India Insight

What do you have to do to be worthy of your own statue?

Two statues were in the news this week, both controversial in their own way. First, Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, ordered a 45-day-old statue of herself be pulled down to be replaced by a bigger one.

File picture of MayawatiThen Mumbai announced it was building a statue of Shivaji Bhosle, a 17th-century Hindu warrior king more often known by the honorific title Chhatrapati Shivaji. The statue, city officials said, would grace Mumbai’s Back Bay and be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty.

Mayawati’s self-aggrandisement has provoked a mixture of amusement and scorn. The Hindustan Times pointed out that it takes a certain kind of chutzpah to spend public money on statues of yourself. Amit Varma, who blogs at India Uncut, worries we are at the start of a slippery slope: how long before Mayawati wants a statue of herself taller than Lady Liberty?

But perhaps Mayawati’s chutzpah serves a greater good. Mayawati is both a woman and a Dalit, the name given to those born into the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Neither group, on the whole, has traditionally enjoyed much power in Indian society. Maybe Mayawati intends her statues to herald that changes are afoot? Perhaps she really is India’s Lady Liberty?

Mumbai’s leaders, at least, have chosen to honour a figure whose place in history is more established.

India’s Gujjar mess underlines problem of relying on quotas

There is no doubt that India is a deeply unequal society, that people at the bottom of the pile face discrimination, and struggle for the opportunities they need to raise themselves up. But is the answer caste- or tribe-based quotas in government jobs and universities?

Members of the Gujjar community beat a burning effigy of Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje during a protest in Bikaner district of India’s desert state of Rajasthan May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Vinay Joshi (INDIA)This week, the debate is back in the headlines, as the Gujjar community takes to the streets again, blockading India’s capital to reinforce their demand for more quota-based jobs . Nearly 40 people have been killed in the latest violence, most shot dead by police.

I am not qualified to say whether quotas are right or wrong.

On the one hand, they reinforce caste identity and rivalry and seem to fly in the face of a secular India. On the other, they can be a useful tool in forcing an end to discrimination and giving people a leg up.

from FaithWorld:

India’s Hindu caste quotas edge towards private companies

The issue of redressing the imbalance of Hinduism's ancient caste system by creating job and college entry quotas for lower caste and other disadvantaged groups in India seems to be gaining headway in an election year. Now it may be the turn for private industry.

Medical students attend protest in Kolkata, 26 Sept 2006/Parth SanyalParties across India's political spectrum appear to be seeing caste-based reservations, as the quotas are known, as potential vote winners. It is a sign again that caste consciousness will become ever more important in what in theory is a secular Indian state.

Now multinationals enjoying the fruits of an Indian economic boom may find they are not immune. Much to the horror of many industrialists worried about their international competitiveness.