Shudras comprise approximately half the population of India…The Mandal Commission concluded in the 1980s that the OBCs, not including the “upper” Shudra castes, represent 52 percent of all Indians…By comparison, the “forward” castes—Hindu castes outside the OBCs, Scheduled Cates and Scheduled Tribes—all together count for no more than 20 percent of the Indian population.

So, why is it that the “forward” castes still have almost complete dominance of Indian politics, business and academia with the Shudras being invisible in these spheres? Even more intriguingly, how is it that Dalits – people deemed to be outside the margins of the Hindu caste system – have made more progress over the last 40 years than the Shudras have?

In a lucid essay, Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd contends that there are 3 factors which have held back the Shudras:

(a) the rise of the free market in India has greatly helped the Bania class in India – the third tier of the Indian caste system – cement their position as elites on a par with Brahmins. The rise of the BJP is in a way correlated to the rise of the Banias who have flourished as India has integrated its economy with the global economy.

(b) the Brahmins & Banias have ensured that their kids study English in school and then get advanced education in the top-flight universities in India or abroad. The Shudras have not had this singular focus on intellectual advancement. Their education has not only allowed the Brahmins & Banias to stand toe to toe with the global elite, the lack of such an education has left the Shudras bereft of ideas for advancement. The Shudras are still waiting for a Western educated intellectual of the stature of Ambedkar to show them the way.

(c) Either by design or by accident, the Shudra movement splintered around 40 years ago wherein the agrarian Shudras (Yadavs, Reddys, Nairs, Gowdas, Jats, Patels, etc) broke away and said that they did NOT want the “Other Backward Caste” reservations created by the 1990 Mandal Commission. Now 30 years on, the non-OBC Shudras find that their farms and their fields can no longer sustain them. So now they are seeking OBC status. In contrast, Ambedkar coalesced the Dalits into a coherent group and successfully got them reservations right at the dawn of India’s independence.

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