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Education answer to Maratha discontent

by Loknath Das

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It is welcome that Dalit leaders have called off the protest in Maharashtra, paving the way for calm after the conflict over the anniversary of a battle in which the Dalit army of the British defeated the Marathas. That Dalits should feel like celebrating a victory of a foreign coloniser over an Indian principality points not only to the absence of a national identity 200 years ago that united all Indians but also to remarkable fragmentation of national solidarity in the present.

The Dalit celebration of the defeat of the Marathas at the hands of the Mahar regiment comes at a time when the socially dominant Marathas have joined similar socially dominant groups elsewhere, such as Jats and Patels, in demanding quotas for their community. It is imperative to understand the sources of this social friction and address it.

Socially dominant but ritually backward castes have not adapted to modern education, the professions and new businesses in the fashion in which the traditionally forward castes have.

This leaves them relatively underrepresented in these areas of rising economic and social power. At the same time, they see communities ritually held to be their inferiors taking advantage of reservations to advance in these very same sources of modern social power from which they feel excluded. This is the source of the demand for quotas by landed castes without a culture of putting a premium on education.

The solution is not to create yet more quotas. The solution is to expand educational opportunities, to ensure that no one who is qualified to pursue higher education is denied the opportunity. India is not the resource-starved country today that it was decades ago. Excess capacity in engineering colleges suggests misallocation of resources, not paucity of resources.

Unless school education delivers what it is supposed to, mere expansion of higher education will yield little.

The focus has to shift to quality, and a system of financing the delivery of quality education by a judicious mix of user charges and scholarships for those who cannot afford them. This is not a quick fix. But there is none.


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