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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Is the reservation policy still a form of affirmative action ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:50 AM

Gujjars in North India are on a war-path demanding schedule tribe status to avail reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. For a long time I believed that reserving seats in educational institutions and jobs for backward classes violated principles of equality. The government should provide free and good education and take every step to ensure that all sections of the society have equal access to jobs and higher education but when it comes to determining eligibility all candidates should have equal opportunity. This had been my belief until I realized that the present inequality in the Indian society is so acute that there cannot be a fair competition unless the socio-economic backward class is given some advantage over the forward class.

It is a common knowledge that since thousands of years, a large segment of the Indian population has been living in discrimination and deprivation on the basis of their castes. Such was the segregation and subjugation of the members of the "lower castes" that they were not allowed to even come into physical contact with members of "higher castes." The repression,subjagation and vilification of "Dalits" ( which literally means "trampled") was so great and assault on their dignity and self-esteem so damaging that even hope and aspirations had been snuffed out of them. Pitting them in fair competition against members of privileged class would amount to injustice towards them.

This discriminatory social structure has existed since more than a thousand years but there had never been a uniform code until the British era. While the British colonialists brought with them many social reforms, they were not particularly successful in discouraging casteism while creating a generic code. It has been alleged that the British actually legitimized the rigid and exploitative stratification of Indian society. When the Constituent Assembly was formed to draft the constitution, it found the undaunting task of rectifying this blunder of thousand years. Dalits and Adivasis were so hopelessly cut off from the mainstream that mere outlawing caste-based discrimination was not enough, the Assembly needed to introduce measures for upliftment of the backward castes. It was under these conditions that provision for caste-based reservation was incorporated in the Indian Constitution. It was a form of affirmative action aimed at restoring dignity and increasing political participation of the members of the backward castes (SC/ST OBC). These constitutional provisions were temporary in nature and were intended to be discontinued after the under-privileged classes had been integrated with the mainstream.

But since the commencement of the constitution, almost all political parties in India have viewed these provisions more as opportunities to consolidate their electoral bases rather than policies to bring about social justice. In the last two decades most political parties have been indulging in votebanks politics by exploiting caste antagonism. Far from eradicating unequality and integrating the backward castes to the mainstream, this brand of politics has led to further divisions and schisms in the Indian society while equality and social justice remains a distant dream. Further, caste-identity has now assumed sub-nationalistic proportions turning the Hindi-speaking states into a political battlefield where groups formed on the basis of castes vie with each other for greater share of the Indian pie.

In the process the very purpose of the reservation policy raises questions. Electoral success of political parties like BSP and SP which claim to represent backward castes indicates that members of scheduled caste may no longer be as socially and politically oppressed as they had traditionally been. Statistics from recent surveys suggest that the condition of the backward castes has improved significantly which may partly be attributed to the reservation policy. Backward castes' members now secure greater percentage of seats than their population fraction. The forward castes on the other hand are securing a lesser number of seats than their population ratio. SC/ST OBC are not the only section of the population who get preferential treatment in the matters of jobs and educational institutions, there are many other categories (women, handicapped, sportsperson, ex-service-men, their dependents, widows etc) for whom seats are reserved. After reservations for all these classes, the forward castes or the general class is left with very little opportunity, the percentage of seats secured by them is much lesser than the percentage of their population. Another factor which questions the merit of this policy is the fact that it perpetuates the caste system when the need is to abolish it.

The reservation policy needs rethinking especially in light of new political trends and surveys. Reverse discrimination policy exists for the upliftment of oppressed people and should under no circumstance be allowed to be used as a tool of votebank politics. I do not intend to say that the government should stop making special provisions for the upliftment of backward classes. The present inequality in the Indian society is too great and any effort to integrate the under-privileged with the mainstream would require special provisions. But the governments should look beyond caste identity in determining the sections of society that are really in need of help. At the same time care should be taken to ensure that the members of the forward class are not denied educational and employment opportunities due to them on the basis of their merit. It has been observed that rapid development in post-reform era has largely been contributions of private players. If successive governments had been unable to put India on fast track to development, it is doubtful if social justice can be achieved without participation of the private players. India Inc. should be encouraged to take affirmative action as part of its social responsibility programs.

7 comments :

mantu said...

Good One,but the problem is we allways put comments with no action.Its need some action.

Vikash said...

Issues related to reservation policy are creating lot of ripples, especially, in socio-economic and socio-political context of India. Aryan, the author, has tried to find a possible solution to this long lasting problem. He has of the view that at some point of time, the government should be more proactive in involving private players for effective social justice to the marginalized section of the society. It can be a good move, but it can not be a panacea for all the ills in connection with reservation policy.

The constituent assembly of independent India was comprised of intellectuals and stalwarts from different streams of the society. During their long and intensive discussion on how to build a modern India, they were of the view that reservation was necessary for certain sections of the people as per reasons already elaborated in the article. During the promulgation of the constitution, it was decided, the reservation policy would be there for 15-20 years (if I remember the figure correctly). They had of the belief that during this time, as per proper implementation of policy could bring social, economic and political justice to the backward castes people of the society. Little did they know that later reservation policy would lose its purpose. Rather, it was utilized as a trump card in many electoral battles, from Panchayat to Parliament elections. Mandal issue was the point of nadir in narrow political game plan, which clearly exposed the vandalism in reservation policy at the cost of unity and integrity of the country.

It is quite surprising that during last 60 years, crores of rupees have been pumped for the said purpose. Question comes, what percentages of backward people have been benefited. I can put it bluntly that most of the leaders, cutting across political parties and who represent backward castes community of the society, do not want this issue should be settled at all. This is all for their own vested interests. Once it is done with they will lose the issue on which they have been eyeing or accomplishing many coveted posts like MLA, MP, Minister etc.

I believe our policy makers need to have a strong vision and mission to safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens of India. Moreover, they need to rise above narrow political gimmicks to bring backward castes and economically poor section (from all castes) people to the main stream of the society. The government should plan and carry out polices for providing basic facilities like food, shelter, proper education (especially primary, secondary and higher education) and social security to all the people who have been deprived of so far. Only these measures can make them smart enough to compete among the best in any professional endeavour. In that case they will compete with utmost dignity and without any “quota tag” attached to any job they do. Yes, as the author has rightly pointed out, private players, especially big corporate houses can be given sufficient scope by the government to work on proper implementation of policies related to food, health and education etc . As CSR (corporate social responsibility) has been a buzzword in corporate arena, private players will be eager to do so. If it happens, then we will see an justifiable end to reservation policy.

Kudos to the author, who has tried to find a path for a possible solution. It will be nice if he can throw some light on my suggestions.

Busybee said...

Hi

Happy Birthday and Many Many Happy returns :-)

Busybee said...

:D I hvnt read your post, by my views on reservations..

reservations shud be continued for some time more but for the class IV or class III jobs. No reservations for higher echleons or even for higher edu. thats rubbish and will be counter productive.

Gujjars dont deserve it.

Aryan said...

Busybee,
Thanks a lot :)
You now know why friday the 13th is considered inauspicous :p

>".... class IV or class III jobs"

Well, that sounds more like an idea to perpetuate the subjagation of the lower caste members. Isn't the denial of dignity to members of lower castes one of the reasons of their backwardness?
Im not pro-reservation but I cannot ignore the fact that social inequality in India is so great that special provisions have to be made for upliftment of the backward classes. However, I disagree with the government policy.

Aryan said...

Vikash,
Thanks for the comment or should I say article :)
I agree with you that the quota provision has been completely hijacked by power hungry politicians. But we must not forget that a democracy is all about the people. People and organisations have to rise above parochialism and narrow interest and fulfill their responsibilities.
Regarding CSR I am not really aware of what benefits the government offers to corporates but clearly it needs to do more. I will write on this some time in the future.

Busybee said...

Hi Aryan

I hv tagged you :-) chk my post

re the class III & IV jobs, fyi, many from the upper castes also vie for these jobs... and these appear undignified to our conditioned minds. They arent.

reservations at these level only so that they can live better and secure lives and educate and improve the coming generations.