Friday 22 June 2007

Question of Reservation in the Present Context

I. Reservation, Dalit Development & Globalization

Reservation in the educational institutions and the financial assistance in the form of scholarships and freeships constitute perhaps the most important factor in the development scheme for Dalits. For, it is primarily responsible to make the basic input of education available to them. Without education, all the constitutional safeguards including the reservation in services would be infructuous. Under this scheme the Dalit students whose parental income is below a specified level, get freeship, reservation in admissions to all the colleges getting grants-in-aid from the government, and scholarships. Without this assistance, even today, it would be difficult for Dalits to send their children to school.

The Reforms have already resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialization of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now the established fact. Commercial institutions offering specialized education signifying the essential input from utilitarian viewpoint have come up in a big way from cities to small towns. Their product-prices are not only based on the demand-supply consideration in their market segment but also are manipulated by their promotional strategies. In a true spirit of globalization, many foreign universities are invading the educational spheres through hitherto unfamiliar strategic alliances with non-descript commercial agencies, of course at hefty dollar equivalent prices. Many elite institutions like IIMs, IITs, and suddenly facing fund crunch had to raise their fee structure and other prices many fold. They were already beyond the reach of Dalits. When they eventually turn self-financing, their prices would be benchmarked against their international counterparts, which any way would be affordable to the same top market segment that constitutes the focus of all the Reform-talk. As the job markets become acutely competitive, owing to a sharp decline in job opportunities, the polarization between the elite and commoner has sharpened. Various kinds of price barriers would be erected to thwart the entry of downtrodden.

Even the sphere of primary education the coverage of which has been so miserably inadequate as to leave out multitude of children in villages as illiterate, could not remain unaffected, notwithstanding its already existing divide between the vernacular and English schools. Corporatization has entered this arena, transforming the education into an enterprise for profits. Today educational sector is more commonly known as education industry. The quality of input these expensive schools provide will benchmark the products in the contracting job markets. Even today, because of preponderance of the English language in business circles, the divide between village and towns is almost complete in the field of education. It is so difficult for a village student, educated in vernacular medium to compete with his convent educated counterpart in cities and towns. If this is the situation of general village population, the plight of Dalits who besides being the poorest of the village population carry additional Breton woods of social discrimination, is indeed a worrisome matter. Despite several kinds of State assistance, Dalits are plagued with alarming rate of school dropouts. This may be explained out as much by the need for Dalit children to supplement their meager family incomes for meeting the two ends as also the erosion of their faith that education could be the instrument to change the pathetic course of their lives. This sense of alienation is going to grow with the progress of the Reforms.

Whatever may be the other costs, the government policy of reservations in employment spheres has undoubtedly played an important role for Dalits. The policy broadly envisages representation of Dalits in proportion to their population in all the public services, which includes the government, public sector, autonomous bodies and institutions receiving grant-in-aid from the government. A cursory glance at the figures of this representation is enough to get a pathetic state of implementation.

Howsoever, unsatisfactory the results of the implementation may be, the importance of reservations from the Dalit viewpoint cannot be overemphasized. As could be evidenced by the organized private sector, where it would be difficult to find a Dalit employee (save of course in scavenging and lowliest jobs), without reservations Dalits would have been totally doomed. The importance of reservations thus could only be assessed in relation to situations where they do not exist. Whatever be their defects and deficiencies, they have given certain economic means of livelihood and some social prestige to the sons and daughters of over 1.5 million landless labourers. Whether they get real power or not, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the sphere of bureaucratic authority with the help of reservations. Besides these tangible benefits promised by the policy, it has instilled a hope in Dalit community that one day they could also be of equal status with their upper caste counterparts. This hope predominantly manifests in the form of spread of education among them. Their emotional bond with the nation and its Constitution despite heaps of injustice and ignominy they bear every moment of their life may also be significantly attributable to the Reservation Policy.

The winds of privatization under the Economic Reforms have already shaken the very foundation of the Reservations. The Reforms clearly envisage the minimalist government. Reservation in the educational institutions and the financial assistance in the form of scholarships and freeships constitute perhaps the most important factor in the development scheme for Dalits. For, it is primarily responsible to make the basic input of education available to them. Without education, all the constitutional safeguards including the reservation in services would be infructuous. Under this scheme the Dalit students whose parental income is below a specified level, get freeship, reservation in admissions to all the colleges getting grants-in-aid from the government, and scholarships. Without this assistance, even today, it would be difficult for Dalits to send their children to school.

The Reforms have already resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialization of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now the established fact. Commercial institutions offering specialized education signifying the essential input from utilitarian viewpoint have come up in a big way from cities to small towns. Their product-prices are not only based on the demand-supply consideration in their market segment but also are manipulated by their promotional strategies. In a true spirit of globalization, many foreign universities are invading the educational spheres through hitherto unfamiliar strategic alliances with non-descript commercial agencies, of course at hefty dollar equivalent prices. Many elite institutions like IIMs, IITs, and suddenly facing fund crunch had to raise their fee structure and other prices many fold. They were already beyond the reach of Dalits. When they eventually turn self-financing, their prices would be benchmarked against their international counterparts, which any way would be affordable to the same top market segment that constitutes the focus of all the Reform-talk. As the job markets become acutely competitive, owing to a sharp decline in job opportunities, the polarization between the elite and commoner has sharpened. Various kinds of price barriers would be erected to thwart the entry of downtrodden.

Even the sphere of primary education the coverage of which has been so miserably inadequate as to leave out multitude of children in villages as illiterate, could not remain unaffected, notwithstanding its already existing divide between the vernacular and English schools. Corporatization has entered this arena, transforming the education into an enterprise for profits. Today educational sector is more commonly known as education industry. The quality of input these expensive schools provide will benchmark the products in the contracting job markets. Even today, because of preponderance of the English language in business circles, the divide between village and towns is almost complete in the field of education. It is so difficult for a village student, educated in vernacular medium to compete with his convent educated counterpart in cities and towns. If this is the situation of general village population, the plight of Dalits who besides being the poorest of the village population carry additional Breton Wood of social discrimination, is indeed a worrisome matter. Despite several kinds of State assistance, Dalits are plagued with alarming rate of school dropouts. This may be explained out as much by the need for Dalit children to supplement their meager family incomes for meeting the two ends as also the erosion of their faith that education could be the instrument to change the pathetic course of their lives. This sense of alienation is going to grow with the progress of the Reforms.

Whatever may be the other costs, the government policy of reservations in employment sphere has undoubtedly played an important role for Dalits. The policy broadly envisages representation of Dalits in proportion to their population in all the public services, which includes the government, public sector, autonomous bodies and institutions receiving grant-in-aid from the government. A cursory glance at the figures of this representation is enough to get a pathetic state of implementation.

Howsoever, unsatisfactory the results of the implementation may be, the importance of reservations from the Dalit viewpoint cannot be overemphasized. As could be evidenced by the organized private sector, where it would be difficult to find a Dalit employee (save of course in scavenging and lowliest jobs), without reservations Dalits would have been totally doomed. The importance of reservations thus could only be assessed in relation to situations where they do not exist. Whatever be their defects and deficiencies, they have given certain economic means of livelihood and some social prestige to the sons and daughters of over 1.5 million landless labourers. Whether they get real power or not, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the sphere of bureaucratic authority with the help of reservations. Besides these tangible benefits promised by the policy, it has instilled a hope in Dalit community of a better tomorrow. This hope predominantly manifests in the form of spread of education among them. Their emotional bond with the nation and its Constitution despite heaps of injustice and ignominy they bear every moment of their life may also be significantly attributable to the Reservation Policy.

The winds of privatization under the Economic Reforms have already shaken the very foundations of the Reservations. The Reforms clearly envisage the minimalist government. Wherever the Reforms pattern on the Structural Adjustment Program of the World Bank were carried out, denationalization of the public sector and privatization have come in a big way. Being the late starter, India has not reached the scales achieved by others, say the Latin American countries. However, is not unimpressive. Almost all sectors of economy stand opened up for private investment. Initially the disinvestment of public sector companies began with 49 per cent by the policy. The public stake being more than 50 per cent, the public sector as such was not dismantled in policy. However, the reform package has already crossed all boundaries by disinvesting PSUs like BALCO by 51%. Now all PSUs are open for disinvestments by 51% or more. Even the case of the transformation of telecommunication department to BSNL is the same story. Hence reservations had been wiped off through these politics.

In the name of preparing the PSUs for global free market regime, the PSUs were allowed/encouraged to have strategic alliances with private companies from India and abroad. Over the last five years, many profit making PSUs have formed the joint venture companies (JVC). These JVCs are strategically structured as not to fall in the ambit of the PSU-framework. The typical equity stake for the PSU and private could be 49:51. There appears to be a great deal of receptivity for this scheme in the government circles. There are no policy barriers on the business to be pursued by these JVCs. Theoretically, an existing PSU can hive off its business divisions into private JVCs and transform itself into a financial holding company with a skeleton staff. Even if technically it remains a PSU, and assuming that it followed the reservation policy sincerely, it would have little scope to absorb Dalits in its staff. Whatever may be the strategic considerations, the fall out of this process practically amounted to shutting the doors of these new age companies to Dalits and to potential neutralization of the reservation policy.

The policy of limited disinvestment of PSUs not being in conformity with the spirit of the reforms is bound to be relaxed in favour of privatization any time. But still, all the PSUs may not get privatized at once. The bigger sharks would gobble the better ones up. The worst ones may be closed down or distress-sold. And the middle ones may for quite some time, continue to be the relic of their past. Whatever the scenario, the residual structures of the 'reformed' PSUs are never going to be the same, as far as Dalits are concerned. The ethos of privatization and the excuse of competition, superimposed on the traditional caste prejudice, will never allow reservations to happen, any more.

Other public services are also bound to slip out of the reservation policy. Most of the sectors, which were the traditional domain of the government investment, have already been released for the private investment. Being the late starter, India has not reached the scales achieved by others, say the Latin American countries. However, is not unimpressive. Almost all sectors of economy stand opened up for private investment. Initially the disinvestment of public sector companies began with 49 per cent by the policy. The public stake being more than 50 percent, the public sector as such was not dismantled in policy. However, the reform package has already crossed all boundaries by disinvesting PSUs like BALCO by 51%. Now all PSUs are open for disinvestments by 51% or more. Even the case of the transformation of telecommunication department to BSNL is the same story. Hence reservations had been wiped off through these politics.

II. And in Private Sector¡K
Now the question has been debated over the past few years if Dalits, Adivasis and others should be given reservation rights in private sector or not. Dalit organizations have been constantly demanding for their eligible rights in the private sector. The fact mentioned above is absolutely true to its core since in the private sector people do not consider Dalits to be competent for various reasons. One is that the insignia of quota is in itself a big problem for many. Many in the private sector companies and proprietors, in their inherent Brahministic viewpoint think that since they had come all through the social sanctuary of reservation they do not posses any innate or natural quality.

Three arguments have been set forth by the anti-reservation campaigners; (a) reservation exterminates merit, and invited incapable persons to run the offices and also to educational institutions (b) reservation promotes casteism and (c) it is a strategy of the foreigners, particularly Christians to break the country by reinstating the policy of 'divide and rule'. The Brahmin Baniya clique had been propagating these three aspects for the last many years, particularly under the guidance of the Hindutva catalogue. They had already spread a wider hate campaign based on these aspects. There were several rounds of anti-reservation campaign initiated in the past, right from the beginning of the reservation policy in political, economic, educational and social spheres there had been widespread opposition to it. It was perchance by default that the Constitution got cleared in the parliament after it was presented by Dr. Ambedkar; another reason for this could be that none of them dared to have a close study of it and find it in detail. Otherwise it seems doubtful, if by any likelihood, such an amendment had come into existence today.

Let us cross examine the validity of these three arguments. Over and again it is argued that Dalit and other depressed communities are actually the disqualified breed, but for the reservation. Hence reservation is at stake. Nobody as of now had given any clear definition on what reservation is all about? And what is the merit that all these years those who are advocating are talking about? Whether the so called merit leads to integrated development? Does merit establish socio-political and economic equality? Does merit is able to deliver justice to the historically battered masses? No one had anything to do with all these questions. Yet they all vociferously reverberates the sonnet of merit. It seems that the so called merit is only a means to continue all historical and existing forms of injustice, exploitation, inequality, indignity, non-fraternity, and so on.

Prof. Rahul Burman of IIT Kanpur has something concrete to mention in this context. He says that in the first class of engineering he was taught that the best engineer is the one who bring out the best result with very little inputs. If this is the basics of professionalism then one could explore and have a cross-section analysis into the entire thesis of merit as propagated by the caste forces. He has been studying three industries in and Kanpur of Uttar Pradesh. He says that during the past few years he has been studying the leather industry, the bangle industry and other cottage industry. Most of the workers work under severe condition, pretty inhuman by all means and nature, with least amenities and at times for hours without proper roads, electricity, water etc. Their children get little space to study, grow and build-up a any future. Most interestingly except a few almost all are from Dalit, Backward and Muslim background.

If the basics of professionalism for all profession remain the same, to give more output with little or no input, then there cannot be any better example to learn in the world than this. But unfortunately due to our stringent educational schemes and outlooks none of these are either engineers or architects or anything professional in the official language. They are simply workers. Does merit means to create something with fewer inputs or to create something with heavy inputs and investment? If this is the basics of any engineering ¡V thus for any specialized job like doctors, advocates, etc. ¡V then the Dalits and OBCs are the best engineers, architects, and designers etc. who do the entire work without any training or coaching or extra efforts or other aspects. Who has the merit in the real sense and definition of merit? If the government and its educational system had considered them to be inducted as experts in some discipline as in many advanced countries, then the question of merit would had been too irrelevant. Rather the state and the social system that guides the state were more interested in keeping them reeling under the sinews of caste.

If the real 'merit' is not merit and the true 'mainstream' is not the mainstream then the state or private sector doesn't have any right to keep them off their rights within what seems to be the real merit and mainstream, by means of reservation. When there is already a big question on the labouring class in terms of dignity, the kind of 'merit' being argued is in fact demerit. However the right of the people in the private sector is an appropriate right since the Dalits as a crucial constituent in the process of nation building have a right over the Common Property. Private property (factory, firms, industries, etc.) and their owners claim that they are contributing to the nation building. Even if this is taken as a base then why are they nervous of building the people in the lowest rug of social system? This nervousness and the rhetoric of merit among the Brahminstic Indian private sector is clear and that is to neglect, discriminate, isolate, and betray the Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, women and other marginalized minorities off their social and political rights of reservation.

The second argument of promoting casteism is obviously untrue and invalid since casteism existed in much crude form much before the arrival of reservation. In fact with the emergence of Indian history into the larger canvas caste become an indispensable factor of it. Nevertheless it is only with reservation that the Dalits could enter the mainstream sectors of education, employment and politics from the vantage point. At least some of them could avail a little gulp of air in a context where breathing was even difficult. In fact to certain extends, at least in big cities ¡V although limited ¡V it has diluted caste and this is what reservation had contributed with the enhancement of the economic status. More and more people easily began to interact with equals in their economic status. Several instances of the kind could be drawn from the experience of people from these strata who got a chance to intermingle with those from upper social ladder and thereby carry forward it for a life long commitment. Hence the argument that reservation endorses casteism is just absurd. It is yet another myth disbanding the truth of caste.

Third is that of the concealed plan of westerners to divide the country. It would be just silly to say that this land was ever one single unit, except perhaps in the Stone Age. It is more severe in the context of caste since each caste was a separate social unit in the history of the country. Caste-clan wars and battles characterize or constitute the real history of India and also make the real country even today. If the Christian westerners or the Muslim invader from the Middle East brought caste to India , then it could be accepted that they are trying to divide the country. But all the external religions and invaders at first got surprised with such systemic distinction, which they later learnt and incorporated within themselves as their own survival in the Indian sub-continent become difficult without accepting these exclusive aspects. If they still stand to promote discrimination then it is right, but they are the ones who had taken much before progressive steps in real life and practice. The practice of slavery very much existed in almost all parts of Europe and America , particularly with the Blacks and other African communities. But when there were continuous protests, and struggles for self determination, they began a free inter-mingling and now it is almost a common practice that they have got the blacks in all spheres of life right from the electronic media to Hollywood to sports. In fact they are the best performers in many of these fields and opportunities are created for them to express themselves freely. Black-White partnership is very common in most parts of Europe and America . These countries are the ones who took bold steps and are now voicing against all forms of discrimination, racism and apartheid at the world level. Even when the UN Conference against Racial Discrimination was on the official delegation from India took a position that there is nothing of the same sort in India , whereas many Dalit organizations and groups understood caste discrimination in the line of racial discrimination. It is pretty evident from all their previous record that they had took positions, unlike upper caste Indian who still stick to their old tradition of caste and blame others for their faults. One should also make clear in which part of history the outsiders introduced caste in India. Hence the argument that it is a means of foreign invasion is also another bogus farce simply to mislead the people and country.

Therefore all the three arguments are unfounded. These are the crunching arguments being deposited by the champions of anit-reservation campaign in private and public sectors. It is only a means of keeping them away from all areas of development and life and further the withdrawal of states responsibility to undertake any affirmative action.

By Goldy M. George
Courtsey Tehelka
(Creation of a casteless and peaceful society is indeed the step of just, egalitarian, and harmonious society. A society of equals, neither unequal nor more-equals, beyond the strings of caste, class, gender, race, etc. Can we overpower the dilemma of social oppression, political exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination, class isolation, and deliberate exclusion?)

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