GURU GRAM REINFORCES NEED FOR QUOTA

In India, Haryana government’s sudden decision to rename Gurgaon as Guru Gram, after the mythical character Dronacharya, has come as a shock to many people, who are waxing eloquence on why the move does not augur well for the country’s industrial development. But it needs to be seen in a different light because the move not only revives memories of one of the most roguish and abominable characters in Mahabaratha but also underlines the need to reaffirm the necessity to continue the reservation policy, besides seeking its extension to the private sector.

Dronacharya and Ekalvaya, the real hero in the particular fable, are just mythical characters. But the narrative aims at showing all non-Brahmins their low place in society even if they managed to acquire skills, meritoriously, over and above Brahmins. It openly says that even if a non-Brahmin excels in any art or craft – in Drona’s story it is archery – the Brahmin knows how to cut him to size. Yes, in Ekalavya’s case, his thumb was cut, rendering him incapable of archery.

Drona got it done by inhumanly and indecently demanding the thumb as ‘guru dakshana’ for the simple reason that while mastering the art himself, Ekalvaya had looked at an image of Drona for inspiration. Drona had earlier refused to teach Ekalvaya. He also refused to teach Karnan, who ended up as the student of Parasurama who too, on finding out that his student was not a Brahmin, ensured that the skills that Karnan had learnt and excelled in did not help him when the need came.

Yet the obnoxious Drona is celebrated by the upper castes because, he championed the cause of caste hegemony and firmly believed that the lower castes should not aspire to acquire skills, jobs and positions that are reserved for the Brahmins and other upper caste people. Now, suddenly, celebrating Drona and his casteism, the Haryana government has renamed Gurgaon, a highly cosmopolitan city that grew exponentially in the last four decades due to rapid industrialization.   

The RSS, which has always been using the name Guru Gram in its name boards, claims that Drona, who was the teacher of the Pandavas, received a huge tract of land as  guru dakshana and that it was on that land that India’s modern city of Gurgaon, adjoining the national capital of Delhi, was built. In the fable, Drona wanted to incapacitate Ekalvaya only because he had seemingly become a better archer than his own students, the Pandava brothers.

It is a different matter that Gurgaon grew into such a big city not because of the RSS or the Haryana government, which ordered the renaming on the eve of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, but only because of the private business houses that set up shop there. First identified by Maruti, when it started making those small 800 cc cars as an ideal place for setting up the plant, today Gurgaon is home for about 250 Fortune 500 companies. To put it otherwise, it is a bustling city with skyscrapers and infrastructural facilities.

Gurgaon’s growth as a city in India was unconventional and phenomenal just like the development shown by the non-Brahmins, particularly the marginalized classes comprising the OBCs, SCs and STs, in academia and industry. If the modern city came up without much support from the governments with the stakeholders themselves contributing to its infrastructure, which many say has developed in a haphazard fashion, the marginalized classes too overcame the oppression and suppression they faced for generations due to the caste system.

Even in the modern day context, in the plush interiors of glass and steel skyscrapers in cities like Gurgaon and elsewhere, the talented, efficient and educated people from the marginalized classes regularly encounter Dronas and Parasuramas, masquerading as mentors and employers. The very idea behind the RSS and BJP resurrecting the memory of the Drona by giving a cosmopolitan city his name is to remind the nation that the ancient archery master’s blatant casteism is still in the reckoning and that it will continue to be practised. Even if you have acquired skills to shoot at targets in the boardrooms of Gurgaon’s office complexes, remember an Ekalvaya cannot complain about discrimination.

On the flipside, the renaming of Gurgaon is a wakeup call. For, the sudden reverence shown to Guru or Dronacharya is only aimed at telling the dominant upper castes to revive his ideals and follow his world view on who should acquire skills on what. To counter such moves aimed at bringing Manusmrithi back in places like Gurgaon, all progressive forces, aspiring for an egalitarian society, should launch the campaign for affirmative action (reservation) of jobs in the private sector.

Taking quotas beyond government institutions and departments, even the private sector should be made to follow caste-based reservation, particularly when the RSS is sending across the message to India Inc to remember Drona and how he treated lower caste youth. The glorification of Drona is nothing but an expression of desire, perhaps even an attempt, to usher in the social systems and discriminatory practices that were in vogue during the times of Ekalvaya and Karnan, who could not realise their full potential just because the Gurus will not accept low castes as students, however talented they may be.

If you were of the illusion that such discriminations cannot be brought back to practice in the modern era, remember there are people who still worship and admire a character like Drona. Perhaps they were seething in anger, resenting the progress shown by Ekalavayas and Karnans all around. That the collective angst perhaps has revealed itself in its true colours, through the move to perpetuate the memory of a mythical teacher, who should not have been a teacher at all in the first place.

Looking at the episode in its totality from another angle, it seems that it is aimed at ushering in a dangerous trend – reviving caste discrimination and reversing the benefits of social justice. So the only panacea is to press for reservation to at least keep modern-day Dronacharyas at bay and preventing them from running amok in Indian society and tearing apart its socio-economic fabric.

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