Archive for the 'Reservation' Category

A Slice of Reservation Pie

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.

Gujjar Protest 1

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.

Loss of Life and Property during Gujjar Protest

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?

Times I Felt Like a Helpless Citizen

There are times when we all feel helpless in our personal and public roles in life. I felt acutely helpless when I came across these three recent phenomena.

The first incident that I am going to talk about is perhaps one that evoked nationwide fury and helplessness. Yes, you guessed it right—the increased OBC reservations quota that HRD Minister Arjun Singh proudly imposed on the reputed institutions of higher learning. Students from institutions like AIIMS and DU made huge protests and government did its best to rein in the protesters.

The media images of the protest, forwarded through various chain mails, seemed to be coming straight out of a current popular youth movie, Rang De Basanti. Remember the minister in Rang De Basanti who ordered beating of the protesters who were having a peaceful candle vigil at India Gate.

Reservation protests

 Reservation protests 2
 Media Images of Reservation Protests

27% reservations for OBC in higher institutions! Why do they not try to get OBCs in primary schools, there are millions of them who do not ever get to see the inside of a school. Why not start from the beginning such as primary education if the idea is to make education available to poorer and backward sections of the society? Why do they have to compromise on merit by denying opportunity to meritorious by offering coveted admissions in institutes like IIT or AIIMS based on caste? Why do reservations need to be caste based and not for economically backward and below poverty line (BPL) classes? Are not poor people from so-called upper castes like Brahmins, Baniyas, and Kshtriyas entitled to education? Questions that government refused to consider.

No PIL or RTI could work, as we silently we watched a democratic government dictatorially politicize education in the name of caste, there was nothing I, like other protesters, could do or say to stop it.

The second time I felt helpless was when sex education was banned in Mahrashtra on grounds that it corrupted young minds. I remember a dialogue from Subhash Ghai’s movie Pardes, where actor Apoorva Agnihotri concludes that Indians are biggest hypocrites. Everywhere there are separate queues for men and women. Too much segregation of sexes, stifling rhetoric about culture, yet this is country with a billion population, second highest in the world. Quite correct, Mr. Ghai! Young are experimenting with sex every day, the more you repress, and more inquisitive they get.

Look at the rate adolescent pregnancies and abortions are rising. AIDS and other STD menace are always looming over unsafe sex. But our government can not see this. Perhaps those sex education teacher manuals were bit explicit for sixth graders. But they were teacher’s manual, for heaven’s sake! If book was the problem, then government could have taken pains to hire instruction designers to create educational yet discreet textbooks/training programs for the young yet impressionable minds. Rather the state governments chose to adopt a regressive policy on sex education on the pretext of preventing young minds from corruption.

A look at MSNBC news headline made me cringe—“6 states in India ban sex ed to preserve culture.” Google your way and you can find more such headlines in the international media.

The third occasion when I cringed yet again was when the Jagnanath temple priests made a hue and cry about the entry of Paul Rodgier, a 55-year-old American Christian. The act seemed to defile the temple premises as the priest threw out the food they had prepared as offering to the goddess and temple “shudhikaran” was ordered. Think of the number of stomachs that such quantity of food could have filled. When it is religion that is being talked about, who would then think of minor things like hunger? Certainly not those pot-bellied priests who were enjoying their reign in illustrious temples of the country.

Poor American fellow was made to pay a fine of Rs. 209/- when he said he was unaware of such rules. I felt that I should personally go and apologize to Paul Rodgier. But it was not the first time this had happened. Thailand’s Crown Princess Sirindhorn, another American who had converted to Hinduism, and our own Indira Gandhi have been denied entry in the past. Shame on a religion that prevents mankind to connect with Gods.

There was another personal occasion when I was again helpless and enraged. It was when orkut was blocked in my organization. To be fair, my organization has flexible policies that have never infringed on an employee’s rights. Considering that we spent so much of our time working in our office, it made sense to take care of my banking, shopping, and traveling needs online. Because most of the banks, shops, or travel agents were gone by the time I reached home. I wonder how it would have been possible if I worked in organizations where all personal mails, calls, and other web sites were restricted or frowned upon.

As a responsible employee, I have never let my personal needs come in way of my work. Then why should work come in way of my personal needs. I think my organization understood this. Which is why I was more hurt and baffled to find that orkut was blocked because they believed some employees wasted their time orkuting! Scrapping sure didn’t stop me finishing my work on time, then why block it! Of course, several resourceful employees used alternate proxies or URLs to access orkut and the systems guys dutifully tracked and blocked those.

I was saddened at this cat and mouse game between the employees and systems guys. I thought as if my commitment to work was questioned. I was hurt. Not to mention that fact I never had time to browse through orkut to reunite with those school buddies whom orkut had discovered for me.

I worked helplessly till the hurt was forgotten. Yet it is milder hurt in contrast to my helplessness as an Indian citizen.

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Visceral Observations is written by Poonam Sharma. It is licensed to her under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
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