RESERVATION: FOR HOW LONG?
The idea of privilege is the bane of human life…. whenever privilege is broken down, more and more light and progress come to a race…. Absolutely no privilege for anyone.
– Swami Vivekananda
The enjoyment of advantage over another is privilege, and through out the ages, the aim of morality has been its destruction. But the Constitution of India does provide special privileges to the downtrodden sections of society called Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Tagore once expressed the hope that freedom would mean living in a place “where the mind is without fear”. There was also the hope that the feeling of casteism would vanish. Fifty years on, those hopes stand belied. Instead of a casteless society, caste differences have hardened. Reservation – legalising special benefit for a certain section of population, based on birth, has catalysed the widening gaps. It is in sharp contrast with the concepts of an egalitarian society that our forefathers dreamt of. Whether there is any real benefit to such castes is a question of debate. At many places they continue to do the menial jobs that they were doing centuries ago and are subject to ill-treatment. In Bihar, the community of Musahars has little to eat but the crop pest. There are many, who generation after generation, serve as maid servants and know nothing about reservation. On the other hand, people working in public sector organisations live in perpetual fear of their low caste colleagues: reservation makes it impossible to get promotions even though the higher posts lie vacant. The procedure followed for dereservation of a post has become extremely complicated, and is seldom resorted to. One unsubstantiated complaint by a scheduled caste employee will result in extreme harassment and even jail for the higher caste employee and these offences are non-bailable. In Uttar Pradesh, one could be transferred merely for belonging to a higher caste. The students in Bihar admit that they avoid using surnames out of fear of getting branded as ‘Forward’. Fifty years of reservation has enabled these scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to occupy most of the higher posts in Government offices and institutions. In many cases, if not all, their hatred towards the high caste has been explicitly pronounced. This surely was not the dream of our founding fathers. Yet, the casteist politics – a crude display of political opportunism of our leaders, has made everyone a loser. The so-called Dalit leaders are completely obsessed with caste prejudices. Others try to woo the low caste voters by paying the lip service. Nothing has been done to change the social attitudes or for the long-term benefit of this disadvantaged section of the society.
Tracing the Rationale behind Reservation
According to historians, the decisive factor in the growth of our caste system was professional specialisation. Occupations were classed, in the order of their social rank. Not only the Indians, the Nordic races, the Greeks, Romans, the early Iranians had a sort of caste system among them. Only the Anglo- Saxons had the Earls, Ceorls and Theowas based on birth, the last group hardly better off than Sudras. Initially based on ‘Karma’ and the percentage of the Gunas – Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, the system became very rigid after the Muslim invasion. During the British raj, it was proposed that the scheduled castes be treated as a separate community and granted separate representation in the legislatures under the Government of India Act of 1935. But the historic fast of Gandhiji at Poona prevented it. Scheduled castes were, however, given reservation in the constituencies based on joint electorates with other Hindus. After Independence the Constituent Assembly formed the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minorities with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as Chairman. The Committee recommended abolition of separate electorates, abolition of reservation of seats in legislatures and abolition of separate safeguards to Minorities. Only the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Anglo-Indians enjoyed exceptions. But even in that case the special provisions were to exist for a limited period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution. The constitutional safeguard meant for upliftment of the lower castes has undergone gross abuse in the hands of self-centered politicians. The Dalit leaders argue that the higher castes have long suppressed the basic human rights of the lower castes. Social maladies like ‘Don’t Touchism’ are in practice. They reason that the mass of Brahmana and Kshatriya tyranny has recoiled upon their own heads with compound interest. The higher caste will also have to suffer a thousand years of degradation – that is the inexorable law of Karma. Some argue that reservation is a political, social, economic and constitutional policy to accord justice for absorbing the SCs and STs in the social mainstream. During promotion to the higher echelons, the quota people steal a march over the general candidates and become a member of the service in the higher cadre quite earlier to the general candidates.
Although in 1992 the Supreme Court had ruled that reservation quotas could not be applied to Government employees in promotions beyond 1997, the Parliament has through the Constitution Bill (86th Amendment) restored the scheme of reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in promotion. The present government, has promised that it will fully protect the existing percentage of reservation for the SCs, STs and also the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), both at Centre and State levels even after the year 2000 when they come up for renewal. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee pointed out that “in an
unequal society where the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs are still suffering from historical disabilities, what they want is social justice and empowerment and not mere welfare”. But even if it is to be believed that he has the best of intentions, the procedure is questionable. Can social justice be really restored to a cross-section of population at the expense of gross injustice to the rest? The very concept of reservation contradicts the Preamble to the Constitution of India which promises equality of status and opportunity.
Perils of Reservation
Reservation has resulted in mediocrity and repudiation of standards. The situation is not as simple as foreign magazines would like to depict – the angry untouchables of India are attacking the high-caste supremacy. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have climbed to high posts with the legislative support of reservation. It is the scheme, by virtue of which the not-so-eligible can deprive the most eligible with relaxed qualifying marks and abilities and even age relaxation. How hypocritical the advocates of reservation are, can be seen by the fact that many of our political leaders, spend lakhs of rupees of the tax- payers’ money on their medical treatment abroad. It is because they do not rely on the Government hospitals manned with mediocre doctors from reservation quotas. On the other hand, millions of poor patients are left to live or die in the hands of mediocre doctors who gained entry because of low birth. If these doctors are not good enough for the leaders, why should they treat the poor too?
Reservation and demands for more quotas have created new problems instead of solving the old. The poor dalits do not even know about reservation. In cities where the monetary base is more important, caste distinctions may have vanished if it was not for the stringent rules of reservation. Arun Shourie in his book, Worshipping False Gods, has argued that the seemingly unending process of reservation has intensified and re-vivified the almost perishing caste difference and has increased mutual hatred. This hatred has become the rationale for “trampling upon civil rights of anyone whom the leaders of Dalit dub as high caste or spokesman or agent of higher castes”. The backlash may start in villages where the locals will enforce their own brand of justice which will be in contrast with Mayawati brand of social justice, though both will be absolute mockery of the very idea of justice. In the educated urban middle class society there is a strong undercurrent of displeasure and disgust among the upper castes, who repeatedly suffer due to their privileged counterparts. Even the reserved suffer a sort of inferiority complex, eager to hide their ‘reserved’ status. The frustration which a student suffers when one is denied access to his/her dream institution to make way for a SC or ST sows the seeds of resentment among them. Voices of protest were raised when a reserved candidate was admitted to a post-graduate course depriving a physically handicapped, who was also more eligible academically.
By reviving caste and communal label on any subject and legalising some special status on such criteria to confer privileges the Government will only perpetuate differences and encourage them to remain deep- rooted and narrow. The caste-vested interests will clamour for more and more. Instead of integrating the SCs & STs into the general mainstream, privileges are further extended to OBCs. Such procedure will turn counterproductive. The real oppressed ones will get no redressal. Instead, in our corruption-ridden country, false certificates of SC or ST will continue fetching privileges for the already over-privileged. Reservation, the outgrowth of caste politics has degenerated into sectarianism and has checked the growth of national feeling. It is an unmitigated evil. Politicians are unscrupulously exploiting the illiterate backward, insecure, excitable population to feather their own nests.
The case against Reservation
Every member of a society ought to have the same opportunity for obtaining wealth, education or knowledge. One can surpass another due to one’s talent or capability not exploiting anyone else. A great fuss has been made for about half a century regarding social reforms for the ‘Harijans’. A nation is the sum total of so many individuals and India particularly is a land of diversity. As Rabindranath Tagore observed, with any part of this diverse society exploited, the national progress as a whole is deterred. It is our desire to amalgamate, to universalise, to broaden and not to further fracture the society and lead to class wars. The historical fact is accepted that the lower castes were badly treated. But what is conveniently forgotten is that two wrongs can not make a right. Can we move towards a healthy society by reversing the atrocities? Swami Vivekananda was highly concerned with the upliftment of these downtrodden. His thoughts provide a reasonable guideline:
“The solution is not by bringing down or depriving the higher, but by raising the lower up to the level of the higher. The only way to bring about the levelling of caste is to appropriate culture the education, which is strength of higher caste”.
He asserted that the most important service to be done to our lower classes is to give them education, to develop their lost individuality. They are to be given ideas, their eyes are to be opened. We are to reach to the grass root level where the oppressed ones dwell and they will work out their own salvation. We can help to put chemicals together. Crystallisation comes in the law of nature.
Reservation is no solution. It is a short-term symbolism the root of all disarray. Mahatma Gandhi preached and practised the doctrine of equality of Gita. He counselled the Harijans to improve their education, their dignity and asked the higher castes to help the society with their knowledge, wealth or whatsoever. He made it clear that it was absolutely inhuman to practise ‘Don’t Touchism’ or hate a low-caste individual. His idea of reform was to guide both the upper and lower castes to shed off their inhibitions so that all of them could be accepted and integrated into a society. But the “slogan-cum-stampede” philosophy of the leaders of Dalit will result only in nuisance mongering instead of promotion of integration of the downtrodden into the society. Not reservation, but Gandhiji’s way is the way of proper upliftment and subsequent political power for the reserved ones.
Gandhiji observed: “It is against the fundamental principles of humanity, it is against the dictates of reason that a man should, by mere reason of birth be denied or given extra privileges.” It is to be accepted that the high caste and low caste are part of a larger canvas that make us all Indian. The right thing to do is to erase differences and rediscover the common identity.
Perhaps lessons can be drawn from other countries too. In South Africa apartheid has become defunct. This required years of struggle, sacrifice, devotion and understanding. The blacks are integrated into the society because both sides changed themselves and have overcome racial prejudices. So, it’s tie for us to stop fostering differences and making a fetish out of class struggle. We look forward to a homogeneous society.
In the eyes of God all men are equal. We are familiar with the ringing words of Jefferson:
“That all men are created equal, that they all endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights – life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
All our social and religious reformers have tried to break casteism down. It is sad that we have not been able to treat all men as equals even today. Our deeds don’t match our words. In the modern world there is no place for caste or racial discrimination – what matters is the capability of a person and his contribution to the society. By giving preference and making reservation in favour of dalits or tribes, we are inflicting handicaps on those ‘more advantageously placed’ due to their high birth. Our policy makers need to be more pragmatic. An unbiased, absolute survey has to be made to look into the present scenario. NGOs may lend their helping hand. If reservation is found essential, it should be on the basis of financial standing and benefits should reach the grass root level.
It must be noted that there is no fixation of a percentage of jobs in the Constitution for these communities. There is also no fixed period for continuation of this preferential treatment. The ten-year period of constitutional safeguard was later extended four times by amendments, each time by ten years, thus extending the period till January 25, 2000. With the active interest of our Welfare State, the rapid advancement of these communities, it may now be hoped that they have gathered the potential to catch up with the rest of the society. So, this protective discrimination may now be gradually done away with to unfold the full potentiality of all, irrespective of birth.