Friday, May 26, 2006

Reservations : A "Wrong" idea for promotion of Downtrodden

The controversy sparked off by Human Resources Development Minister, Mr Arjun Singh's April 5 remark that the Union cabinet will extend 27 per cent reservations for students from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in all the Central universities and the Indian Institutes of Technology and Management and similar institutions has developed into a storm. The storm, i belive does not do justice to the OBC or to the SC or the ST's of India.

Let me elucidate. The reservation is justified on the grounds that the Indian Scriptures sanction the discrimination. "Manu Smriti" writes that the Dalit's and Shudra's must serve the upper caste with outmost loyalty and obedience. Non compliance is supposed to attract the most severest penalties. Many such practises persist in India till this date. It is argued that the Upper Caste should pay the penalty for this in-human subjugation of the lower caste in the 21st century.

I am not saying that such kind of caste prejudices do not prevail in India. But let us take a re-look at the argument. It is hilarious that eminent personalities in India uses a 3000 year old text to justify the current situation. If my memory serves me correct "Manu Smriti" also recommended that women walk 10 paces behind their men. Perhaps, the Government of India should seriously consider a law that makes a Man walking in front of a Woman a cognizable offence.

For all intent and purpose, India was governed for about a thousand years, by foreign powers prior to Independence. First the Mughals and subsequently the Britishers. Neither bothered to uplift the down trodden classes. Not only that, never did the down trodden caste bothered to uplift themselves. Accepting the fact that in those times resources were not available let us now move up to the current century.

It has been amply demonstrated by various social studies that systematic past discrimination can produce great inequality of opportunity even when no present discrimination is present. The question that needs to be answered is whether reservations actually provide the level playing field that the SC/ST and the OBC are looking forward to for upliftment purposes?

Adolf Hitler argued, during his days, that the Jews were responsible for all the misery heaped on the Germans after World War I. As such, it would be much better to eliminate all the Jews. Ergo, the genocide programs were started in the pre-war Germany. And after the war was over, the world in a bid to rectify the wrong done to the Jews ended up creating the state of Israel on Arab land ; thereby transferring the problem of hatred from the heartland of Europe to the infertile deserts of Asia and Africa. Perhaps, someone from SC/ST/OBC in India can also provide a similar logic and say that the as the Upper Caste were responsible for all the ills of the down trodden and therefore we need a mass genocide to cleanse India of the Upper Caste. But will that provide the solution?

Mr. Arjun Singh has, in his haste, decided to implement the decision of seat reservations in all Central Institutions and IIT's and IIM's. What Mr. Singh has conveniently forgotten is that these institutions are the Institutes of higher learning. To reach to these institutes, a student needs to move thorough the following levels - Primary Education, Secondary Education, Higher Secondary Education and finally Graduation. So ideally should not reservations be extended to all these levels too? Another thing that is conveniently forgotten is that the cost of acquiring education in India is spiralling upwards. This is the reason that there is a massive dropout of students who are in promary and secondary education levels. How does the Government of India propose to tackle this? Perhaps the Para-military forces could be made responsible for making the students attend classes by holding a gun to their parents heads? The crux of the whole development process lies in this particular issue. I am sure no Upper Caste person will object to the SC/ST and OBC's being given economic benefits - provided s/he is eligible for availing the benefit. However, for all round development, this economic benefit should also be extended to poorer sections of the society - irrespective of the upper and lower caste divide.

Praful Bidwai in an article in "Navhind Times" has opposed the anti reservationist claim of using merit as a basis, saying that India is not run on merit. It was an amusing point - The only question i would like to ask Mr. Bidwai is that who made this "de-merited" system work in this country? Obviously the policy of Reservation! Do we still want to take this "de-merited" system forward, Mr. Bidwai? I dont have enough data to say whether reservations leads to mediocrity or meritocracy; neither am i saying that the "genral" class is a merited class. But perhaps the bitterness that is generated on the basis of reservations leads to the cycle which deprives the country of the chance of better governance. To illustrate, take an incident that hapened with me a few days back.

A few days back i was called in as an "Expert" member of an interview panel of a nationalised organisation. The recruitment drive was for SC/ST and OBC's and the post on offer was "Officer - Marketing". The qualifying requirement was a degree in MBA with specialisation in Marketing. To pass the interview the marks were as follows. An OBC candidate was required to secure 35% to be declared passed; a SC/ST candidate required only 27% marks to be declared a passed candidate. Now is it not obvious that merit was being sacrificed at the alter of reservations? Out of the 20 candidates that we interviewed on the day only one could make the cut. At the end of the day the person incharge tol me "Prof Kumar, since recruitment is a costly exercise and just one will not fill the requirement; i suggest that you recommend a few more". You can well imagine what i felt.

I still remember an incident from my college days which i will reproduce here. Myself, along with a couple of friends, were preparing for the M.Phil. examination of Jawaharlal Nehru University. In walked an SC friend of ours and he said ``Chal, Chai pe ke aate hain'' (Come Let's go and have tea). When we declined he said ``Kya hoga itna padhke... Mera to aise hi hona hai'' (What's the point of Studying so much... I will get admissions anyhow). The bitterness that we felt at his words can perhaps never be described.

Reservations, in my opinion are not the panacea for the ills of SC/ST/OBC's of India. It is only going to increase the divide and the bitterness between the Upper Caste and the Lower Caste. The bitter truth is that with the proposed 27% reservations for OBC, it is the "general" category people of India who have become the minority in all jobs. Is it not the Governments duty to protect the minority?If after 50 years of independence we still have to resort to the gimmick of reservations to uplift the socially downtrodden, i would say that something is very wrong in the "Executive" body of the government.

Leaders of this country, the members of SC, ST and OBC of this country should recognise the fact that reservations is not the solution for upliftment. The more quickly they accept this fact, the better for the overall development of the country. Yes, give economic privleges to the SC, ST and OBC. Give them Education, Equip them to compete, ... , but please let them stand on thier own two feets. Don't make them the "Shikhandi" of Mahabharata by giving SC ST and OBC's the sheild of reservations.

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. They do not reflect the opinion of the employer of the author or of any other body with which the author is affiliated in any professional or personal capacity.]

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