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Empowerment through Reservations?

 

 It is said that prescription works, if diagnosis is correct. Positive discrimination or Affirmative actions are valid prescriptions, only if it were applied to deserving persons at right time, and in right quantity and quality.

Reservation tries to treat the ailment of backwardness born of social oppression and prescribes entrusting power in weak hands without making them strong enough to hold it judiciously.

More than a century old Reservations (both before and after Independence) for Backwards including untouchables and tribal at provincial level and more than sixty years of experience of Reservations for SCT at national level have not achieved the desired goals. So far, it has not indicated any improvement in the condition and status of most of the backward masses, for whom it was meant. Still about 48% of Indian population are living below or at poverty line. Poverty and its associated ills like illiteracy, ignorance, sloth; ill-health etc. has adversely affected the lives of millions of Indian people.

It is a big challenge for the authorities to tackle the pressing problems of: –

  • Women, who constitute about 50% of total population,

  • Youth forming more than 50%, (To channelize creatively their energies)

  • Poor people of the nation comprising 50% of the total population, who continue to suffer unbridled exploitation even now;

In world scenario, India is still rated as backward society as far as human resource development is concerned. The UNDP’s Human Resources Development Report released on 2009 ranked India at 134th in the world out of 182 countries. In 1997 its position was 138th in human development index.

The sufferings of millions of Indians started centuries ago during the rule of Muslims and British in India. Earlier Turks, Afghans and Mughals continuously invaded India and drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands. Afterward, when they made India their homeland, due to their intolerance towards Hindu subjects and imposition of Zaziya on Hindus, there was continuous pressure on the masses.

Later on, the exploitative British rule had already drained much of India’s wealth, left it divided and bleeding from the partition of the country, which made millions of Indians impoverished and homeless. Along with it, British rulers discouraged local genius, cottage industries and fine arts. It made many traditional occupations obsolete.

The new land revenue system led to the rise of a new class of landlords, who wholeheartedly supported the British rule. Policy of Permanent Settlement led to the growth of absentee landlords living in luxury in towns and fleecing the tenants at will. The British policy of land revenue extracted as exorbitant amounts as possible from the peasants, which compelled the cultivators to live at the mercy of landlords, for the fear of eviction. The poor farmers were caught into the clutches of moneylenders. The impoverishment of cultivators grew due to rack-renting, high rates of interest and uneconomic cultivation, resulting in large-scale alienation of land. Marginal farmers became landless laborers. The vast majority of people belonging to peasants, artisans sunk in poverty and misery. The exploitative policies of British overcrowded the agricultural sector.

Many groups of rural artisans, craftsman and traditional occupations abandoned their traditional work. They either migrated to cities as industrial labor or became agriculture labor. The British apathy towards indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations pushed millions backward in a very subtle manner. Inequality between various sections of society increased. The most vulnerable position was of lower strata of society; tribal and the women at the time of independence.

When India got independence in 1947, masses in rural, urban and tribal areas were living in abject poverty. The sight of their plight, life-styles and agonies were enough to make one’s hair stand on end. For them, even one full meal was a rare luxury. They were under-fed, under-read and under-clothed. They lacked gainful employment and basic resources of life. They could not live as humans in dignity and in self-respect. They needed solid support of authorities to get out of the condition of abject poverty and slave like position, which they were living in.

In order to bring them into the mainstream and to remove the age-old inequalities, either inherited or artificially created, some of the members of Constituent Assembly thought it necessary for Independent India to pursue the Reservation policy not only at provincial level, but at national level too. They hoped that Reservation policy would empower the downtrodden. It would be a big step towards democratization of Indian political, social and economic system. It would facilitate upward mobility of the oppressed and deprived sections of society. The administration would become more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the disadvantaged sections. But none of these expectations could be materialized so far.

Instead the fear of many Constituent Assembly members, doubts expressed about the rationale and efficacy of Reservation policy, from time to time and comments of the Kaka kalelkar, Chairman of First Backward Class Commission (in his note of dissent) proved to be true.

Mr. Kalelkar said in his note of dissent (First Backward Class Commission) that giving an additional weapon in weak hands was no remedy. The remedies, the Backward Class Commission had suggested, were worse than the evil, they were out to combat. In his letter forwarding the report, Kalelkar remarked in 1955 I am definitely against Reservation in Government services for any community for the simple reason, that services are not meant for the servants, but they are meant for the service of society as a whole.Sri Vasant Sathe commented, “Reservation in no solution for a crime so many centuries old. Nor is it ethical to punish our present society for the sins of our forefathers”.i

The then Home Minister, Mr. GB Pant presented the Report to be discussed in Parliament. The Ministry of Home Affairs found the report unable to give Positive and workable criteria. The Government noted further, If the entire community, barring a few exceptions, has thus to be treated as backwards, the really needy would be swamped by the multitude. They would hardly receive any special attention or adequate attention. Nor would such dispensation fulfill the condition laid down in Article 340 of the Constitution, ii Thus the first OBC Report died its natural death. The Home Ministry decided not to list OBCs on the grounds: –

    A very expansive list would not serve any useful purpose,

    The use of caste criteria would be a remedy worse than the evil of backwardness itself and,

    A national list had no practical utility since state Governments are authorized to draw up their own lists.

    In May, 1961 the Union Cabinet decided against drawing up an All India list of OBC and extending Reservation to them in Central Government services. It allowed State Governments to apply their own criteria for defining the backwardness. The Government of India feared that different treatment of the Backward would foster divisive tendencies and would undermine efforts for general economic uplift and the reduction in disparities between different classes. The crying need of the day was social coherence and emotional integration.iii In 1965 (while discussing Report of Backward Classes Commission in Parliament), the Central Government considered the Caste criteria not only administratively unworkable, but also contrary to principle of social justice. It is unfair to other poor, contrary to the constitution, perpetuating caste-ism and creating in the recipients, both vested interest and a sense of helplessness.iv

    The States have been given freedom to compose the list of OBCs, the scope of preferential programs and benefits, which varied from state to state. The provincial Government preferred the composition of OBCs on caste basis. It led to the tendency to put pressure on government to get included in the official list of backwards and to get special privileges, reservation policy gives.

In 1977, when Janata Government came to power at national level, it appointed second Backward Class Commission – Mandal Commission – under Art.340 of the Constitution in order to fulfill its electoral promise. Its report has completely overlooked Kaka Kalelkar’s remark made in 1955 that “The services are not meant for the servants…. But for the service of the society as a whole”. Charan Singh, as PM of Janata Government, proposed to reserve 25% of central Government jobs for backward classes on the recommendations of the Commission. The President put an objection to the proposal saying that a care-taker Government should refrain from taking policy decisions, which might amount to electoral initiatives.v

In April 1982, Mandal Commission Report was tabled in Parliament. Sensing the mood of the people, implementation of its recommendations were kept in abeyance. In 1981, Gujarat was set aflame by 102 days long violent agitation against Reservations. Again in 1985, when Solanki Government increased OBC quota on the eve of Assembly elections, the measure once again rocked Gujarat. Then the government under the leadership of Indira Gandhi suspected that its acceptance would create more problems for governance of the country. The Governments, under the prime-minister-ship of Indira Gandhi (1980 -1984) and Rajiv Gandhi (1984 -1989), kept mum on Mandal report for about a decade.

In 1990, when VP Singh came to power, he declared his decision to implement Mandal Commissions recommendation of reserving 27% for OBCs also inaddition to 15% for SCs and 7.5% for Sts in all central Government jobs. The decision had immediately created new tensions, in addition to growing discontent caused by vital problems and administrative challenges facing the nation. The press had unanimously condemned Mandal Report. It said that it was very clear that Mr. Singh was motivated primarily by partisan and electoral considerations. It called it ruinous disasterous attempt to ride a tiger, back to the past etc., which could never create a cohesive, unified and classless society. The situation led the nation to protests, tension and chaos.

Mr. Singh asserted, The question of poverty is not financial… The issue does not relate to the treasury, but to the throne and whosoever occupies the throne will also control the treasury. Occupying throne meant to him Bureaucracy, which is an important organ of power structure and it has a decisive role in decision making exercise. We want to effectively give to the depressed, downtrodden and backward their share in power structure and in decision making to run this country and improve things. vii 

During Mr. Singh’s Prime minstership, the theory of empowerment took birth and gained momentum. Most of the politicians said that the real empowerment of the weaker section could be done by transferring the power into their hands.vi

For the second time in history of independent India, the Apex court constituted a nine-judge bench to decide Mandal commission case.viii On Nov.16, 1992 the court upheld the constitutionality of Government decision on Reservation. Supreme Court appeared to have accepted Mandal Report more in terms of its legality than intrinsic merit. In the process, it introduced some refinements in terms of putting 50% ceiling on Reservations, barring creamy layer from Reservation and no Reservation in promotion.

Supreme Court decision on Mandal has added strength to the argument of empowerment by declaring that the objective behind clause (4) of Art. 16 were the sharing of state power or in other words empowerment of the backward castes.

According to critics, the supporters of reservations make the following elementary errors:  

Very cleverly, supporters of Reservation Policy create a crucial distinction between caste Hindus, Harijans and OBCs. Since OBCs do not suffer grievous social disadvantages as the result of the practice of untouchability, grounds for their deprivation have been sought by highlighting the ills of iniquitous Varna system and the status and complexities of Shudras’ condition Vs the rest. They are confused the abstractions of Varna with the concrete realities of Jati. They suggests that Hindu social order is the institutionalized oppression of Shudra. They ignore the historical circumstances notably the proselytizing zeal of Islam and Christianity that led to the rigidities of caste system.

In their view, the Hindu social order is static and marked by inflexible dogmatism. They refuse to acknowledge the long tradition of social reform movements that has kept orthodox Brahminism in check and provided avenues of ritual advancement to non-Brahmin communities.

Mandal Commission has repeated practically word by word the early missionary denunciation of India and its people from 1813 (the year in which East India Company opened India to British missionaries) to 1910.

World Missionary Conference, which met in Edinburg, admitted. More harm has been done in India than in any other country by Missionaries, who have lacked the wisdom to appreciate the nobler side of the religion, which they have labored so indefatigably to supplant.ix

The contention of Mandal Commission that social and educational backwardness of masses flowed from the caste system is not wholly correct. It was the copy of what Ambedkar said in 1936 at the conference of the Jat Pat Todak Mandal published and reviewed by Gandhiji in Harijan in July 1936. Political Categorization of society into Brahmin, caste Hindus, Backwards, Dalits etc. has given rise to disintegration of Indian society.

Pr. MN Srinivas points out, supporters of reservations for backward castes ignore the grassroots realities. Post independence India is certainly at the regional, if not at the state level, the India of dominant intermediate castes. The economic and social influence of these castes in their localities have no relation with their position in ritual hierarchy, for example the influence of Jats, Yadavs, Kurmis in Bihar and UP.

The primary contradiction is not between the so-called forwards and Shudras, but between dominant intermediate caste (known as OBCs in political circle) and the Harijans. Jat-Jatav clashes or Yadav Harijan conflicts in UP and Bihar demonstrate it now and then.

The ritual status of any caste is not permanent. Flexibility has always been there in this regard. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that educational and economic development has led many castes securing formal ritual advancement in the past as well. The best example of it is Kayastha community. Beginning as class of scribes from various Varnas in Gupta Empire, they evolved into an occupational caste. Within a few centuries, they made an important place in the Hindu society. Like Brahmins, they also had commanded a great influence over the political authority. In the modern callings, they have always competed equally with the Brahmins. This ambivalent relationship between the two mandarinal castes has prevailed for centuries, undisturbed by political upheavals.x Many communities have reposed faith enmass in the Arya Samaj and thereby avoided ritual status. Also there has been a tendency of upwardly mobile castes to adopt upper-caste surnames. It only points out that in reality perceived ritual disabilities are no barriers to the constant search for dignity.

Political circle (whether BJP, or Congress, or any other party) too have shied away from caste hierarchies. The performance of shilanyas for Ayodhya Temple by a Harijan in Nov. 1989 is an example of it.

Reservation only touches the fringe of the problem of backwardness.

Major benefits of Reservation are cornered by more advanced sections of the OBCs. Many Commissions and their reports have recognized the fact.xi

The higher communities of OBCs perpetuate atrocities on their less fortunate brethren.

Supporters of Reservations hold caste hierarchy responsible for social backwardness, poverty and assigning menial jobs to them. But in reality the cause of Backwardness is different. A judgement of Allahabad High court in 1979 stated that social backwardness is to a very large extent, the result of poverty. Endorsing this view, the Supreme Court had added that classes of citizens, who were deplorably poor, became socially backward.

Pro-reservationists ignore considerable decline in the traditional conception of purity and pollution and upward march of lower class to middle class in contemporary India.

Reservationists show no data to suggest that in modern India, low ritual standing always acts as the source of restricted opportunities and social disabilities of lower castes. Backward sections are found among all the castes. Also the entire caste cannot be labeled as backward.

Armed forces, science and technology, space, and atomic energy are exempted from 27% Reservation for BC. People question why? Is it only the forward castes that are supposed to risk their lives for defense of the country? Or will Reservations spread casteism in the defense forces and threaten its integrity and with it, the security of the nation? Or will it make defense forces less efficient? If these were the reason for not applying Reservation Policy in Defense Service, does not it apply in the case of Civil Service. Results can not be different?

The political developments of post Mandal period have sowed the seeds of mutual strife and stratified the society. There has been a fast decline in the observance of morality. In the absence of ideology, pursuit of material success made people more selfish and intolerant. The society is drifting almost rudderless without sense of direction. The real issues have taken a back seat.

Empowerment does not mean holding crucial positions in political organisations or in institutions of government/public/private sectors by becoming ‘PM,CM, GM or DM’. It can not be done through quota/reserving fixed number of seats for impoverished groups.

Empowerment simply means freeing people from dependability or asking for favours for moving ahead. It has to be done through sound system of education and training and encouraging people to participate in the functioning of goverance. Education would make ignorant, illiterate and unskilled masses aware, knowledge and employable. It would develop in them capacity to stand on their own feet and capable enough to take their own decisions.     

 i Times of India, dated, September 15, 1990.

ii Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, 1956, p4.

iii Letter of Minister of Home Affairs to Chief Secretaries of All State governments. /Union territories Aug.4, 1961 quoted in RCSCST 1960 11,366 Ministry of Education Committee on Emotional Integration 1962:45.

iv Lok Sabha Debates (3rd services) volume 48 no.16 cols. 3973 to 3976 November 25, 1965.

v Overseas Hindustan Times, dated, December 27, 1979.

vi Hindustan Times, dated, September 19, 1995, p 3.

vii Times of India, dated, September 2, 1990.

viii First time in St Xavier College case 1971 to decide on minorities Constitutional right to administer their institutions.

ix Chaturvedi Badrinath, Plausibility and Truth, Times of India, dated, September 12, 1990.

x Ghurye GS. Castes and Race in India.

xi Mandal Commission Report, para 13.7, p57.

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June 26, 2010 - Posted by | Reservation/Affirmative action program |

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