The parliament has passed the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to replace the entry for the Devendrakulathan community with Devendrakula Vellalar which includes Devendrakulathan, Kalladi, Kudumban, Pallan, Pannadi, and Vathiriyan. The passing of the bill will give a huge fillip to the BJP-AIADMK coalition in Tamil Nadu because the Vellalar community is very influential and has been demanding these changes for a long time.
The Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot said the process, which started with the state government sending a proposal in 2015, took time to complete. “There is no connection whatsoever with politics or elections in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
Previously Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, while addressing the press in Sivaganga said, “A committee was formed under IAS Hansraj in 2019 to review the demand for bringing the seven caste groups under the roof of Devendrakula Vellalar. It was recommended to the government that Devendrakulathan, Kudumban, Pannadi, Kaalaadi, Kadayan, Pallan and Patharia all the seven caste groups should be called as Devendrakulla Vellalars.”
The Vellalar community wants to exit the SC list to enter the OBC list voluntarily because it has moved up in the socio-economic hierarchy. This is a monumental change in the mindset of the people of lower castes, which for the last few decades, continued to demand categorisation under the lower category because it offers more benefits.
Although so far, neither the Tamil Nadu government nor the Union government has accepted the demand to move the community into the OBC list, this serves as a lesson for many castes which have moved up in the socio-economic hierarchy but continue to be placed among the reserved castes- depriving others of the benefits that they actually deserve.
For example, Yadavs can demand to be moved in the General list from the OBC list, because this will give better opportunities to Koeri, Kewat and many other castes in the OBC list who are actually deprived and deserve reservation. Similarly, Jatavs can demand to be moved to the OBC list from the SC list, as this will give other castes in the SC list better access to benefits.
If this reverse trend prevails, the benefits of the reservation will actually reach the intended castes and the race to the bottom to be placed among lower castes will decline.
Previously, the Union Government had formed a panel in October 2017 to bridge the inequity in availing 27 per cent quota benefits among the OBCs. The commission was expected to submit its report within 12 weeks but it has got an extension after extension. The last extension provided to the panel was of six months, as its work has been affected by the pandemic.
As per preliminary findings of the report, just 40 of 5,000-6,000 castes categorised under Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have availed 50 per cent of the quota benefits. OBC quota was implemented in government jobs in 1993 and central government-funded educational institutions in 2006 by the Centre.
According to the panel’s findings, 20 per cent of the OBC communities, which means around 1,000 castes, availed no quota benefits between 2014 and 2018. According to members of the panel, the sub-categorisation of the OBC quota is “urgent and inescapable”, given the level of inequities in availing quota benefits among various castes.
The OBC quota passed by the VP Singh government in 1989 and implemented in 1993 altered Indian politics forever. The OBC groups came to power in UP, Bihar and various other states. But, Yadav in OBC, Jatav in SC and Meena in ST- these groups acquired political, social and economic capital, riding on the newly implemented quota system while leaving other castes in the same group miles behind.
Therefore, re-categorisation is needed to be done. Moreover, the change must not only come from the government diktat but from within the communities which have moved upward in the socio-economic ladder, like in the case of Devendrakula Vellalar.