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Caste based reservations: Enough is enough

  By Vijay Darda | 31-08-2015

When the concept of reservations for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes was proposed at the time of drafting the Indian Constitution under the leadership of its architect Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar even those who were opposed to the idea for different reasons went along with it because the provision was to last ten years. It is pertinent to note that members of the constituent assembly did voice a strong opinion that the problem of being downtrodden in our country “is not political, it is cultural and economic and educational, and there are millions of people in our country whose obstacles are in no way different from those of the scheduled castes”. The inequalities in our country are clearly an economic problem.

This assessment has to be kept side by side with an understanding that social backwardness is also a reality in the sense that there are long standing issues of caste based discriminations and other inequalities. All these aspects have underpinned the demands for reservations in education, employment, legislatures, even elected bodies and we have seen that the initial quantum of 22.5 per cent reservations for the SCs and STs for a period of ten years, has grown to a level that exceeds more than the 50 per cent bar laid down by the Supreme Court with no prospect of any time span being imposed on it. In fact we can assume that it would be perpetual, and would keep growing in size.

It is this understanding that has witnessed the unprecedented mass upsurge from the dominant Patel community of the BJP controlled Gujarat. The fact that lakhs of people took to the streets demanding reservations for the Patidar community, or the scrapping of the caste based system in favour of one based on economic criteria should be seen as a timely wake up call. The questions about the Gujarat model of development aside, the fact that even a community as enterprising as the Patels who otherwise control the politics of the state is forced to take to streets under the leadership of a 22-year-old Hardik Patel as they are feeling marginalised should tell us something. We shall hear many conspiracy theories and there would be the inevitable political fallout as well. Yet, it would be only at our own peril that we would ignore the message from the agitation led by a man in his early 20s.

Whereas there would be question marks about the tactics he is adopting, considering that he plans to make it a pan-India movement and enlist the support of similar communities like the Jats, the basic issue remains the same. It is feeling among an otherwise politically dominant community in the region that its youth are not getting the opportunities to grow. They lack education, and even when they get education, they do not have the jobs. The solution for this is that either they get a pie of the reserved category or this caste based criteria is abolished altogether. Both the prescriptions may have their own flaws, but there is no missing the core message.

The message is simple. The youth of the country are telling us that the flip side of reservation is exclusion. The enhancement of the reservation pie has the logical corollary of reducing the size of the cake available for the general community. In the process of pandering to every community that makes a claim on the basis of some argument of backwardness, the resultant backlash is the denial of opportunity to a candidate from the general category. It is this paradigm that creates an absurd situation where a student from a reserved category with a much lesser score makes it whereas the student from the general category having a much higher score is left high and dry. If this were to happen only at a certain stage of education, this could be a situation that would be tolerable. But then the concept of reservation is being carried forward to every stage of selection. If reservation at every stage means, a parallel exclusion, then it also means additional discontent at every stage. Given our stage of economic development and the lack of opportunities for the youth, we can be certain that for every student of the reserved category who gets the chance to move to the higher ladder, there is at least another student from the general category who feels deprived.

The idea that reservations are a tool to right the wrongs of the past has lived its life. Even Dr Ambedkar did not suggest that this should be in perpetuity. We are now a young country and everyone- yes everyone to the exclusion of none- has the same rights and entitlements. Through reservations based on caste we have created a new privileged class. It is well known that even among the reserved categories it is the more privileged lot that are the beneficiaries of the quota system. However, we are also a caste based country. It is not just Bihar that votes its caste, instead of casting the vote. Everywhere caste plays an important role in politics. It would not be easy for the politicians to advocate for any system that does not yield dividends on the basis of caste.

The main problem however is that the growth model is flawed. For all the grandiose plans, the fact remains that neither the economy nor the society are geared up to meet the ambitions of the millions that are joining the race for a better life. There are not enough seats in colleges or schools, and neither are there enough jobs. The bigger tragedy is that this collective voice of discontent has come from Gujarat that was supposed to be the redeeming factor for the entire nation.

Politics apart every generation has a responsibility towards the coming generations. It is for the current generations to ensure that the foundations and the structures remain solid for the future ones to sustain themselves. Failure to do so is simply not an option. Listening to the voices of the youth and responding to their calls is the only route. They are telling us, enough is enough.

Before I conclude…

The Law Commission’s recommendation that death penalty should be gradually abolished and kept on the statute books only for terror related convictions is bound to attract a lot of debate. There are potent arguments on both sides, but then it would be useful for the progress of our society and democracy that the issue is thoroughly discussed in the public domain. After all, it is questionable whether the state should believe in the policy of revenge that calls for an eye for an eye. Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom on such matters can still guide us to come to useful conclusions.


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Caste based reservations: Enough is enough


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