Vishwakarma Yojana

Reinforcing the Varna System

Shanvar V

It was in June 1953 that  the then Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr Rajaji (C Rajagopalachari) announced a system of schooling under ‘Modified Scheme of Elementary Education’ that allocated morning hours for proper schooling in classrooms and the afternoon hours for learning the traditional, hereditary occupations of their parents. By that a son of a cobbler should learn cobbling, sanitation workers’ son scavenging and a priest’s son to learn priesthood. This created an uproar in the entire state and paved the way for a powerful emergence of Dravidian politics. Rajaji had to confront resistance from within his own party and the government in addition to other opposition parties. K Kamaraj, OBC leader from within the state Congress, emerged as a leader of the demand to scrap the educational system that reinforced caste hierarchy and was popularly called as ‘Kula Kalvi Thittam’ (Caste ordained educational scheme).

Rajaji had to resign from the presidentship of the Congress in March and ultimately forced to step down from the chief ministership in April 1954 because of the furore and resistance movement generated by the controversial educational scheme.

Now, in 2023, it is the turn of Mr Modi and the BJP. The Vishwakarma Yojana announced by the PM Modi, on the day of Vishwakarma Jayanti and his own birthday, is nothing but a euphemism for Rajaji’s scheme of caste ordained education to learn the caste ordained occupation.

In place of Rajaji’s raw scheme, the PM Modi has announced a sophisticated scheme of “Vishwakarma Yojana” with paid training, free tools and loans to attract and to reinforce the caste system.

The Modi led BJP government has also promised support from offering tools and loans to produce and until brand promotion and marketing. And the support will be offered only if the person registered under the scheme can prove that he is traditionally engaged in the job, in other words, by birth. VAOs and other officials at local level are to confirm their caste background by confirming their birth and traditional occupation. This scheme is systematically designed to limit artisans and crafts people to confine themselves to their caste based occupation. Vishwakarma Yojana is nothing but a ploy for the promotion of caste (Varnashrama) based ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and for the reinforcement of the existing caste system based on Manu Smriti.

In order to generate interest and to encourage the younger generations among artisans and crafts people, more importantly to prevent their drift from caste ordained occupations, the Modi has also declared a loan scheme worth one lakh loan for those who undergo 5 days training of basic course and another 2 lakh loan for those who undergo 15 days training of advance course. The person who repaid the original 1 lakh loan within 18 months and also with advance training certificate only offered the loan of two lakh. Out of 13 percent interest for loan, the PM says that the government will be responsible for 8 percent while the loanees will have to pay 5 percent interest. In the launching of the scheme, the PM proudly declared that “Modi is the guarantee” for loans and banks will not ask for any collateral.

In a typical fashion, Mr Modi also walked through the exhibition of “Guru–Shishya Parampara” in the launching of Vishwakarma Yojana.

Unlike traditional understanding of capitalism destroying the feudalism or its remnants, it is actually reinforcing and fortifying the caste system in India. Rajaji’s scheme of promoting caste ordained occupations in 50s is synchronised to the neo-liberal era of 2023 by PM Modi.

As the scheme is being unveiled in a neo liberal-era, Modi also talks about making local the vocal by offering training, technology and offers to make the local as global by increasing exports of handicrafts showcased in Bharat Mandapam and Yasho Bhoomi. Modi claims that the government will increase the share of handicrafts from its one percent now and will look for capturing the international market worth 25 lakh crore.

He is also attempting to rationalise it by saying that the scheme is aimed at catering to the market of conference tourism industry that is marked by events, exhibitions and meetings. He says that he is addressing the section of people who prefer drinking water from earthen pots more than a refrigerator. He also minced no words to claim that artisans and crafts people will be part of a supply chain and be part of outsourcing chain by corporate companies. Hence, Modi is trying to achieve two targets of reinforcing caste system and using caste as a basis for capital accumulation in a neo-liberal economy by throwing a single stone of Vishwakarma scheme.

Vishwakarma Yojana is not an isolated scheme, but a scheme well integrated with the vision synchronised to the neo-liberal environment. It is very well closely linked with the NEP 2020 that is inspired by Manu Smriti which makes education of lower castes punishable. It denies education to the marginalised through various ways including medium of education, privatisation and vocational training. It is also intertwined with the RSS-BJP dream of Hindu Rashtra. Child labour in family enterprises is already legalised through amendments to the act.

NDTV projects the scheme as an OBC outreach by Modi. It is being rolled out in the backdrop of the Supreme Court refusing to halt caste census in Bihar. Hence the interpretation is that the BJP is planning to shed its Brahmin–Bania image with this scheme. Modi also cleverly acknowledges that there is not a single village in the country without service castes like barbers, washer-men, cobblers, carpenters, blacksmiths, etc., who are placed under the nomenclature of Vishwakarmas.

Rajaji, the person who attempted to protect Varnashrama system in 50s was thrown to the dustbin of history and he could never emerge again. The communists, Periyarists and Dravidian movement spelled a doom for a stalwart in those days. Modi, RSS and BJP are also bound to face a similar fate and the days are not far off.

[Courtesy: Liberation]

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Vol 56, No. 16, Oct 15 - 21, 2023