Insight into South Asia

Merit-By–Birth theory trashed

We strongly condemn the stories inplanted in media by certain vested interests and anti social elements claiming merit by birth and insulting the majority of the people of India.

One of the age old characteristics of the Indian society has been the caste system. This system was based on the principle of assigning  a caste to every individual based on their birth and inturn limiting them to a profession associated with that caste. This system was followed for almost two millennia, resulting in a society with people at extreme ends of wealth and talent. While one individual was able to excel in one profession, he had no freedom or opportunity to pursue a different one even if he wished to do so. The caste system and segregation of people based on birth is one part of India’s history that we cannot feel proud of today.

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, The architect of Indian constitution who ensured a provision for social justice and protected the interests of the downtrodden people including untouchables

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar: Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible… Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste-bound - Annihilation of caste 1936.

While  the constitution for the Republic of India was framed, the polarized nature of the different groups and the relative forward and backward status (educational and social) of different castes was envisioned to be balanced by an affirmative action that provided reservation in education and employment opportunities created through national funds. Even though this policy could be interpreted as “discriminatory” by few, offered the best solution to address the imbalance caused by a two millennia practice. It was widely believed that it will be welcomed and accepted by all sections of the society as it offered hope for the country to move forward. 

In a democracy, while the individuals right to “freedom of expression” and the likes are guaranteed, it is also the norm that a system that is in place to bring a larger benefit to the nation, is allowed to curtail an individuals right. Thus with wide acceptance, the theories of Social Justice and Equality of Opportunity has come into stay in the Indian system of administration.

However it is sad to notice that even after the transformation of India into a democracy, few individuals and groups still seem to believe the teachings of “Varnashrama Dharma” and “Manu Smirithi” –  the religious documents that preach the core values of the caste system. Posing a threat to the very structure of the new Indian society, these teachings can only be viewed as anti national and anti social. Apart from programs to reform the individuals who believe in the caste system, we need to enforce stricter laws and punishments to those who practice and preach the same.

Those who are familiar with the history of India will agree that the southern state of Tamil Nadu has achieved a unique place in India. From ancient days Tamil Nadu has retained its language and culture. Alternative schools of thoughts in religion, philosophy and culture have been welcomed. The impact of religious values and Sanskrit language from the north of the peninsula can be largely felt even today.. The influence of Tamil culture over the rest of India has also been well acknowledged by scholars.

Talking about the caste system – the Tamil society is not behind in any means in following the caste system. The state is still plagued by untouchability and superstition. There are indications in Tamil literature that the caste system deeply entrenched in to the society ever since the Vedic religion took a foothold in this part of the country. However, there are no scriptures of the type of “Varnashrama Dharma” or “Manu Smirithi” which endorse religious authority to enforce the caste system.

There has also been wide exposure to the principles of democracy and education after the arrival of Europeans. There were widespread questioning of the religious authority promoting castes and the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities.

Periyar EVR, the Architect of Self Respect Movement in Tamil nadu

Periyar EVR, the Architect of Self Respect Movement in Tamil nadu. Periyar brought social and political changes in Tamil nadu in favour of the backward sections of the society

The self respect movement spearheaded by E.V.R. Periar was against the inhuman practices based on religious authority and brought in a proportional representation and communal reservation in governance even before achieving independence from the British empire.

In Tamil Nadu a large quantum of reservations are provided to the backward classes, most backward classes and the scheduled castes. By this – most sections of the society participate in the administration of the state and the relationship of the government with the common man has been made easier, which promotes better administration and developmental activities. Here assessment of a qualification based only on the marks obtained in a theoretical examination is not the sole criteria for providing the opportunities. We do see some fringe groups insisting for such sole criteria since it is suitable for their preoccupied positions of social status. Their belief in “Merit By Birth” theories refuse to die.

The fact that Tamil Nadu is progressive is surprisingly well endorsed even by the magazine “India Today” which otherwise is known for its Anti Mandal (Anti Reservation) rhetorics. In September of each year, India Today publishes the “State of the States” cover story. The latest overall status of Tamil Nadu was surveyed by India Today in 2008 September. Tamil Nadu was placed in second position next only to Punjab among the big states of India.

India Today Survey 2008

India Today Survey 2008.

The methodology used in the survey of India Today is based on parameters such as Law and Order, Agriculture, Primary education, Primary health, Infrastructure, Consumer market, Investment, Environment, Budget and Prosperity. Each of these parameters are measured by various factors using analytical procedures.

Moreover according to the reports published in this month, Tamil Nadu is the most attractive state for foreign investments in India due to its better quality of infrastructure and governance. This is stated in compilation of “India – State index of attractive operating environments” by an Oxford-based consulting firm. Tamil Nadu is at the top of all the states in India in going global.

However we do see few elements in the print media making deliberate attempts to underplay the success of Backward class, Dalit members and that of the state as a whole. The recent news about the success of 100 candidates from the state in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) was widely reported in the state print media. This figure constitutes 12.5% of the 791 selected candidates all over India. Among the successful candidates, eight had written the main examination in Tamil. In all 98 candidates had written the examination in Tamil and 19 of them have qualified for the interview. Despite a clear display of success by all sections of the society, one mainstream media group stated the following as its observation:

“Social scientists are examining whether those belonging to the progressive sections of the society who had earlier dominated the North and South Blocks in New Delhi have returned to a career in administration” 

And an anonymous observer went further by saying:

“Candidates belonging to the progressive sections of the society had in recent years moved to the Silicon Valley. Now that there are no jobs there, I suspect that they would have written the civil services last year.”

By these comments, it makes us wonder, if these so called “progressive section” has ever learned the lesson about the failure of the “Merit By Birth” policy. It is hard to construct and beleive that any real “Social scientist” would subscribe to this philosophy at this day and age. Studies based on scientific analysis have rejected the “Merit by Birth” system as to be detrimental to any progressive society. It is not just a recipe for a polarised society but also does not provide the progress that are offered by an inclusive society that rewards talents from all sections and builds its progress from the best of the brains.

The real social scientists have already analyzed the improving better performance of the candidates from Tamil Nadu from the past few years in the Civil Services Examination and have observed that the largest number of those selected has been form non-metro areas, who had studied through the Tamil medium of education.

It is already reported and on records that Tamil Nadu accounted for nearly a quarter of the OBC candidates selected at the all-India level in both 2004 and 2005. In 2006, it accounted for 15%, while Uttar Pradesh accounted for over 20% (One in every five selected OBC candidate were from UP). Tamil Nadu has the largest number of OBCs making it to the civil services, much ahead of other large states which have double the population of that of Tamil Nadu.

Whether it is Tamil Nadu or any other state, it is the Morality, Virtue, Righteousness, Equality and Justice along with the written constitution which should form the foundation of administering the people. We request our fellow citizens who still believe in their own status by birth, to burn their religious past and accept the concepts of Social justice and Inclusive Growth so that we all can march forward to a future Indian society that is built on a foundation of equality.

Birth is alike to all : Excellence can be classsified
Based on the diverse deeds .

( ThiruValluvar 972)

Written by Malarthamil

Malarthamil is a civil engineer and writer-poet inspired by Thirukkural – a classical Tamil poetry that expounds various aspects of life.

Filed under: Asia, Culture, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 Responses

  1. Ronin says:

    Some topics have been taboo in our society for too long, causing undocumented injustice for many..

    I have to document a conversation I had recently with a privileged caste friend..His stand was nowadays a less-fortunate caste can get in with 25% marks into a professional course, How do you expect the system to be not corrupt:

    He was ignorant and as a friend I failed in not correcting him clearly..I want to clear a few things here..

    1. The cutoff marks between the developed and developing castes are not a lot anymore. There is only a few point difference. It is silly to characterize someone as less qualified because he had a couple of marks less..I will give an example. A person I knew lost entry into a medical school by 0.25 marks. That does not mean he was less qualified. He can lose that mark if he had a queasy stomach that day or the room was hot that day….The productivity or performance are not going to be greatly challenged by a few marks..This has been proven time and again in practice, that those who excel in their profession are not necessarily the toppers in school..
    Moreover there is no proof to prove that professionals from southern states like Karanataka, TN with reservation are less talented than professionals from other states..Incidentally patients come from all over India to southern hospitals like Apollo..

    2. Moreover we dont interview to find the commitment, interest and the efforts needed to reach there as in Western schools. Although we should..A person studying in a village Govt school does not have facilities as that of a private school..His effort and commitment are lot more than that of another student at a preparatory feeder school..And this are somethings that are taken into consideration in interviews in Western schools..When the playing field is not level, the cutoff marks cannot be level either..And that is what is practiced in some of the top schools of the world including Harvard, London school of business and Stanford etc Moreover many of the toppers in many competitive exams are OBCs and Dalits nowadays, proving that with similar social/parental/economic backgrounds, the law of the averages comes into play

    3. Diversity among castes in selection is not a bad idea..In my Alma mater in US, it is clearly made sure the class was not filled with Indians just because we had the highest scores..It was a mix of Americans, Indians, Chinese, African Americans, South Americans etc even if many of them did not have the same high marks

    4. All said and done, most of the marriages in India is per caste..Another person from another caste does not get any benefit other than the economic public good of a different caste group person getting a opportunity..Since he only uses it to protect and lobby for his caste groups opportunity..It has been proven clearly in this many years trusting the other person to do a fair work for other castes is not working..That is why we are facing/faced untouchability, gross difference in wealth /education, caste based groupism in goverments/kingdoms/companies..

    So honestly the right thing to do is divide opportunities as long as castes exist. The morally right thing to do would be to calculate the population proportion and allocate proportional seats for each caste category for them to compete with their own brethren..But that would affect the competitiveness of the overall system. So we need to balance fairness and competitiveness..

    4. The opponents of reservation don’t bat an eyelid when reservations are based on the economic strength of the parents. I am talking about the payment based seats in 50% of colleges..The same rich and powerful people who are against reservations are the ones actively supporting private schools..It shows their double standards in that financial and social strength can be used to buy seats, but not the strength of the less-fortunate..So before fighting against cream layer in govt institutions let them fight against payment seats in private colleges..

  2. vikadakavi says:

    பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும் சிறப்பொவ்வா
    செய்தொழில் வேற்றுமை யான்.

    உரை: பிறப்பினால் அனைவரும் சமம். செய்யும் தொழிலில் காட்டுகிற திறமையில் மட்டுமே வேறுபாடு காண முடியும்.

    I certainly amazes me that a valuable book such as Thirukkural existed, and still we slipped, on the topic of equality!


  3. malarthamil says:

    Thanks Vikadakavi for recording Tamil script of Thirukkural.

    We see those who do not agree for equality by birth cry for racism in Australia or Europe. Every minute dalits are killed dalit women are raped in India but there is no discussion about it. They even deny this international forums.

    Now Tamils have become dalits of the globe. The killers and their supporters hide, deny and justify their silence.

    The theory of equality by birth should be accepted by all by admitting that there are large scale evil practices prevailing now.

    We demand for a change in heart.

    • Ronin says:

      India will wake up only when Caste oppression is taken to UN as a Racism discussion..Only then will we wake up!

  4. Prakash says:

    Unity in diversity. Companies, colleges, families should entertain mixed crowd and make sure there is equality maintained at all times – you know its a very tough job! But given the time we put in and the benefits people reap with various depths of culture, I am sure people will start to like “other” people as well.

  5. Excellent piece, Malar! The filthy caste system is the greatest curse that is holding backing India’s progress. Tamils are not immune to this filthy system, though TN is among the very few states that have made great strides in building an egalitarian, casteless society.

    It’s horrible to see the evils of the filthy caste system entwine itself with an egalitarian religion that is opposed to the concept of caste, like Sikhism. The filthy caste system has not even spared religions like Christianity and Islam as the Christians and Muslims of India seem to have developed a caste system among themselves though their religions forbid such non-sense.

    The caste system is certainly flourishing with all its evils. Consider this recent event:

    Two workers from valmiki Dalit community died after inhaling poisonous gases in a soak pit of Abdul Gani Locality of Fatehpur district on May 5, 2009. The victim Naresh aged 35 years, son of Bankelal was an employee of local Municipality while the other victim Deepak aged 22 years son of Munnilal, was a daily wage worker with the same municipality and a neighbor. Both were residents of Arabpur locality of Fatehpur.

    A fact finding team constituted by Social Development Foundation, Delhi lead by Ms Sehroj Fatima, Chitrakoot, visited the site on May 7th, 2009, to take stock of the situation in Abdul Gani locality where the accident occurred and Arabpur locality where the families of the deceased workers live. The situation in the entire area is grim and unrest prevails still.

    There is no manual scavenging prevalent in the district, said the District Magistrate a few days back in Fatehpur district of Uttar-Pradesh. Fact of the matter is that most of the districts in Uttar-Pradesh and elsewhere claim that manual scavenging have been eliminated. Many notices send by the National Human Rights Commission have been returned empty handed blaming the complainant for politicizing the issue.

    What happened at the site?

    Most of the houses in the area are dry latrine and the Balmiki community is still engaged in manual scavenging and this is how they earn their living. But there are few houses which have toilets connected to a deep soak pit where the waste gets collected over years. After few years, depending on the depth of the soak pit, people have to get it cleaned. This can be cleaned both through machines and also manually. Unfortunately, mechanization process has not yet happened in India and therefore we see young and old boys from the scavenging community involved in this gruesome work at the risk of their life. This can not be called a work as it involves killing of human dignity and degrading his self respect, yet despite all this, the work continues, thanks to our governments and their antipathetic bureaucratic attitude that emancipation of the community does not come in their mind and rehabilitation of the community means a job in the municipality for them.

    In this particular case, Mr. Jugal Kishore Misra, the owner of the house where the site of accident is, engaged Naresh to clean the soak pit for Rs 1000. Naresh, after coming back from work, had his food and asked Deepak to come along to clean the soak pit. At first they used rope and bucket to drain waste water collected in the tank. But then the owner shouted at the two workers ordering them to get inside the tank and clean the entire tank properly.

    On his insistence, the duo entered the ill-fated soak pit with help of an iron ladder, immediately lost consciousness and fainted in side the tank. Naresh got stuck in the sludge immediately while Deepak drowned in the waste water while yelling for help.

    The owner and his son were witness to the entire episode, instead of rescuing the duo; they asked his grandson to inform the family of the victims. Even though the distance between the two localities was hardly 500-700 meters, but by the time the relatives reached and removed the bodies from the soak pit, both of them were dead.

    Role of the Authorities

    Later the doctors of the Government Hospital also confirmed the death. According to the relatives, if the owner had acted quickly in rescuing the men, they would have been alive. As the angry relatives demanded arrest of the owner and due compensation to the family, the police called PSC force to keep the protest under vigil.

    The local tehsildar calmed the agitators by saying that the information of the death has been sent and they are waiting for the news from the State Government. While the officials from the Municipality gave Rs 5,000 to each of the victims family. While the SDM of the Area Mr Arvind Chaurasia said that since both of them have government connection they will not be eligible for compensation but help will be given from CM relief fund.

    The police did not show the FIR while Mishra was having his connections. The cases have been filed after much pressure but people do not know what exactly the charges are. The community leaders have not been consulted on this, neither the family people were told about the charges leveled against Mishra. Moreover, the Post Mortem report has also not been given to the family people of both Naresh and Deepak.

    It is sad that the authorities in the state still behave in feudal brahmanical way and do not have sense of duty towards the Balmiki community which remains lowest of the low due to its traditional occupation. Such racial prejudices on part of administration is condemnable and we demand strict against the police officials, district officials and municipality leaders.

  6. guest says:

    >Even though this policy could be interpreted as “discriminatory” by few, offered the best solution to address the imbalance caused by a two millennia practice. – malarthamil

    The policy is NOT *interpreted* as discriminatory. It IS discriminatory.

    >பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும் சிறப்பொவ்வா
    செய்தொழில் வேற்றுமை யான். – vikadakavi

    Ironically this kural is quoted here in this piece which justifies a reservation system that discriminates people ONLY based on caste/birth.

    • Sunderapandyan says:

      For 2000+ years some groups were given 0% education and 0% jobs based on their caste.

      However the FC group are still given room in education and employment today. Few who are unable to compete have only themselves to blame.

      Though reservation can be argued as discriminatory, it is not.

      If a “ladder” was used to put people in different floors, the same “ladder” should be used to bring them all to the same floor. Those who are in the upper floor got there using the ladder. Now when some more people use the same ladder to climb up, the former cannot blame the “ladder”.

      While in the past the “ladder” (caste) was also used to drive some people down, it is now being used to carry them up. This “ladder” is not driving anybody down.

  7. malarthamil says:

    Mr. Guest, You must first admit that the caste system is discriminatory and whole heartedly burn all the religious texts which advocate caste system. Reservation comes next.

    If you follow the heart of Thiruvalluvar, you will realise he wrote this kural to deny caste system.

    You are misunderstanding the equality by birth theory. The equality by birth in India is achieved only when the caste system is destroyed. See the root cause rather than the offshoots.

    Without abolishing caste in the society one wishes that equality by birth should be applied only in eduation and job oppertunities just because it benefits certain groups of people which shows a selfish attitude. We should strive for achieving equality by birth in all spheres.

    And you have to accept what is positive discrimination, affirmative action, social justice and equitable society all are theories aiming for equality only.

    Reservation can be abolished only when the caste is annihilated.

    My point is that reservation is helpful for the progress of all and thus for the progress of the country.

  8. guest says:

    >Without abolishing caste in the society one wishes that equality by birth should be applied only in eduation and job oppertunities just because it benefits certain groups of people which shows a selfish attitude. We should strive for achieving equality by birth in all spheres.

    I am open to continue this discussion if you would stop attributing motives. Are you up for it? or are you going to simply state that the opponents of caste/religion-based reservation are selfish!

    >>equality by birth should be applied only in eduation and job oppertunities just because it benefits certain groups of people

    Equality is a very contentious topic. There are several interpretations, manifestations etc. In my opinion, it is better to stick to terms forward/backward or disadvantaged/priveleged.

    >the relative forward and backward status (educational, economic and social) of different castes was envisioned to be balanced by an affirmative action that provided reservation in education and employment opportunities created through national funds.

    The notion of educationally forward caste/relgious group and economically forward caste/relgious group itself is wrong. That is the flaw in your argument. That is the fundamental flaw in this policy. An individual can be educationally priveleged or disadvantaged, not a caste/religious group. An individual can be economically priveleged or disadvantaged, not a caste/religious group. There are educationally and economically disadvantaged individuals in all caste/religious groups. So using ONLY caste or religion as the criterion for discrimination is wrong. And this is explicitly stated in the constitution. The system, as is implemented now, ignores this basic fact.

  9. malarthamil says:


    In India the lives of people are rated according to their caste and economic status. The authorities shall just ignore that incident.

    Only through empowering Dalit in political administration, the apathy shown by Government machinery could be addressed.

  10. Ram Prasad says:

    An individual can be educationally priveleged or disadvantaged, not a caste/religious group.
    – Guest

    Mr. Guest, you oppose the very concept of reservation to dalits? I have said elsewhere that there are certain flaws in the current reservation policy that has to be corrected. creamy layer is one such thing. Claiming that there are no such castes as educationaly disadvantaged is false. Reservation has certainly helped for the progress of the nation. Discussions on creamy layers should only be placed so that the reservation scheme doesnt saturate with those who had already benefitted. Arguing that there is no need for reservation is like saying there need not be any slabs for income tax and everybody should be charged with same percentage irrespective of their income level (including the daily wages).

    Off topic….Apart from reservation the government must have focused on improving the quantity and quality of government schools as well as the educational system. Only in the year 2006 the TN government made the corporal punishment as illegal. Not sure what other barbaric things will all be taken for granted in the guise of culture.

  11. Prakash says:

    The system which was happening for 2000 years is changing in the last 50+ years and ofcourse the new system will have issues. We need to fix it, we cant simply say scrap it.

    Keeping in mind, public & private organisations, forward caste people have a chance in one of them. For more than centuries, there was no system which allowed for backward class to be part of the growth. So instead of complaining, lets work out the best system.

    1. “Good” education (train the teachers well first) & infrastructure is the best way to speed up growth.

    2. Certainly villages need to be addressed specially. Tools of science has to reach them in terms of agriculture, infrastructure, market. This will also reduce the movement of population from villages to cities.

  12. Ronin says:

    The intelligence of the elite media is amazing. This is an article that does not say no to the Dalit speaker but effectively says people dont want caste representation and only politicians wants it:


    I want to check how many dalits are married into the family of Shenoy as he thinks castes dont matter..

  13. malarthamil says:

    We achieve when we are united.

    கடந்த மாதம் செய்தித்தாள்களில் நீங்கள் வாசித்திருக்கலாம். ஐ.ஏ.எஸ். தேர்வில் தமிழகத்தில் இருந்து 96 பேர் தேர்வு பெற்றிருக்கிறார்கள். இவர்களில் 21 பேர் எஸ்.சி/எஸ்.டி வகுப்பை சேர்ந்தவர்கள். ஒட்டுமொத்தமாக இந்தியாவில் கடந்த சில ஆண்டுகளாக இத்தேர்வில் வெல்லுபவர்களில் அதிகமானவர்கள் தமிழர்கள். திடீரென எப்படி இது சாத்தியம்?

    ஐ.ஏ.எஸ். தேர்வில் வெல்ல இலவசப் பயிற்சி மையம் ஒன்றினை ஒரு அரசியல்வாதி, கட்சி/சாதி/வர்க்க பாகுபாடு எதுவுமின்றி நடத்திவருவதே இதற்கு காரணம். இதே அரசியல்வாதி சென்னை வேளச்சேரி பகுதியில் தன் கட்சித்தலைவி பெயரில் ஒரு தரமான இலவச திருமண மண்டபத்தையும் மக்களுக்காக நடத்தி வருகிறார். இந்த திருமண மண்டபத்தில் நடைபெற்ற திருமணங்களில் பெரும்பாலும் அவருடைய எதிர்க்கட்சியை சார்ந்தவர்களுடையது. முதல் பத்தியில் நாம் சொன்ன அதே அரசியல்வாதி இவர்தான்.

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