Much had been written already about reservation. Many among us have shouted, opposed and stayed hungry. Others have been hit mercilessly by khaki-clad goons and lived through treatment that they didn’t deserve. For people thronging the circular palace of power in Delhi, it’s an easy decision. Cutting across party lines, every elected (or rather least rejected) representative has chosen to keep mum on reservation, offering tacit support to what could possibly draw the curtains on the futures of lakhs of hopefuls. Prematurely.
I can’t help but remember a neighbour of ours who we lovingly called ‘nani’ meaning sister in Oriya. She is a brahmin whose husband is unfortunately incapacitated by an accident in the factory he was working in. Ever since he lost his right arm, she had been living in extreme poverty, having lost the sole bread earning hand of the family. Her son studied with us and is now employed as a daily wage labourer somewhere while many of my SC/ST classmates who were as good as him if not worse and who came from much better economic conditions went on to do their engineering and are now well placed. As she tells me, all the doors are shut on her. Her crime? She is a forward caste poor. What a terrible mistake she has done. Forward castes have no business being poor. That is the twisted logic.
What concerns me more is not the 50% reservation that has been unanimously decided to be implemented; rather it is how long the system is going to be perpetuated. I shudder to think what will happen, if at all it has to happen, when the party in power announces to repeal the reservation system and takes the pie away in a whiff from certain section people who had come to think of it as their fundamental right. What we witnessed in terms of agitation from the medicos would evaporate in comparison. Try to give a toy to a kid with another kid watching. The other kid may cry, but that cry would probably be nothing compared to how the kid who you gave the toy to would, if you ever try to snatch the toy from him to give it back to the other. It is much more painful and several times more provocative when you give someone something, and after years of him/her enjoying that something, one fine day you try to pull that away. I doubt whether any political party in India would ever dare do such a thing. But if at all some party did, it would surely lose miserably in the next election and reservation would be back with a bang before you blinked. I am afraid, once the bill is formally passed in the parliament, it’s going to stay. For a long, long time. More dangerously, it could slowly creep into every other sphere of merit-based selection; like a cancer spreading through the body.
The pity is that there is absolutely no latest, concrete, refined and analyzed data to support the damage being done. The half-attempt displayed by politicians, in arguing – if at we can call that an argument – to support the disastrous decision is based on a census that is about 20 years old. If you watched or read the interview that our honourable HRD minister had with Karan Thapar on CNN, it wouldn’t take you more than a child’s brain to figure out that our minister had absolutely nothing to say in defense of his decision, except that he had the support of virtually all the MPs and he is but a servant of the parliament who is supposed to do what the house decides. What helplessness minister! The apex authority on the educational system in India feigning innocence/ignorance/helplessness or whatever on a matter that can no better relate to the only job he has got to worry about! His was the ultimate answer, repeatedly and desperately hung on to, over the past few weeks by him and his colleagues, when no other unreasonableness could hide their crassness.
Here goes the argument harped on by the perpetrators of this mindless reservation proposal. “We are just trying to reverse the 2000 years of oppression and injustice meted out to the people of the backward castes”. Oh really? What an accelerated way to achieve that! Trying to compress those 2000 years into 100 years probably? Why not then increase the reservation even further, say to 90% so that we can further accelerate the process of social justice and voila! Within the next 20 years, everyone has an equal pie of ‘social justice’.
On a broad level, reservation meant to make up for the oppression the SC/STs have had to live through before independence – and to some extent to even today, including untouchability, menial work and social ostracization by the forward-castes – has a reasonable ground. Though, as I have argued above, the method of implementation is infested with gaping loopholes, the need to give them an advantage to try to reverse the unfair treatment meted out to them for several years makes some sense. But what about the OBCs? Who are these ‘other’ people? Why and how are they socially backward? Is their backwardness consistent across the states? Across their own community? What is the extent of their backwardness? What percentage of population do the represent and what is their representation in the higher education already? Such questions of extreme relevance have comfortably been omitted from the screen presence of our Netas.
To a large extent, the Muslim community in India has been reeling under underdevelopment, poverty and lack of education. The community’s representation in higher education and jobs is well below its demographic share. Its condition can well be compared to that of some backward castes. So what is coming next – a 20% reservation for them as well? How far can we stretch this?
Let’s stretch the defective concept further to expose the flaws. If you must reserve seats based on caste, citing under-representation, lack of facilities, years of oppression or whatever, I don’t see any reason why the national cricket team of India, our Asiad or Olympic representatives, Tennis players, President, Prime-minister and every other position that is based on merit and selection shouldn’t be brought under the quota umbrella. Why, shouldn’t the oppressed people have their righteous place among the high flying team of India? If they shouldn’t, it surely amounts to grave social injustice, looking at their under-representation. If IITs and IIMs are not places of excellence that should be purely and entirely left to merit and market forces, I can’t think of any other position/institution in India that should be left untouched, not fiddled around with. Will the politicians agree to that? Will they keep only 20% for upper castes and leave all other Lok Sabha seats to every possible backward caste?
I am not going to offer any new solution. There have been enough solutions suggested by people who are much more knowledgeable in this field than I am. Many of them are practical and implementable. All they need is dedication and a willingness to make a permanent difference; not a pathetic mindset to play sort-term gimmicks and squeeze out maximum political mileage.
I am not against reservation. Neither am I entirely against caste-based reservation. In a nation still fettered in caste shackles, we can’t ignore the reality completely. But, reservation or no reservation, a decision that affects so many students in the formative stage of their career must be based on objective data, followed by nation-wide debate. The cavalier approach adopted by politicians is definitely deplorable. Reservation – if it must be implemented – should have a strict time-frame that can’t be altered by any dose of constitutional amendment. It should in no case be extended more than once to a family or a person. This would help the person stand up on his/her feet rather than use reservation as a crutch all through his/her life.
I feel concerned about people whose lives would be directly and immediately affected. Considering that less than 1 percent of those who appear CAT make it to the IIMs, any further reduction in seats would only create a growing number of intelligent and meritorious but frustrated students. The same logic applies to other institutions as well. Increasing the seats is not an immediate option. However, even if the seats were increased, the amount of spending it would entail would leave primary education in a lurch; unless of course the government decides to spend the whole of its annual budget on education alone! How would that help the society as a whole?
It’s time the law makers decided whether they want the country to move forward or backward. I keep my fingers crossed for the Supreme Court’s word. May sense prevail!