My last post about being helpless citizen was about several issues including recent increase in OBC quota. Many who responded to the posts through comments, emails, and phone calls happily ignored rest of the issues (like sex education, religious discrimination at temples, restrictions at workplace) and shared their own opinion on the issue of reservations. Reservation certainly seems to be an issue that struck a firm chord with most of us.
And why would it not be? One of the best colleges of the country, St Stephens reserves 60% seats for various ‘backward’ sections of the society! Sachar Committee submits its report recommending reservations for a ‘minority’ religion. The entire religious community, in turn, marches to Nauchandi Ground of Meerut to strategize how to demand their ‘reservation’ rights! An entire state is victim of bloodshed and brought to standstill because a particular community wanted to be given a backward class status.
This forced me to explore this issue in detail.
It seems our politicians are firmest believers to explore the boon of reservations. After 60 years of independence, when we have retained reservations all along, backward classes still remain backward. It would be then safe to conclude that actual benefits and implementation of caste or religion-based reservation policy is debatable.
It is easy to understand why politicians are staunch advocates of these religion and cast-based reservation quota. We, despite being the largest democracy in the world, have not been able to rise about caste and religion-based politics. “Minority appeasement” is a cliché yet predominant element of Indian politics. This is a country where a Supreme Court decision can be revised to appease the sentiments of a particular religion. (Remember Shah bano?)
Our fathers of Constitution did not like the term “minority” and they certainly did not see reservations as solution for so-called “inclusive growth.” The reservation, as observed by them, was to end after 10 years of independence. Visit this blog to read more about it.
Sadly, vote bank-centered politics has not seen a single government that would dare to remove reservations; instead they use this as an election promise. Result: Instead of riding above petty caste-based identities, we strictly hold on to them. More castes and religions want to be called backward classes to gain reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Castes are competing with each other and lobbying with politicians to get the coveted Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Classes (OBC) tag. I thought this was the age of ‘India Shining’ with Sensex crossing 15, 000 mark!
If you think I am exaggerating, think again. Week-long gujjar agitation in Rajasthan under Colonel Kirori Singh Bhainsala has already cost not only 30 lives, but also caused a loss of about 12 crores! Gujjars, who already have OBC status were causing a ‘rights movement’ to get the ST status! Why because their arch competitor caste Meenas have ST status thus have an edge over them when it comes to attaining reserved seats in local legislative bodies. It got resolved temporarily after chief minister promised to consider the request.
I have a hunch they may come back again. The gujjar leader Col Bhainsala admitted that he made a mistake in calling off the agitation on just being granted meeting with the chief minister. You see, it was a slip of the tongue, he explained to Karan Thapar on his show Devil’s Advocate. This time, if these castes clash, it could be harder to contain them.
I have three important points to make:
1. If the fact that only creamy layers have been benefiting from the reservation is evident for years, then why have we not put all the reservations on the hold till we evolve a strategy to extend benefits of the reservations to the actual down-trodden and backward sections of the society? To make sense of my point, I perhaps first need to define what a creamy layer is. Creamy layers are those fortunate generation of backward classes who have already bore the fruits of reservation while securing coveted positions in institutes or learning and later in coveted government positions. Their children again seek to do the same, the benefits of reservation do not extend to other backward sections. Communities classified under Most Backward Castes (MBCs) such as Bhangis, Dhobis and Khatris have remained untouched by reservations.
Read this post about creamy layer to have a better, realistic perspective you can identify with. However, you can get the factual government perspective of creamy layer, actually a bureaucratic term, at the official web site of National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC).
2. I watched in Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate that our leaders had no idea about the exact population of the backward classes in our country. The government figures about them are contradictory. When we do not know how many people from backward classes we have in our country, how can we decide a percentage of reservation for them?
Read these transcripts of Devil’s Advocate interview with Chidambaram, Arjun Singh, and Kamal Nath where Karan Thapar pointed out irregularities in figures about backward classes as laid out by various government organizations such as NSSO or Mandal Commission. Karan Thapar used these facts with relish to trap his quota-favoring politician interviewees.
3. Poverty knows no caste. I read in Outlook, there are several Brahmins who eke out their living doing tasks as cleaning toilets, pulling rickshaws, etc. Read this yet another lopsided yet truthful reality about backwardness of so-called upper classes today. So if we have to have reservations, it should not be caste or religion based rather be on actual economic and social backwardness. Caste-based and religion-reservations do and will fuel casteism and feelings of communalism. I remember reading interviews of random college-going kids after Arjun Singh’s announcement of increased reservations for OBCs. One of them said: “These reservations are forcing me to hate my SC/ST peers.” Her implied hatred in the words has stayed with me ever since.
I, like my fellow citizens, am not against upliftment of backward classes, like Arun Shourie, I believe there are several better constructive ways to see them rise. Read his thoughts here on Devil’s Advocate interview, I wish Karan Thapar gave more opportunity to his interviewees to speak. Argument that certain classes or religions have been exploited by some so-called upper classes for centuries is not a justification to deprive the meritorious and enflame ill-bred casteist feelings in the name of development. Ever wonder why in Bengal, they call SC “Shonar Kathi” meaning “golden wand” and ST “Shonar Tukdo” meaning “a piece of gold!”
My parting shot, in a country where we reservations for almost everybody including muslims in southern states, our politicians at helm have never been able to pass the women reservation bill! Gender appeasement is not-so-necessary, you see. Interesting, isn’t it?