Reservations- The Plague that has hit the Indian Society

It all started with the Poona pact, 1932. Reservations were provided for the ‘depressed classes’ in the central legislature to the tune of 18%. The champion of the OBC’s (other backward classes) cause, was pushing for a separate electorate for the backward classes, a move strongly opposed by the Father of the Nation. A compromise was eventually reached, with the common man being burdened with the modern social evil- “RESERVATIONS”.

Reservation is a form of quota-based affirmative action, amending the rules to service the weaker sections of society in order to bring parity. The Indians are not primarily Hindus. There are Christians (native), Anglo-Indians (descendants of the Britishers who ruled India), Muslims, Parsis etc. However, the division on the lines of caste is prevalent only amongst the Hindus. None of the other communities have casteism as a part of their social structure. Hence, the reservations, per se, are applicable only to the Hindu community.

Mr. JawaharLal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, had the common sense to exclude communal reservations from the legal framework. Any such provision would lead to communal disharmony and riots in the name of communal reservations. “This way lies not only folly but disaster,” he’d said about communal reservations.

The moot point of reservations was the upliftment of the economically and socially backward classes. It is a shame that the upliftment has not been achieved after more than 60 years of Independence and reservations. What was meant to be only a stop-gap measure to bridge the social divide, caused by the age old caste based social structure, turned out to be a major weapon for the ruling classes to appease the masses (especially those belonging to the backward classes). Is there any guarantee that these reservations are benefiting the deserved ones?  Is there any guarantee that the ones who have been uplifted by means of these reservation policies are now willing to let go of their caste status to benefit the needy ones? There isn’t.

The Poona pact was followed by the Mandal Committee (constituted by the Janata Dal government in 1979 to assess the feasibility of reservations in the various government fields, be it jobs or education.). Exactly a decade later, the Janata Dal government under Prime Minister V.P Singh attempted to implement the findings of the Mandal committee, which recommended an increase in the reservations from 27% to 49.5%. Inspite of several protests and self-immolations, the recommendations eventually came into effect. The recommendations were based on the 1931 census estimates of the backward class population of India, the biggest fallacy of the recommendations.

Notwithstanding all this, there are a large number of students who do actually deserve assistance. But these are the ones who rarely ever have access to any form of education. Most of the reserved seats are occupied by students, who have the means to achieve something themselves, without any aid in the form of reservations. A sizable number of students admitted through the reserved categories travel to colleges in swanky cars with chauffeurs, some of which are changed every month. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some who walk to college everyday, in order to save money spent on public transport.

These are the ones who require the assistance from the government, financially, more than anything else. Give them free education, give them free books, free accommodation, but free admissions! The line must be drawn there. Achieving anything without effort undermines the value and importance of the achievements.

Theoretically, these differences should be taken care of by application of the “creamy layer” principle, i.e exclusion of the financially stable families that still fall under the ambit of reservations. However, the reality is far from that. The purchasing power of the ‘reserved category’ students is equivalent to and at times even exceeds that of the general merit students, proof that economic upliftment has taken place amongst the reserved classes. Do these students still need reservations?

There are a host of people who support reservations and argue in its favor. A particularly reasonable argument was put forward by the Mandal Committee (the proponents of the now prevalent 49.5% reservations for the backward classes), which invited every opponent of the reservation scheme to live the life of a backward class citizen. Their contention being, that everyone was born equal but into unequal circumstances. And when the reason for inequality is the social system, reforms become absolutely necessary. It argued that by reserving seats and providing education to the deprived classes, the morale of that particular backward class would rise. Cant it be done by providing them the facilities to be competent instead?

Too often, candidates admitted through the reserved categories fall behind in studies and/or performance at their job, thus impeding the overall quality of professionals churned out by the educational institutes and decreasing the efficiency of government functions. If parity is to be restored, let it be restored by having a level playing field.

Take the case of the Medical entrance exams, for instance. People all over India take an Entrance Exam at the end of their 12th standard to enter prestigious institutions offering the course MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). Once the grueling 5 and a half year course draws to a close, there is another entrance exam for an entry to a post-gradate course (Masters of Surgery/Medicine). Each of these exams have 49.5% of the seats reserved for the various castes. That leaves 50.5% of the seats for the ones who don’t belong to any particular caste. The division is half and half in most states. There are however, some states that have twisted laws to bring about reservations to the tune of 70%, including community based reservations, an entity that was looked down upon by the makers of the Constitution.

The population in the country is not divided as per the reserved seats. There are a greater number of general merit students competing for these exams, as opposed to the smaller number of students belonging to a particular caste. This effectively provides an unfair advantage to those students belonging to the reserved categories. Lesser competition, easier access to seats and lesser pressure. They are bound to have an easy going laid back attitude.

There have been innumerable demonstrations, various strikes and dharnas, to bring to the governments notice, the plight of the general merit student. They have all been met with false promises, re-assurances and eventually ignorance.

One such strike was organized on a nationwide scale in 2009. A public demonstration followed by a hunger strike and a few more rallies. Every institute in the country had a core committee organizing efforts in that particular college. As routine preparations were ongoing (making banners, penning slogans etc.), this message beeped on one of the phones,

Don’t you dare go against the reservations, we have political connections. You and your friends will be harmed and cast away and no one will be able to help you.

Signed- your Well-Wisher.”

On further inquiry, we realized that each of the core committee’s had received a similar message. Regardless of the consequences, our resolve strengthened. The messages galvanized all the committee’s to work closely and make the strikes and rallies a grand success.

One must take the words of the ruling class with a pinch of salt. Hunger strikes, unlawful arrests, water cannons, tear gas and all such drama ensued these strikes. The participants in these peaceful strikes were dealt with in a brazen and unlawful manner. The ruling class had shown its commitment to the cause. Garnering public sympathy is one thing, changing the thought process of the ruling class is quite another. The strikes managed to harness public sympathy, but the Government remained indifferent.

2014.

The same government which remained apathetic to the strikes and rallies has now decided to introduce some more reservations. 16% for the Marathas, 5% for the Muslim’s. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out the reason. A poor performance in the national elections, with the state elections being only a year away, is reason enough to force into effect this bill advocating reservation. Notwithstanding the fact that other more important reservation bills, such as the Women’s reservation bill in the Vidhan and Lok Sabha have been pending since 2009. The motive is clear. Appease the Maratha’s who form a large part of the vote bank, appease the Muslims who come in second and leave the rest of the population to fend for themselves.

Reservations for the Marathas may not be unconstitutional, may not even be against the law (It is! The supreme court has laid down a rule limiting the reservations to 50%, one which has been blatantly flouted by so many governments) but it is against the Spirit of this Nation. A secular, democratic nation should strive to provide an equal opportunity to all, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

2015. (most recently)

The Patidhar community of Gujarat, also widely touted as one of the most successful communities in the state in terms of economic stature, has started a state-wide agitation to demand for their inclusion in the OBC (other backward classes) category.

The rationale of their demand being that if reservations exist, they should get a share of the pie too. However, they aren’t averse to the idea of the reservations being done away with entirely. The Patels are leaders of the MSME movement in India and boast of some of the most successful entrepreneurs.

The Pathidhar community (Patels) opine that, if the economically strong sections of the Hindu community are being offered reservations under the current system, why not them?

The basic fault lies in the community leaders being greedy. In a state and a community that prides itself for its belief in ahiṃsā, the violent nature of their protests do not belie their stature. Why propose a me-too strategy? Why not oppose reservations altogether?

Two wrongs do not make a right. And by trying to justify that its right, they have lost the battle before they even started. Violent clashes and wreaking havoc in a peace loving state is the poorest form of protest.

Isn’t it a Shakespearean tragedy that a “forward community” is coming out to the streets to get recognition as a “backward class”?

How do we solve these problems?

Provision of a high-quality primary education with financial assistance will help the ‘backward classes’ equate themselves with the rest of the world. This will help every child born into a lower caste family compete with a child from the so called upper castes. Every student must be judged on the basis of his merit and not based on his caste or religion. The changes must take place at the grass-roots level. Reservations are a temporary way to placate the combustible communities in India. The worrying fact is that no one in the upper echelons of power in Delhi has a game-plan to bring about parity and abolish reservations altogether. All they are worried about, is the next elections and the welfare of their vote bank. It is, truly, a sad state of affairs!

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