Atheism and caste based job reservation


Can an atheist avail the benefit of affirmative action from the Government in India like reserved jobs which is based on caste into which a person is born ?

Indian (Hindu) society was deeply divided by the hierarchical caste system. It originated around 2000 years ago.

Caste system gave a high position to some and very low position to others by virtue of brith and others fall in between. People were divided into four Varnas, Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Then there were the untouchables or Dalits who were considered beneath even the Sudras. There was and is strict endogamy. No one is allowed to marry out of caste.

The lower castes were denied education for centuries. They did not have land and were forced to work in the land of upper caste families for food. The Dalits were forced to do menial jobs.

All this resulted in a gross social and economic inequality in the Indian society. After the independence, when India became a Constitutional democracy special laws were promulgated as a part of affirmative action to address the caste based inequalities. Untouchability was banned and caste based discrimination was made unlawful. To ensure representative justice Indian Constitution provided for reservation of seats in elected bodies and job reservations in government for Dalits. There were provision for reservation of seats in government educational institutions. Later lower castes other than Dalits were also considered for reservation of seats in government jobs and in educational institutions. All theses provisions helped in ensuring representation of lower caste people in legislature, executive and in government run educational institutions.

Reservation is based on caste of the family into which the person is born. To get the job under reservation the candidate has to declare his religion and caste.

Atheists who were born into lower caste families, who do not believe in god, religion or caste, will have to declare herself as belonging to lower caste of such and such religion to avail the reservation. Should atheists do that ?

A prominent atheist, author and celebrity speaker from Kerala, Sri Ravichandran recently opined that atheists should not declare that they belong to lower caste just to get reservation quota in Govt jobs and educational institutions. His controversial statement was something like this.

“You will have to sacrifice many things to become an atheist. So should sacrifice Reservation quota too. If you want caste based reservation why you become an atheist ? Better to be a theist and work in a caste based organisation.”

Many including me immediately opposed his views. The concise of opposing views was this.

Caste is not like a god belief. One cannot get out of your caste by simply not believing in god. The social discrimination you face is not because of your god belief but because you were born into a family that is considered by many in Indian society to be off lesser humans. The discrimination will continue even for atheists. So why should an atheist belonging to an oppressed family say no to distributive justice provided by the state ?

Is it not an indirect way to keep out those born in lower caste families from atheist movement ?

Unfortunately there were many supporters for Ravichandran’s views. Most of them were privileged atheists who never had to suffer discrimination. According to them it’s the affirmative action that is sustaining the caste system. They blame the Dalit activists for casteism in the same way some whites in USA blame coloured people of racism when they protest against discrimination.

It is sad to see some sections of atheists in India lead by celebrities like Ravichandran turning their back to social justice. They are attacking the special laws meant to protect weaker sections of society like Dalits and women.

Atheism without humanist pro social justice values can be as bad as organised religion.

Comments welcome