Turning backwardness into privilege

The Article 15 (1) of our constitution says “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth ….” However, “…nothing shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes…” The State’s affirmation action to uplift the poor and backward is known as the ‘policy of protective discrimination’. The purpose of reservation is to give opportunity to the socially and educationally backward people to raise their social status and empower them. Now, after seven decades of reservation, it is high time we questioned the rationale behind the reservation.

The agitation by Patels for reservation in Gujarat is an indication of the reservation policy going astray. Ironically, they were the first community in India to launch the anti-reservation movement against the Dalits and OBCs in 1980s, even before the Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented by VP Singh government in 1990.

As per the RBI statistics, a fifth of 7, 60,000 micro, small and medium enterprises have gone sick. And the Patels say the caste-based reservations have deprived them of jobs and benefits. They want the government to scrap the quota system for SCs, STs and OBCs altogether or ensure the benefits of affirmative action also accrue to them.

The problem in Gujarat is different. The Gujarat government is denying the teaching of English till std V in government schools. The fallout of this shortsighted policy is that the students are denied the opportunity to acquire proficiency in English. Consequently, the great software and service sector boom, seen across the major cities in India, is missing in Gujarat. Though Gujarat has three major cities among top 10 cities, in terms of population, there is no significant presence of Software giants like Infosys, Wipro, Accenture and Tata Consultancy Services in Ahmedabad and Surat – the epicenters of the quota stir-compared to Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and elsewhere, who basic ally consider spoken English as a required skill.

The youth wants to claim something that they perceive others- low caste people- are entitled to.  They feel that the quota system has deprived them admissions and jobs based on merit in professional courses and government jobs. And the dwindling job opportunities in private and corporate sector is turning them to seek government jobs, more lucrative and stable, which are denied because of the quota system. The reservations do not ensure equality of opportunity. But the politicians, for electoral gains, promise to extend the quota system of OBCs to more communities, like Jats, Gujjars, and Marathas, who otherwise are forward communities. The flaw in the reservation policy is that it perpetuates the social inequality, while giving undue advantage to the already benefited among the so- called backward classes. If reservation has elevated the first generation people socially and educationally, then why should successive generations need the same benefits?  Why should the children of Paswans, Lalu Yadavs, Mulayam Singhs and the like, who are so well off, continue to get the benefits of reservation?

The caste based reservation has only resulted in abuse of the quota system.  It is not actually benefitting the people who need it.  For instance, in Maharashtra, most of the benefits to dalits are grabbed particularly by dalit community Mahars – the clan to which Babasaheb Ambedkar belonged to – at the expense of other dalit communities. The Mahars consider themselves ‘Brahmins’ among the fellow dalits and do not enter into any social relations with non-Mahars.

The Muslims are very backward, socially and educationally, as compared to the so-called backward castes among Hindus. Yet they are denied the benefits of reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. Vice President Hamid Ansari was right when he said that ‘the default by the State in terms of deprivation, exclusion and discrimination is to be corrected.’  Addressing the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat  on August 30, he exhorted, “corrective strategies have to be sought on category, differentiation admissible in Indian state practice and hitherto denied to Muslims,” while reminding the Muslims to look inward.

The reservation policy has outlived its utility. It has seriously compromised the merit and quality of public services. It has turned the backwardness into privilege. The people who are benefited by the quota system have developed vested interests.  It is not only undermining the merit, but also making the youth complacent. The backwardness, after all, is a disadvantage. It is an insult to the intellect to determine backwardness on the basis of caste or birth. If the youth have to develop a healthy competitive spirit and aspire to reach high goals, they must realise that hard work and perseverance alone can help them.  It is important to raise self worth and dignity of the individual.

If reservation cannot be scrapped immediately, at least the government should stop pampering the people who are already benefited by it. Let the reservation be extended only to those people whose parents are really poor and backward, irrespective of caste and religion, pending abolition of the quota system altogether. If the ruling classes do not shun the electoral politics of reservation, we may soon witness social unrest and civil war like situation.

The founding father of the Indian Republic wanted the reservation for SCs and STs temporarily for some time to ensue a level playing field because of their social deprivation for generations. But what we see today is perpetuation of the policy in an age of IT revolution, internet and social media networking. It is important to raise the quality of education at all levels —from primary to higher education—and create jobs, upholding the principles of merit and equality of opportunities. The quality of education can be improved only by ensuring proper infrastructure in educational institutions and good teaching. Reservation cannot be a substitute for poor educational standards and lack of competitiveness.

As per the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) released on July 3, a staggering 92% of rural households reported their maximum income below Rs.10, 000 per month- the income of the highest earning member being Rs. 5,000 or less. The SECC found that 51% village homes live on manual casual labour, while 49% households show signs of poverty. The benefits of reservation have never reached these segments of population, who actually deserve them.  Their children can never think of high profile jobs for want of access to quality primary and secondary education and equal opportunities of learning.

G.Ramachandram is the Author of the book ‘Nehru and World Peace’, Political Science Professor and retired Principal and Founder Secretary, Association of Indian College Principals.

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