THIS is with reference to my interview in Frontline (April 9). I am thankful for its publication but would like to correct a mistake that crept into it.
The headline of the interview was Upper-caste conspiracy. Even in the body of the story, the term upper caste was used. I want to clarify that I never used the term upper caste during interview while explaining my stand on the proposed Womens Reservation Bill. I used terms such as upper class, elite class and ruling elite. I also used the term upper-class NGOs. I think there was a communication gap during the interview, and upper class was misunderstood to mean upper caste.
I do not have any complaint to make against your correspondent for the misunderstanding because the whole nation is confused about the terms class and caste. After the implementation of the Mandal Commission in 1990, there was a nationwide debate on class and caste because the Constitution terms beneficiaries of reservation as Backward Classes and not Backward Castes.
This was debated in the Supreme Court too, and it was established to the satisfaction of the court that the Backward Classes of the Constitution mean Backward Castes. Even I was of the opinion that Backward Classes meant Backward Castes.
In such an environment of caste and class debate, there is genuine scope for misunderstandings and confusion over the terms class and caste. That is why I can understand why my upper class was replaced with upper caste in your magazine.
I would like to clarify that when I say womens reservation in the proposed form is an upper-class conspiracy, I mean the elite class of the country, not the upper castes. I have never spoken against the upper castes either publicly or privately. Right from the start of my public life, I have been closely associated with all castes of the country. I am the president of a political party that enjoys support among all castes. People of the upper caste constitute a sizable section of the partys support base, and they also constitute in measure a part of the elected party representatives in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha, the Vidhan Sabha and the Vidhan Parishad.
I have been contesting Lok Sabha elections for many decades and dealing with voters of all castes with equal respect. A large chunk of upper-caste voters has been voting for me, and I owe my victory to the people of all castes and communities.
When we ask for the inclusion of a quota for OBCs, Dalits and women of minority groups, we do not intend to be against upper-caste women. With this demand, we just want to show our concern for the women of these deprived sections of society. They are the most neglected sections of women in India. With the development of our country and the progress of the civilisation, women are getting empowered day by day, but the rate of empowerment among women of the deprived sections is very slow. They suffer from illiteracy, poverty, superstition and discrimination, all of which are unknown to the women of the elite classes and the NGOs. That is why they need a separate quota within quota.
Though, it is still to be discussed by my party, it is my personal opinion that there should be a constitutional provision to look after the interests of those upper-caste women who suffer the same discrimination and disabilities as suffered by OBCs, Dalits and women of minority groups. To safeguard their interests in the scheme of womens reservation, the creamy layer concept should also be introduced in the final Bill. OBC students and youth belonging to creamy layer families are not given reservation in jobs and educational institutions. In a similar manner, the final Act should exclude women belonging to creamy layer families. Let the women of the elite class (irrespective of their caste) contest elections only from the non-reserved seats and let the most deserving women of our country be empowered.