A Crusade for Social Justice
Bending Governance towards the Deprived
Conversations with P. S. Krishnan
Dr Vasanthi Devi
Former Vice-Chancellor of
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
P.S. Krishnan is a retired IAS officer widely known for his long-standing involvement in social justice activism. His vast experience in social and political activism makes him a goldmine of information on a variety of subjects that make the news today in India. This book is an attempt to bring his unique experiences and his beliefs to the attention of interested readers, especially those with a passion for activism.
The former Vice Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University Vasanthi Devi is to be thanked for planting in us the idea to come out with this book. We had asked her a few years ago to write a brief article on P.S. Krishnan, which was to serve as a foreword for another book we published in Tamil titled ‘Sathi Olippukkana Chennai Piragadanam’ (Chennai Declaration on Caste Eradication). She told us that a brief article wouldn’t do P.S. Krishnan justice. So instead we asked her to help us publish a book that would allow the ideas and experiences of P.S. Krishnan to be set out lucidly for interested readers. She agreed to take up this task and decided to pose 50 questions to P.S. Krishnan, thus enabling him to talk about his life’s mission and his experiences in his own words.
Social justice is the heart and soul of democracy. However, the very concept of social justice is under attack today in India, with multinational corporations becoming extremely powerful actors and with people belonging to disenfranchised communities struggling to claim the rights provided to them by the Constitution. We therefore live in a time when there is a need to mobilize and fight the forces that threaten India’s long-standing commitment to social justice. We hope that this book and the thoughts of P.S. Krishnan will serve as an inspiration for everyone who wishes to bring about a more just and inclusive India.
P. S. Krishnan:
Bending Governance Towards the Deprived
"Undue partiality to depressed classes, strident advocacy of inter-caste marriages, uses his knowledge of Sanskrit to debunk religion, trusts the words of the villagers rather than village officers, acts in a manner that helps subversive elements"
— A worthy superior’s remarks in Krishnan’s Confidential Report (CR) early in his career:
Some are born with an obsession; some develop one early in life and then the obsession possesses them and drives them all their lives. The cause and the crusader often become indistinguishable, the triumphs and also setbacks of the cause mark the milestones in the crusader’s life. This piece is both a salutation to the crusader and a re-affirmation of the cause.
P.S.Krishnan has been an outstanding champion of the exploited and deprived sections of Indian society. Throughout his life from his student days in his native Kerala and later as a member of I.A.S. in the Andhra Pradesh cadre (initially Hyderabad cadre prior to linguistic reorganisation of States in 1956) and during his post-retirement phase, he has been vigorously and consistently working for the advancement and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBC) [also known as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Backward Classes (BCs)], including religious minorities belonging to them.
He sought to mould governance and public administration into a pro-active instrument of reaching out to the deprived communities. In this quest, he has often faced antagonism, hostility and persecution. He has been pulled up by higher authorities more than once for his totally unconventional ways of governance.
As a young officer in Andhra Pradesh, he pioneered as early as in 1957, the practice of officially camping in Scheduled Caste basties, tribal villages and hamlets of labouring Backward Classes, thereby infusing confidence and self esteem in them and giving a cue to the echelons of governance. He pioneered massive drives for the distribution of agricultural lands and house sites to the landless and homeless, which are milestones in governance of Andhra Pradesh.
In various capacities from Collector up to Secretary, Govt. of India, he conceived and implemented various pioneering initiatives for the deprived classes like the Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes (SCP) in 1978 and the Special Central Assistance to the States’ SCPs and Cental Assistance to States for their SC Development Corporations and many other schemes.
He was the main person behind a number of constitutional and legislative enactments like the Constitution (65th) Amendment Act, 1990 vesting constitutional status in the National Commission for SCs and STs, legislation providing SC status to Dalit Buddhists, the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (and later the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015), the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 (and later the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013). As Secretary, Ministry of Welfare in 1990, he persuaded the Govt. to accord long-denied recognition for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes at the national level and provide reservation for them.
After retirement in 1990, he was a Member of the National Commission for SCs and STs in 1991-92 and Member of the Expert Committee on Backward Classes in 1993 and Member-Secretary, National Commission for Backward Classes, 1993-2000. In that capacity, he operationalised Reservation for BCs, prepared Central (Common) Lists of BCs, ensuring that genuinely backward communities left out were brought into the Central List and communities not socially backward were scrupulously kept out.
The Govt of Andhra Pradesh took his help as Advisor in 2007 to identify the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims and on the basis of his encyclopaedic analysis, the Govt enacted legislation providing 4% reservation for Muslim BCs.
He is closely associated with a number of NGOs working for the rights of SCs, STs, BCs including Muslim and other Minority BCs. He has been the Chairman and a member of many Working Groups and Steering Committees of the Planning Commission on these communities.
He is the author of books, documents, papers on the subject of Social Justice, some published and others in the pipeline.
This book is a themes-based and issues-based account of Krishnan’s life-journey, work and ideas, brought out through my Questions on specific themes and issues of Social Justice and his Responses. Arising from this format, the book does not follow chapterisation based on individual-based chronological sequencing as in usual biographies/autobiographies, but is arranged on the basis of thematic continuity and unity, highlighting the theme of/issue in each Question at its beginning. Originally, these Questions were framed by me in a differnet context, viz., to elicit more information than I already had about him in order to enable me to write an Introduction to a book of Mr Krishnan (translated in Tamil by Thiru T. Neethirajan) which was released on 9.1.2017 at Chennai under the title ‘Jaati Ozhippukkaana Chennai Prakatanam’ (‘Chennai Declaration for Caste Eradication’). I reuested him to answer each question in as full detail as possible unconstrained by considerations of length. This grew into the present full-length book of theme-based and issued-based account of his life-long jouney.
Dr Vasanthi Devi
Former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University