Letter: Social change in India

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Sir: Tim McGirk is right ('India's Untouchables reach for power and change', 3 December) to highlight the role of casteism in Indian polity. However, he is mistaken in saying that the state bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh is still dominated by Brahmins and other high-caste individuals and any attempt by the new administration to change the status quo could spark off an unprecedented social conflict.

A silent but slow social transformation in almost every walk of life has been taking place in India for the past 50 years. This includes areas such as education, inter-caste social relations, inter-communal alliances and so on. It is because of these changes that a mixed bag of social and political reformers has been able to carve out a strong power base in Uttar Pradesh, thereby putting a temporary hold on the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalism.

The main instigator of this social change has been the policy of positive discrimination and fixed quotas for the Untouchables introduced by the successive post-independence Indian governments. Under this policy, seats for lower castes and Untouchables were reserved in higher education, state administration, banks and other government departments.

The policy of positive discrimination opened up, for the first time in Indian history, positions of responsibility in the state sector for the Untouchables and the lower castes. However, the problem with the current set-up has been that the process is extremely slow, and also it has some very unpleasant long-term side-effects: it tends to lower the professional standard.

Yours faithfully,

RANDHIR SINGH BAINS

Gants Hill, Essex

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