is hardly any truly democratic country with a majority population of Muslims (apart from Indonesia, Bangladesh). Islam doesn’t fair well with democracy. That’s because Islam has its own way of ruling society in form of sharia laws. Jihad is the natural way of establishing sharia, which is waging wars with non-Muslims, non-believers, or anyone against sharia laws. Sharia laws are some of the most regressive and barbaric laws I have read across. It permits or rather orders killings of non-believers of Allah. It prevents any form of questioning or debates on Quran and sharia. So any progressive Muslim speaking even a word for reforming sharia or Islam would be dead in the Arab world. Obviously, there is no freedom of speech and expression. These laws are highly immoral, barbaric and unjust. Anyone with little common sense and neutral mind will reach these conclusions quite easily. How is it then, that such regressive and medieval laws are still revered and practised by a vast majority of the Muslim population (over 69% of the world Muslim population prefers to live under sharia)? Such a regressive system, defying common morals is maintained by two major features of Islamic societies: by highly conservative in rules, laws within their societies and controlling information, ideas, thoughts down to very basic levels; by highly protective and fiercely offensive even to the little contacts with non-Islamic societies. The first feature is essentially achieved by implementing sharia laws, questioning which invites heavy punishments and even death. Quran has an unquestionable authority in Islam. It is held highly sacred by Muslims. Hence, their ideologies and belief system seems to have stuck in an undesirable place without showing any progressive dynamism in their religious thoughts and practices. Such progressive dynamism is usually brought by extraordinary individuals. Freedom of speech and expression is the bare minimum for bringing such changes. Islamic societies don’t handle such extraordinary reformative, liberal individuals very well, neither they remotely provide freedom of speech and expression. In absence of such environment, common people continue to believe in regressive laws and practices. The second factor which could bring reform in Islamic societies is external factors and societies. For example, Muslims from India are more likely to have progressive thoughts, inclusive practices compared to Muslims from Saudi Arabia. There are many places in India where Muslims are co-existing, co-operating in every sphere with people from other societies. A large section of Muslim societies in India has true Indian qualities of inclusiveness and coexistence. Compared this with Wahabi Muslim societies in the Middle East or even Kashmir in India. They have a hard time co-existing with other societies. Such Islamic societies tend to oppress and even eliminate other societies for their own dominance especially when they are in the majority. Kashmir was a secular, inclusive state with Sufi-Bhakti culture in the valley. However, with time, that culture has been transformed into the Sunni-Wahabi culture at many places. Their hostility and atrocities against Kashmiri pandits happened due to this cultural shift in the valley. This is another sad feature of Islamic societies. They seem to transform into their conservative, regressive forms quite easily, especially when coming in contacts with other societies. I don’t know the exact reasons for these transformations. There are cases of highly educative, seemingly normal Indian Muslims joining ISIS.
Why should I care about problems of Islamic societies? Because they deeply affect policymaking, politics of my country and the world. In many cases, Islamic societies have negative effects on societies as a whole. Islamic terrorism is a real problem, terrorists join ISIS because of their religious beliefs, biggest proof of that being chanting prayers and Allahu Akbar before their beheading videos and suicide bombings. And large portions of their population believe in regressive sharia laws which ultimately brings them in conflict with other societies.
Solutions to these problems can only be brought upon by progressive Muslim thinkers. They exist. However, they haven’t got a strong voice. They have no voice in Islamic nations, even in democracies such as India, they don’t have a national platform in most of the news channels or newspapers (apart from Fateh ka Fatwa) mainly because of political correctness and pseudo-secularism. Most of the Leftists all over the world have strangely sided with conservative Islamic ideas because such ideas are apparently at conflict with right-wing ideologies e.g. in Europe, US and India. So enemy of my enemy is my friend. This unholy tie-up means, media which is predominately left centric hardly give any voice to progressive and potentially reformative Muslims. Humanities departments in Universities are another such organisations which because of their left-leaning ideological agenda and political correctness have prevented progressive, reforming Islamic ideas from entering their campuses. However, the internet cultural revolution is the most likely candidate to bring progressive dynamism in the Islamic societies as long as it remains uncensored, free and fair (which is not the case in Arab countries). I myself have come across lectures and debates of many progressive Muslims such as Tarek Fateh, Maajid Nawaz. Muslims are also exposed to insightful debates, discussions all over the internet. Such discussions have potential to bring changes in thoughts and beliefs of individuals on a large scale. Such changes can be both positive and negative as we all know how ISIS recruit individuals through the internet. The world is undergoing through the biggest cultural revolution in centuries through the internet. The internet revolution has a high impact, high reach and is bringing immense behavioural changes in the society: both good and bad. One good thing, however, is the exchange of ideas at incredible rates. Open, intelligent minds tend to quickly grasp such ideas and with their own conscience can make big impacts in their respective societies. My hope is that such minds can bring the much needed progressive dynamism in Islam I mentioned before.
No sane and educated person with a bit of common sense would say that women aren’t equal to men and they don’t deserve equality in our society. However, the tricky term in the last sentence is “equality”. Why is this tricky? You will get an idea in the following paragraphs.
I admit that feminism has brought a lot of positive changes in the society. It has successfully given equal rights to women in many societies around the world. Women are heard equally, if not more in media, and in the judicial cases involving men and women. Many powerful women have risen out of the feminist movements. However, women empowerment is an always ongoing process and it has been happening even before the origin of the word “feminism”. In fact, the majority of the empowered women around the world, especially in Asian, African, South American countries, don’t even know that there exists a term such as feminism. For example, medieval India had developed many regressive practices such as Sati and child marriage (of both sexes) which were reformed and duly corrected by thinkers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, etc. If a society has regressive practices, thinkers of that society need to stand up to those practices and through activism, awareness and judicial framework, reforms can be and have been brought upon. However, there is always a danger when you confine the needs of women in various societies around the world within the definition of feminism, more specifically radical feminism. This form of feminism is highly prevalent in our urban culture, movies, social policing and even academia (humanities).
“Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” The justification for such strong measures is again the victimization and oppressive narrative which blames the patriarchy for seemingly unequal representation of women in the society.
“Women were oppressed throughout the history by men. Due to patriarchy, women never got the opportunities to occupy higher positions. Men and women are equally capable and their outputs should be equal too.”
I will answer this argument in the context of India. Think about your family for a moment. What percentage of its decisions (such as buying property, car, vegetables, electronics, marriages of children, etc.) are influenced by women? It is close to 83% (Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases)! Again it depends on family to family. Women have such an influence on family decision making today. Why do you think it would be any different say a 100 years ago? The structure of family in our societies have some strong, conserved, basic features. These basic features are so conserved that many of these features are found in other animal families too. One such feature is the influence of females on decision making of males. The influence is huge. As long a society is fairly liberal (which was the case in ancient India), has decent moral standards and isn’t oppressed or constantly attacked by other societies (medieval India), females continue to influence males on an immense scale in their decision making. Hence the quote, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” My question is, women influence men’s decision on such vast scales, how can one say that societal behaviours and rules of the past were exclusively determined by males with no influence or inputs from females?
How does this women’s influence on men’s decision making work? It is biologically deeply embedded in our systems. Females invite competition among males for mating and producing genetically fittest offsprings. That naturally pushes males to work hard, to fiercely compete with other males, to push for better resources, wealth, etc. What’s the role of women? Females have to present their best version to invite as many competitive males as possible. Makeups are popular because of this very reason. It enhances sexually attractive features of females. The feeling of confidence comes due to an enhancement of these sexually attractive features. For example, high heels bring changes in the stance which further highlights the sexually attractive features of women such as their breasts and hips. Height is also an attractive feature. Hence, heels overall make women sexier. Hence, they buy it as eventually that makes them feel better and confident. Something similar happens with men too. Gym going men will usually wear tight shirts, T-shirts to show off their strong hands and muscles. These are our basic biological instincts. Many of our behaviours are derived from those basic biological instincts. This brings me to differences between males and females. Physical differences are obvious. Men are physically stronger, women are more flexible and have a higher fat percentage. Women tend to live longer. Due to such differences, large portions of physically intense tasks such as the army, labourers, construction workers and even trading (which involved long distance travelling) have been male-dominated. However, the most important physical task that is giving birth was exclusively women responsibility. And not only that but raising children after birth has largely been women’s responsibility throughout the history not only in case of humans but animals too. You might have watched, how protective female lions are of their cubs. Male lions, however, don’t seem to be as interested and involved as much as female lions in raising and giving training to their cubs. Feminists somehow demean the task of raising children and want women to give up a good percentage of this responsibility to men in exchange for their jobs and career. That’s downright stupid. There is a reason why mothers have stronger bonds with their children. No one understands a child better than her mother, especially in the first five years. Mothers experience a surge of oxytocin during childbirth. This makes a very strong relationship with her child. This relationship comes with the responsibility of raising children, which mothers usually adore and make it their topmost priority. Replacing that with their careers and jobs isn’t an option for most women. Shifting that responsibility to fathers (who also play a part but much less) isn’t something women want or will ever do in substantial numbers. Hence they end up prioritizing their families and children while men are more willing to sacrifice their family life for their careers. Biological differences create some deep behavioural differences between the two genders.
Which brings me to the second difference between males and females: behavioural differences. Women are more agreeable than men, men are more aggressive than women. How large are these differences? Not much on an average population, say about 60-40 difference. However, when it comes to extreme cases (and extreme cases produces a chunk of output as I explained in the Pareto principle), the difference is huge. For example, in a society 99 out of 100 most horrendous criminals would be males. Extreme ends of a graph are dominated by the group having, seemingly minute edge in the population on an average. Aggressive nature, however, helps men by standing up to the oppression more often than females. Men are more likely to demand higher wages, positions in a company. In the last paragraph, I discussed that men are more willing to sacrifice their family life and work harder and for longer durations. Such behavioural differences bring inequality in outcomes of males and females in the society. These are vastly due to behavioural differences. Another example is compassion. Women are more compassionate than men. Hence they prefer compassionate jobs such as nursing, medical science. In fact, in Scandinavian societies, as they became more egalitarian, the differences in the outputs of males and females increased instead of decreasing as predicted by feminists. What happened is, when provided with equal opportunities, equal resources, an equal likelihood of getting a job, in absence of any pressure women due to their behavioural differences chose different kinds of jobs compared to men. Medical sciences, humanities, nursing jobs were dominated by women. Engineering, corporate jobs being dominated by men.
Differences in outputs of the two genders increases in egalitarian societies!
When there are so many behavioural differences in men and women which are not much significant on an average but plays a massive role in determining who reaches the top 20% positions in a field; to achieve or aim equality of outcomes in such a field is an absurd demand which isn’t well-thought off and well-researched. Such demands requiring the whole well-functioning society to change their behaviours many of which are based on our evolutionary instincts is both undesirable and impossible for both sexes.
There might be a third kind of difference between males and females which again is seemingly minute in the average population, yet can play a big role in favouring one gender at the extreme spectrum. That difference is cognitive abilities. I haven’t come across studies based on substantial data in this regard. Though I once encountered a study that discussed slightly superior abilities of men in imagining shapes, figures which amount to abstract thinking and reasoning. The gross difference in outputs of men and women in various fields suggest that there might be cognitive differences between men and women. For example, women understand emotions and body language better than men. Men might have a slight advantage in abstract thinking and mathematical abilities. Some strong examples of gross differences in outcomes of men and women are: Men dominate physics, mathematics in academia by quite a margin. Especially the top researchers in fields of physics, maths, philosophy, logic are mostly men. There hasn’t been a single girl topper of IIT-JEE, one of the most competitive exams of India. Girls, however, top CBSE, ICSE, NEET, AIIMS and UPSC-CSE on a regular basis. Some of these exams, especially UPSC, AIIMS are equally competitive as IIT-JEE. The reason might be that IIT-JEE asks very different kinds of questions, especially in physics and mathematics sections. These questions mostly involve abstract thinking and problem-solving. Compare this to UPSC-CSE which involves a lot of answer writing, hard work and analysing current affairs, history and geography. These exams test vastly different cognitive abilities. Another example is chess. Women chess grand-masters (GMs) are significantly weaker than men chess GMs. There hasn’t been a women chess world champion. In fact, there is currently only one woman in world’s top 100 chess players. Chess involves high levels of imagination. Some of the best chess players have learnt the chess playing skills quite naturally (the same is true for a lot of mathematicians such as Srinivasa Ramanujan). Society hardly played any significant part in the development of these extraordinary geniuses. Kids below 15 years becoming IMs, GMs are quite common. Most of these kids again males. In the case of absolute equality of cognitive abilities of men and women, there would have been at least some women super-GMs too. The whole idea of presenting such examples was to suggest that there are differences between men and women and we are uneducated as to how deep these small differences produce differential outputs.
One should always demand equality in opportunities, justice, resources. But to demand equality of outcomes is absurd. Let the women, men of the society choose their field of play based on their own free choices. Men and women complement and cooperate with each other excellently. Their differences make these cooperations and interactions all the more fun. Which man would enjoy the company of a woman with masculine qualities? Which woman would prefer a weak man lacking masculine qualities? Not many if they only follow their natural instincts without paying any heed to nonsense ideological narratives.
Societies, individuals, families, resources, thoughts, ideas, environment are all intertwined with each other. Every one of them affecting the other. Evolution has played (is playing) a significant role in dictating our behaviour. Free and fair societies with freedom of speech and expression generally produce extraordinary individuals which transform societies from time to time in both positive and negative ways. To maintain order in such web of interactions, societies and conservative elements evolve. Conservative behaviours bring in industrial and productive attitude in the society and combined with liberal thoughts and creativity, together they make for a better place. A balance between the two is necessary. Too much liberalism will hamper productivity, too much conservationism will hamper creativity. Freedom of speech and expression is the bare minimum to ensure such a balance. Among all these are individuals. Individuals are raised in societies, families but each of them has unique abilities and personalities. There is so much variation in thoughts, ideas. State, politicians, activist, media, the government should all have individual sovereignty and equal rights as their top priorities. Provide equal opportunities, quality resources to every citizen without any preferential treatment based on caste, colour, gender, etc. Let the system choose individuals based on competence. Have a robust policing and judicial system to prevent oppression of its citizens. And stay away from ideological narratives that claim to provide explanation and solutions to the problems of society. I have tried to give just a glimpse of how complex behaviours of a society can be. Don’t fall prey to the victimization narrative, especially if you’re living in a democratic country. You have all the tools, all the freedom. Work hard, take responsibility, prove your competence and climb the ladders of hierarchy. At the same time, keep your ego grounded. Don’t mistreat other individuals irrespective of their hierarchy. This is the blueprint of great societies and great individuals to the best of my current understanding and knowledge.
Featured image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konark_Sun_Temple