Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Caste Trap

I believe that there is such a thing as a poverty trap and that a good portion of the people born in poor families will die poor too. I also believe that any decent civilized state has a responsibility in creating enough opportunities for poor people to escape their predicament. My country's response to that was caste-based reservation (ok! ok! reservation targets other aspects of social justice than poverty alone, but let's keep it simple here). I'm not as singularly oppposed to reservation as most urban educated middle class folks from my generation are but here's my beef with it. It ends up creating a "self-reinforcing mechanism which causes casteism to persist" (and here i'm borrowing from Costas Azariadis and John Stachurski, "Poverty Traps," Handbook of Economic Growth, 2005) as this little table shows. This is from a public school in a remote village in the Pandavapura Taluka of Mysore district. They proudly show off the number of kids from the lower castes who are enrolled in their schools. They probably have targets to meet too. I'm not grudging the kids their rightful place in that school, but I cringed when I saw this kind of reporting in school after school. While attempting to dismantle the poverty trap, I believe we are creating a robust caste trap.
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