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Quota: A cure worse than the disease

By Vinod Ramanan
April 26, 2006 14:29 IST
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'India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.'

This is a pledge that most of us must have taken at some point or the other during our school days. All young minds are trained to treat all our fellow Indians as equals in every respect right from childhood.

Unfortunately the reality is quite the opposite. As soon as we finish our schooling and take the first step towards higher education, we find discrimination in the name of reservation.

It starts with getting admission to higher educational institutions and extends to several other fields -- like getting jobs, obtaining easy loans, et cetera. So is reservation justified?

When we are trained to consider all fellow Indians as brothers and sisters why is it that certain sections of society are given this privileged treatment? Before dwelling deeper into this question let us first understand the fundamental aspects governing this policy.

The reservation policy has been prevailing since early twentieth century. However, pre-Independence reservations were provided not to the deprived sections of the society, but to religious communities.

However, this situation gradually changed over a period of time and is now meant to improve the rights and representation of the deprived sections of the society and for their empowerment.

The problem of equal rights and opportunities dogs every democracy, and India is no exception. Even in the United States, the land of great opportunities, there are still many deprived sections that are denied their due share in educational, economic, social and political arenas.

The problem in India is far more complex considering the backwardness in most parts of India and the diversity in religion and caste. India is a country where wealth distribution is highly unequal. Beggar children beseeching for alms at traffic signals where gleaming Mercs purr is still a common sight.

In the US, the 'Affirmative Action' is a policy, which prevents discrimination against certain sections of the society. The reservation policy in India, however, acts exactly against this purpose.

It does not act to end discrimination. It acts as an antidote to an exploitative and unjust social structure known as the caste system. It fosters discrimination and plants the seeds of division in people's minds -- all this in the name of empowering and protecting the deprived sections of the society. Such division is against the cardinal principles of democracy.

Reservation is not an atonement of our past sins and should not be used to compensate for the damage inflicted in the past. It is still a bitter fact that certain sections of the society are exploited and deprived of their rights.

Although significant progress has been made in empowering the lives of such oppressed, there are still many horrific incidents happening across the country. We are still living in a highly unjust social structure.

However, instead of eradicating this injustice, we are further dividing the society and creating splits. We are trying to heal our past wounds by inflicting new ones.

Unlike in the US, the reservation policy in India does not strive for equal opportunity. It rather acts as a catalyst for further division. Reservations are provided across various sectors like higher education, jobs, political representation and other areas.

Since there is a paucity of educational facilities like medical and engineering, such a privilege becomes a decisive turning point in the careers of several young and bright students.

Giving special privileges to someone merely on the basis of their birth into certain castes or tribes is unjust. People who have benefited from such biased treatment would advocate for more and foster caste sentiments in their minds. Those who have lost the opportunity in spite of having good credentials would start feeling bad about their upper caste credentials.

The benefits are so many and so palpable that the reservation policy has created a vested interest in backwardness. It seems like people want to be considered 'backward' rather than 'forward' in modern India! The more backward you are the more advantages you get.

Reservation is now used as a tool for gaining more benefits. The area of reservation has been steadily expanding and newer backward groups and sections of society are mushrooming.

Several castes and their leaders constantly strive to prove their backwardness in order to sneak into one or the other reserved categories. Some political groups have even started identifying themselves with a particular community or caste to garner their support. We have also started seeing demands for reservation based on religion. The demand for separate reservation for Muslims and Christians is one such example.

Some theories say that the interests and aspirations of a community can only be protected by the people belonging to the same community. Only a schedule caste leader can help another scheduled caste person, only a tribe can help another and so on.

Political parties project themselves as the champions of that particular race and corrupt the voters' minds by propagating such notions about leaders belonging to other castes and religions.

However, an important and notable aspect is whether these reservations actually reach the people for whom they are really intended? Does reservation empower the deprived sections of the society or is it being misused?

Since the reservation is meant for the minorities and the oppressed, the percentage of seats reserved should also be kept accordingly. However, in many states the percentage is too high and mirrors the vested interests behind increasing the limit. Tamil Nadu with a reservation of 69 per cent is a glaring example.

Secondly not all people of these backward classes are deprived. In fact there are quite a few of them who are neither economically or socially backward who can be considered as the creamy layer among such backward groups.

Since reservation is meant for the deprived, showing such privileged treatment to the 'creamy layer' from among the 'backward' castes defeats the whole purpose. In fact, people from these creamy layers steal the reserved seats from their other backward counterparts for whom these reservations would have actually made a difference.

There is no denying that our society is still not just. But quoting this as a reason for reserving seats is equally unjust and undemocratic. To reiterate, we should strive for an egalitarian society and not compensate for the damage inflicted in the past. There should be a terminating date fixed for all the reservations.

We should aim for a society where everyone is equal. For that we need bold statesmen who can fight for the cause of equality and make the people realise that division and discrimination based on caste, creed, religion or sex is only going to harm their own interests.

Let us hope for the day when all Indians become brothers and sisters in the real sense. Let us fight for equality.

The author is employed with one of India's biggest IT companies. The views here are personal.

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