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'No one wants to hear us'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
May 26, 2006 16:22 IST
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Half empty chairs greeted the meeting organised by the Other Backward Classes Seva Sangh on Wednesday in Mumbai, prompting its leaders to complain that the media, particularly the English press, was not giving their side of the story.

"We are also having huge pro-reservation rallies but nothing is covered in the English press and television media. No one wants to hear our viewpoint. Is this what the role of the media is supposed to be? We feel the media is not being balanced in reporting this reservation policy," said Pradeep Dhobale, President of the OBC, Seva Sangh.

Prime Minister, I've a question

The event was organised to inform the media about the Sangh's upcoming plans to mop up support and organise a debate on the government's reservation policy.

Like Dhobale, Gajanan Kale, President, Samtawadi Chhatrabharti, a student wing of the OBC organisation, is also upset with the media. He says the electronic media is giving a heroic image to the anti-reservation student leaders.

"We shouted slogans against Ratan Tata when he was felicitated by the Maharashtra government on May 9. Tata had opposed the reservation policy and we felt he had no right to say such things and interfere in government policy. Five of my friends were arrested for shouting slogans against him at a function. We were detained for five hours but no national English newspaper gave importance to this news."

On the argument that whether it was unfair to be eligible for a seat based on caste rather than merit, Dhobale responds with a counter question: "The Britishers ruled this country for 200 years on merit so does it mean they had the right to rule us? The answer obviously is no."

Dhobale further points out that the anti-reservation brigade is missing out on one main issue in their protests -- the creamy layer of the OBC.

The Next Partition of India

"Reservation applies only to those OBC families whose income is below Rs 2.5 lakh (Rs 250,000) annually. If they have a higher income than this they are not eligible for reservation," he says.

He goes on to say that organisations like Air India and Indian Airlines have not hired pilots in the OBC and backward categories for the last five ears in spite of vacancies in the OBC, SC/ST categories.

"Training to become a commercial pilot can cost anywhere between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1 million to Rs 1.5 million)and if a family can afford to pay that much money there is no way they can get the OBC reservation facility," adds Dhobale.

Twenty kilometres away from the venue sits Dr Tusha Jagtap at his clinic in suburban Bandra. The area is dominated by a Dalit population.

Dr Jagtap, President, Dr Ambedkar Reservation Protection Front, a Dalit organisation, went to municipal schools before graduating as a doctor.

A follower of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Dr Jagtap says, "My father was a railway employee and if I did not have the benefit of reservation I would not have become a doctor."

'Let's have quota without caste'

Dr Jagtap secured 61 per cent in Physics, Chemistry and Biology in the Class XII exam. A student from the upper caste in the general category would not have got admission in medical school with that percentage but because Jagtap had a Schedule Caste certificate, he did.

"I am proud to get into medicine because of reservation. Dalits in India have advanced only because of the reservation policy. There are still many who have not availed of this advantage because I feel a vast number of Dalits do not know how to obtain their caste certificates in India," he said.

When I pointed out that there are many Brahmins today who were cleaning toilets for a living because they didn't have better jobs, Dr Jagtap says: "When Dalits cleaned toilets for 2,000 years nobody thought of this. If Brahmins are cleaning toilets today what is wrong in it?"

Are Brahmins the Dalits of today?

"Thomas Friedman (the New York Times columnist) says the world is flat but today I want to say that Hinduism is a vertical society and Dalits are lowest of the low among them. If Brahmins are cleaning toilets then the flattening of Hindu society has begun."

Dr Jagtap owns a Maruti Zen car, has a successful medical practice and his twins study at one of the city's best schools where he pays a monthly fee of Rs 2,000.

"This is possible only because of reservation otherwise my children would have also gone to some municipal school."

He did not face any discrimination at school or college because of his caste. I was not discriminated because my personality was such that I had no enemies."

'Middle class only bothers about itself'

"During my first year in medical college one of the Brahmin teachers did warn me that I would not be able to pass my exams," he says. "I feel it was more of a reactionary attitude from my side because not only did I pass but I got 73 marks in that subject."

Discussing discrimination against Dalits in society today, he has this to say: "In 1997 when Dalits were protesting peacefully in a procession at Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai, 10 people were shot dead. When anti-reservation doctors protested outside the governor's bungalow, they were lathi-charged and still there is such hue and cry."

"After so many years of independence Dalit women are being raped in villages and no one takes this news seriously," he says angrily, "but have you ever read a Brahmin women being raped by a Dalit in this country? Never."

The reservation issue: Complete coverage

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai