Migrants, victims and affirmative action

I have been following the Gujjar agitation since May 2008. The Gujjars in Rajasthan want to be ‘demoted’ from Other Backward Classes (OBC) to Scheduled Tribes (ST) and they have been ‘agitating’ to be reclassified for a long time now (well, from 2006-2007 as far as I am aware). In the vast, complicated world of Indian castes systems and classifications based on caste letters like BC (Backward Classes), OBC, SC (Scheduled Castes) and ST mean a lot. Jobs, promotions, reserved seats in educational institutions…and eventually equity in a society ridden with differences and discrimination. All good intentions.

But somewhere something is wrong when a community asks to be downgraded.

While I have never been affected by caste based reservations-one could say that maybe I don’t even know what centuries of oppression and injustice are being from an ‘upper caste’ and all that-it does not mean I have not ever faced discrimination. Any kind of bias and inequality needs to be corrected and I am all for affirmative action. Affirmative action does not widen chasms or increase divides but makes this world a better place, provides equal opportunity to as many as possible and allows space to make up for past injustices. Whether in India or in New Zealand.

So why then if processes are put in place and ‘positive discrimination’ is made mandatory do people not think it is an chance to unshackle themselves? I don’t have the answers. Just possible reasons.

One being that the processes do not filter to those who really need it and hence they are constantly fighting for it? And then as happens one gets attached to the ‘fight’ itself rather than goal and the little triumphs on the way there?

Another reason being that these processes do not evolve as they should in a democracy. They gather rust and then have committees review them only to offer ‘symptomatic treatment’ instead of solutions. Because everyone is afraid of hurting sentiments and emotions?

The third reason of course is pure politics. Some groups want to maintain status quo because such processes give them power. It is useful to have downtrodden/disadvantaged masses as constituency.

Finally there is the victim mentality. I know I have harped about it before. I have been called an ‘anti-multicultural capitalist’ (yay!) for talking about it. Like I am blaming the oppressed for the way they feel. However it is true that if one keeps telling the oppressed/victims that they are helpless and dependent then they start believing it. Just like us migrants are told that we are incapable of standing up for ourselves or negotiating the dominant culture..that we need the support of various agencies to integrate/find equality/social justice. Yes we do. To certain level. Then we must fight the battle ourselves instead of being dependent/helpless.

I just finished reading Dr Edwina Pio’s book SARI-INDIAN WOMEN AT WORK IN NEW ZEALAND. (Dunmore Publishing). Apart from giving inspirational examples of entrepreneurial Indian women, old migrants and new migrants who came to New Zealand from across the Indian diaspora Dr Pio talks about the need for hand-holds and not handouts in government policy. She says government has responsibility to ’embed migration with appropriate infrastructure that reduces crutches and the dependency cycle which is often based on a deficit model…’ Dependence and the victim mentality are powerful places to be in and often become an end in themselves. Migrants/victims should also work towards integration. However Dr Pio also reiterates that discrimination will not disappear by itself neither will the ‘market place’ take care of it.

Suppose this applies to migrant policies in New Zealand and the caste based reservations in India. For the Gujjars to want to be downgraded interprets as wanting to always be in a place that does not require them to face competition or upskill in order to do well; as keeping lesser beings suppressed. Isn’t education and better socio-economic status supposed to widen the horizons?

Agitations and mob power comes easy rather than dialogue which is such an important part of any democracy. A little bit give for a lot of take? The Rajasthan government and the Government of India both succumbed to the pressure because both want maintain the vote banks and neither have any intelligent solutions that evolve as times change. I wonder how the Labour Party here is going to evolve its multiculturalism from the celebrate-and-go-back-to-the-ghetto attitude to a participatory engagement by the coloured migrants in Aotearoa now that the hurdles of making-people-see-colour-and-treat-it-right have been overcome?

There has got to be a middle path somewhere yeah?

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