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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Tipping Point: Redesigning Reservations

India has always been a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual society housing people belonging to different castes and races, coming from myriad backgrounds, practicing varied religious traditions and having their own contrasting (and often conflicting) school of thought and system of beliefs.

The diversity is however, not only limited to culture, language, religion and caste; but also spans within it various other factors such as- the geography, mannerisms and philosophical ideas held by the people. With such a diverse population all under one roof, some conflicts are bound to arise sooner or later over the limited resources and opportunities. Such clashes between the minority and the majority, the rich and the poor, the affluent and the destitute, the blue bloods and the blue collared - are inevitable and in a way detrimental in maintaining an equilibrium (of sorts) in the society.

Image credit: Youthkiawaaz.com
Although the never ending game of dominance often ends up throwing the aforementioned equilibrium off-balance. Add a spoonful politics to the mix and you got yourselves the perfect recipe for disaster.

The social underpinnings in post-Independence India were such that the makers of our constitution allowed for positive discrimination or reservations. Owing to the class and caste prejudices in India from time immemorial, our Constitution allows reservations in the form of percentage based quotas favouring citizens belonging to traditionally backward castes.

It all started when the Mandal Commission set the ball rolling back in 1979 and since then the Reservation Policy has strengthened its roots into the India society and at present affects all the major economic hemispheres-be it education, or jobs, or scholarships, or promotions. Although initially, the aim was to ensure a level playing field; but as it expanded, trouble brewed. More and more people belonging to different castes and races stepped out and bickered over securing a slice of the economic pie for themselves.

So is the policy of reservation bad or is it the politics of reservation that has pushed the good intent of our constitution makers out of the window? 

Today, the reservation policy is a highly misunderstood one and often seen from a prejudiced point of view of one’s own caste. No rational debate is seen in the Parliament, media or even the society, which has made it a taboo. It is argued that reservations has compromised meritocracy with mediocrity in Government jobs and educational institutions. Such a compromise is said to further divide the society. It is also debated that economically well-off people belonging to backward castes often get maximum share of reservation, and thus further widening the gulf. There is also a question as to why reservation on the basis of caste and not on economic status. And with people from un-reserved categories feeling discriminated against, there is a question on whether India chose the right path or not.

As remarked, “Fundamental rights were to be framed amidst the carnage of Fundamental wrongs” India was a nation-in-making (post- Independence) and we could not have afforded further division and hence, it was considered necessary to uplift the weak and bring them into the mainstream by giving them protection by the way of reservation. The policy of reservation was and is not the problem, the politics of reservation is. The intention was right, the implementation was wrong. Caste was merged with politics which further polarised the communities. The policy of reservation has become the policy of consolidation of vote bank. Vested interests prevailed over common good.

Jat community members block the railway tracks during
their agitation for reservation in Sonipat. (Photo: PTI)
Many instances of the same have popped up and plagued the Indian society in the recent past. The situation has only worsened, as in the last 10 months alone India has witnessed 3 such major protests-namely the Gujjar Agitation (May 2015, Rajasthan) the Patidar reservation agitation (July 2015, Gujarat) and the much recent Jat Agitation (Feb 2016, Haryana) – the latter two seeking inclusion of their caste into the OBC category. Unless you have been living under a rock you must have heard already about the on-going turmoil and the huge toll on life and property due the Jat Agitation.

Jat protesters demanding reservation in jobs and education in Haryana have unleashed a reign of violence across the state. They continued to affect rail and road traffic in several parts of Haryana prompting Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to announce enhancement of the quota of reservation for Economically Backward Classes from 10 to 20 per cent. However, the Jats haven’t been content with the suggested arrangement and continue to harass the government to concede to their demands.

The Supreme Court had earlier made it clear that caste alone cannot be the only criteria to approve reservation for a certain community. The apex court had said that to determine backwardness of a community, social backwardness should be the prime concern.

However, the deadlock is yet to be broken as the Jats have withheld further protests giving government the ultimatum to chalk out a ‘workable solution’ till April 3. At this point one can only wait to see how it will turn out and hope that the government is able to put a stop to the unprecedented violence and reach a fair consensus. However, one thing that is loud and clear is that the Jat agitation has a grim message for the nation and its time for a radical change to prevent such frequent discords in the future.

The debate of whether the Reservation Policy is a boon or a bane is a topic that should be given some serious consideration. Caste-based reservation will only keep the people divided among themselves (due to change in their financial or social status in the society), and shouldn’t the focus and locus be to promote equality across all castes and end social discrimination?


Article by Rishibha Tuteja
Last minute Blogger, fangirl by profession. A Bibliophile by heart, Tech–Enthusiast by choice.
She breathes dreams like air and can be reached at https://twitter.com/BibliophileRish

 
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