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AnewedificeforreservationsOPINIONTheHindu

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TODAY'SPAPEROPINION

September2,2015

Anewedificeforreservations
JayaprakashNarayan

JayaprakashNarayan
ThemassivemobilisationofPatelsinGujaratintheiragitationfortheirinclusioninthecastebasedreservationsschemeasOtherBackward
Classes(OBC)raisesvitalquestionsonaffirmativeaction.Fordecades,politicalparties,themediaandsocietyatlargehaveavoidedserious
debateonthepromotionofequalopportunityinaniniquitous,casteriddensocietypractisingdiscriminationbybirthforcenturies.
Allsocietiesfaceseriouschallengesonaccountofdiscriminationandinstitutionalisedinequality.TheUnitedStateshasitsAfricanAmericans
andAmericanIndian,EuropehasitsGypsies,AustraliahasitsAborigines,andChinahasitsnonHanminorities.Butnowhereintheworld
areinequalitybybirthandmoralneutralitytosuchdiscriminationsoinstitutionalisedasinIndiansociety.Centuriesofartificialdivisionof
societyintohundredsofcastes,thedenialofeducationforallbutafewuppercastes,anunbreakablelinkagebetweencasteandoccupation,
institutionaliseduntouchabilityandabsurdnotionsofimpurity,thelongentrenchedtraditionofendogamousmarriageswithinasubcaste,
andseriousprejudiceagainstmixedmarriagesareallthathavemadetheIndiancastesystemthemostheinous,oppressiveandintractable
formofdiscriminationandinequalitybybirth.
Stymingopportunity
Evenacursoryunderstandingofoursocietyexposesthelinkbetweencasteandpoverty,andthedenialofopportunitybasedentirelyon
circumstancesofbirth.Thefutureofavastmajorityofchildrenborninoursocietycanbereasonablypredictedatthetimeofbirthmerelyby
assessingthefamilyseconomicstatus,parentaleducationandcaste.Thechildsinnateability,ambitionandhardwork,inmostcases,are
irrelevanttoherfuture.Notonlyisthisanunjust,oppressivemonstrosityinthisdayandage,butalsoalargemajorityofthenationsgene
poolisalsowastedbythisdenialofopportunity,andthenationsstateofpovertyandbackwardnessareperpetuated.Giventhese
circumstances,castewillhavetobeanimportantfactorindeterminingeligibilityforaffirmativeactionpolicies.However,theunimaginative
wayinwhichreservationshavebeenimplementedhasledtoseveral,undesirableconsequences.
Mostofthebenefitsofreservationshavegoneonlytoafew,bettereducated,welloffelitesamongthecommunitieseligibleforreservations.
Whenyouseethebackgroundofyoungstersrecruitedtothecivilservices,orthoseadmittedtomedicalschools,theIndianInstitutesof
Technology,theIndianInstitutesofManagement,nationallawschoolsorothercoursesthatgiverealopportunitiesofverticalmobility,we
seeapatternemerging.Thoughreservationisapplicabletothepoorandtherich,ortheilliterateandtheeducatedincastegroupsequally,in
reality,mostbenefitsaccruetothechildrenofthosewhoalreadyhavetheadvantagesofeducation,careerandwealth.Inmostselections
to/inpremierinstitutionsinhighereducationorrecruitmenttohighendjobs,itisthechildrenofIndianAdministrativeService,Indian
PoliceServiceofficersandotherseniorofficials,theprogenyofMembersofLegislativeAssemblies(MLA),MembersofParliament(MP)and
theotherpoliticalelite,andtheoffspringofsuccessfulprofessionalsandbusinessmenwhodominatethesceneincommunitieseligiblefor
reservations.
Polarisationandpolitics
Thisskewedbenefithasparadoxicalconsequences.Thepoor,disadvantagedScheduledCastes(SC)andScheduledTribes(ST)andOBCsare
mostlyonthefringesandcontinuetoremainmiredinpovertyandbackwardness,astheycannotcompetewithchildrenfrommore
advantagedbackgroundsintheirowncommunities.Therefore,thereisenormouspain,sufferingandangstoftenresultingindespairand
whichtriggersviolence.Mostofthepoorindisadvantagedsectionsaresullenandangryastheirlotdoesnotseemtoimproveirrespectiveof
abilityandhardwork.Atthesametime,thecommunitiesexcludedfromreservationsharbouranimosityandprejudiceagainstthecastes
includedinthereservationcategory.TherearealsoseveralpoorandsemiliteratefamiliesamongcastesnotcategorisedasSCsorOBCs.
Whenachildinsuchafamilyisovertakenbyanobviouslywealthychildenjoyingcastereservation,theresentmentcreatedhasasnowballing
effect.Thiscastepolarisationisaccentuatedbythepoliticalmobilisationofcastegroupsforvoting.Giventhiscomplexprocess,shortsighted
politiciansandcastebasedleaderscaneasilyprovokeprimordialloyaltiesandarouseanimositiesbasedoncaste.Wehaveseenmany
instancesofcastemobilisationforandagainstreservations.Inrecentyears,theJatGujjarMeenaagitationsinRajasthanaretoowellknown
tobearrepetition.Now,theagitationofPatels,thelargelysuccessfulandentrepreneurialcommunityinGujarat,oneofIndiasmostvibrant
States,onlyillustratestheneedforrationalisingreservations.
http://www.thehindu.com/todayspaper/tpopinion/anewedificeforreservations/article7605138.ece

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9/6/2015

AnewedificeforreservationsOPINIONTheHindu

Itisclearthatatpresentmostofthebenefitsofreservationsflowtoafewwelleducatedfamiliesintheupperstrata.Realpoorfamilies
amongSCs,STsandOBCsarelargelyonthemargins.ThepooramongOtherCategories(OC)areresentfulandfrustrated,andtendtoblame
reservationsforalltheirproblems.Thecurrentformofreservationsandzerosumapproachhavedeepenedcastedivisionswithouthelping
thetrulypoor,deservingchildrentoadvanceinlife.MostIndiansfromcastesincludedinreservationorexcludedfeelbetrayed.Weneed
anurgent,earnest,honest,nationaldebate,andacreativesensible,pragmaticresponse.Opportunitiesforalldisadvantagedchildren,equity,
fairnessandcommonsenseshouldbetheguidingprinciplesinevolvingamorerationalmodelofreservations.
Casefordisreservation
First,whilecastewillcontinuetobethemainstayofreservationpolicies,thebenefitsshouldflowtothevastmajorityofunderprivileged
childrenfromdeprivedcastesnottoafewprivilegedchildrenwithacastetag.FamiliesofpublicofficialsofacertainrankIAS,IPS,other
CentralandStatecivilservices,presentorformerMLAs,MPs,otherseniorpoliticianscertainhighincomeprofessionalslikephysicians,
charteredaccountants,managersaboveacertainrankintheprivatesector,andbusinessmenandothersaboveacertainincomeshouldbe
disreserved.Inotherwords,oncetheyhavereceivedasignificantadvantageofreservations,theyshouldbeabletoensureopportunitiesfor
theirchildrenandvacatethespaceforthetrulydisadvantagedchildrenintheirowncastegroups.Theargumentthatfinancialorprofessional
successdoesnotenddiscrimination,andthereforetheyshouldforeverenjoyreservationsisfallaciousandselfserving.Thelogicof
reservationsisthateducationalandemploymentopportunitieswillreducediscriminationinamoderneconomy.Thestatehasonlythepower
togivetheseopportunities.Ifeducation,jobandincomedonotmitigatediscrimination,thentherationaleforreservationcollapses.If
reservationsdohelpinupwardmobility,thenwhatmorecanweexpectinlifeotherthananIAS,IPSofficer,MLA,MPoracardiacsurgeon?
Itiseasytoidentifyfamilieswhichhavesubstantiallybenefitedfromreservationbyvirtueofposition,rank,profession,education,childrens
schoolandincome.Oncethesefamiliesaredisreserved,thetrulypooranddisadvantagedsectionsamongreservedcommunitieswillgeta
helpinghandinbothhighereducationandjobs.
Affirmativesteps
Second,wehavetoaddresstheangerandaspirationsofpoorfamiliesamongunreservedcommunities.Jats,Patelsandotherobviously
successfulcommunitieswhoarepoorareeasilyangeredbywhattheyseeasanunjustsystem.WiththeSupremeCourtrulingof50percent
ceilingonreservationquotas,nofurtherreservationispossible.Butintelligent,creative,fairandpracticalwaysofgivingthepoorerchildren
amongOCsahelpinghandarepossibleandnecessary.Forinstance,parentaleducationandtheschoolthechildattendedaretwosure
indicatorsofpovertyandthebackwardnessofafamily.Ifparentshavenothadeducationbeyondschool,andifthechildgoestoa
governmentschooloralowend,ramshackleprivateschool,itisasuresignofalackofadequateopportunity.Suchachild,howeverbright,
cannotcompetewiththeprivilegedsonofahighofficialorwealthydoctorgoingtoanexpensiveprivateschool.Andyet,oursocalledmerit
systemtreatsa90percentscoreoftheprivilegedchildasbetterthanthe80percentscoreofapoorgirlinaruralschool.Ifreasonable
weightageisgiveninmarkstosuchunderprivilegedchildreninthecategoryofOCanadditionofmarksdecidedbyagroupofexpertsit
willgiveaddedopportunitytopoorOCswithoutraisingreservationquotas.Atthesametime,truemeritisnotcompromisedandthereis
alwaysanaspirationalleveltheyhavetomeet.Third,nochildwithabilityanddesireshouldeverbedeniedopportunitiesforhigher
educationonaccountofpovertyorbirth.Scholarships,freetuition,softloansandothermechanismsmustbestrengthened,sothatabright
childcanreachforthestarsirrespectiveofhisorherfamilyssocialoreconomicstatus.
Oncethesethreestepsareinplace,mostofthedistortionsinthereservationpolicywillvanish.Therewillbefargreaterharmonyandlittle
incentivetopolarisesocietyorprovokeprimordialloyalties.Mostofall,thereallydisadvantagedwillhaveagenuineopportunitytoriseto
theirpotential.Unfulfilledpotentialisthegreatestsininoursociety.Onceweeliminatemuchofthisscourge,wecanreducereservationsby
oneortwopercenteachyear.Withinageneration,discriminationbybirthwillbeathingofthepast,andreservationswillnotbenecessary.
Simultaneously,thestatecanencouragemarketmechanismsforequalopportunityintheprivatesector.
Theseeffortsshouldbecoupledwithavigorousnationalefforttoimproveschooleducationoutcomes.TheRightofChildrentoFreeand
CompulsoryEducation(RTE)Actismostlyafailureinenablingarealopportunityforallchildren.Guaranteedoutcomesinschoolsand
accesstorealqualityschooleducationtoeverychildirrespectiveofbirthandpovertyareattheheartofasocietypromotingequity,
opportunityandegalitarianism.Itistimeweaddressthechallengeofreservationshonestly,openly,fairlyandinnovatively.Wecannotbury
ourheadsinthesandforeverlikeanostrich.
(Dr.JayaprakashNarayanisthefounderoftheLokSattamovementandFoundationforDemocraticReforms.Email:
drjploksatta@gmail.com)
Apreviousversionofthisarticlereferredto'AmericanIndians'as'IndianAmericans'.Ithasnowbeencorrected.
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