Disclaimer: Sorry for disclaiming right at the start. The actual disclaimer comes next.
Disclaimer 2: Reservation, as it is, is a complex issue. While looking for some background information for this piece, I came across a lot of informative and responsible voices both in favour of and against the ‘quota regime’ that put me in further quandary. Eventually, after reading through all of them, I thought, the best way to clear the confusion was to come up with a piece, which, as an apt counter, was both ill-informed and irresponsible. Here it is:
New Delhi: The Constitutional Amendment Bill seeking to allow reservations for promotions to SC-STs in government enterprises has truly set the cat among the pigeons, what with the Samajwadi Party MPs totally opposed to the move especially because they can’t understand the meaning of ‘to set the cat among the pigeons’.
No, seriously what really happened was that an MP belonging to the Samajwadi Party snatched the Reservation Bill paper when it was being read by Union Minister Narayanasamy on the floor of the House. Luckily, Sonia Gandhi was at hand to save the situation, which she did —- this kind of intervention is possible only in evolved and mature parliamentary democracy —by snatching the paper back from the SP MP. Publications and TV channels are naturally all praise for Sonia because never in the history of Indian politics has a ruling party leader struck a blow for Dalit empowerment by wriggling a piece of paper from an opposing Parliamentarian. That’s how truly historic it is.
The BJP, as the main opposition party, has thrown the gauntlet to its detractors, whose job it is now to rise up to the challenge of figuring out what is the party’s position in this matter. Nobody, and that includes the leader of the BJP, has a clue as to what is the party’s official stand on this issue. In the RS they voted for the Bill, in the LS they were upset on Thursday on the grounds that there was ‘no respect for the principal Opposition party’. Probably the BJP was expecting some Samajwadi MP to pull the chair when L K Advani was reading. That would have been great fun and equally historic. No, we meant that would have been sad.
Anyway, when it comes to SC and STs and women, our parliamentarians are united and committed, and that’s why they brought in the Women’s Reservation Bill, which will be unanimously passed once they manage to take it through the notorious New Delhi traffic to the Lok Sabha from the Rajya Sabha, which, for the record, passed the Bill in March, 2010.
Here is a small snapshot of the quota regime in India
In a land where there has been caste oppression for centuries together, reservation is but an inevitable affirmative action needed to restore some kind of balance. Apart from institutional and administrative corrections, luckily for India there have been many leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indra Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, who have made enormous contributions to emphatically establish that one’s birth or family lineage (that decides one’s caste) shouldn’t matter at all.
Apart from reservations for the SCs, STs, OBCs, MBCs and BCs, there are quotas for minorities too. But this minority quota is still a matter of debate, as everyone is a minority for some reason.
For instance, in Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav is technically an oppressed minority, falling under the category: ‘persons unfortunate enough to resemble Mani Shankar Aiyar.’
So how does one define minority to be eligible for quotas? OK, here is the official definition: Minorities are extended reservations in all places where they are in the socially disadvantaged position of being a vote-bank majority.
In some States there is a quota for people coming from J & K. How does one prove that? Anyone furnishing the train ticket (in triplicate) of Jammu Tavi Express, duly attested by a Notary Public, is probably eligible for it.
Punjab has a quota for the single girl child. Yes, you’re right, as of now Abhishek-Aishwarya’s daughter, when she grows up, will be open for it.
Quotas are there at school, college and higher education levels, in both public and private institutions, providing a major window of opportunity to those in the authority of issuing community certificates.
Those vested with the power to provide community certificates, the tahsildar types, themselves get the job by providing a similar certificate, thereby providing a resonant philosophical metaphor to the fact: you are created out of what you create.
Despite sustained reservations over the decades, it is a shame that there is a distinct lack of political will in the matter of working for deserved quotas in foreign universities, which, with an imperial mindset, callously continue to adhere to their own set of rules.
Reservation in Promotions
Now, we come to the issue of the day: Quotas in promotions in government enterprises. This has been a ticklish issue ever since it was sought to be introduced in the early 80s. The Supreme Court, quite tragically struck it down, but gave the government a five-year window to streamline and straighten the entire system.
The Central governments, however, have tided over the situation by bringing in crucial constitutional amendments to increase in the number of days in the yearly calendar. Or at least that is what it looks like. Because that five-year period that started in the 80s has not ended till date.
Reservations in promotions in certain central government institutions are not allowed. Those enterprises instead follow, in the matter of office promotions, the more traditional rule of toadying up to the boss.
Despite the detractors, despite the criticism, the reservation system today is a huge success, and India today is a super power in the number of backward classes. At the time of Independence, the backward communities numbered only in the 100s. Today they are near the 1000-mark. Of course, we cannot afford to rest. The nation can consider itself as having ‘arrived’ when the biggest stumbling block in this field is breached. We, of course, refer to the IRCTC Reservation system.
PS: I am aware and understand that ‘Reservations’ are still the only route to salvation to many really disadvantaged classes. But those marginalised are still shut out by a lot of vested interests, political shenanigans and parasitical opportunism shown by certain groups that have already fattened out of this system. Why should, say, a doctor’s son or a professor’s daughter be any more eligible for reservations in whatever form (I am not coming at this from a monetary angle. I mean we need a system that can at least ensure that the same seat goes to a more deserving person, in terms of backwardness, from the very same community or caste of that said doctor or professor)? On the other hand, it’s mighty disingenuous to expect the doctor or professor to shrug off on their own the helping hand of quotas and reservations.
Caste and social equations are in a constant state of flux. Recently I came across an incident in which a tribal group has ‘ostracised’ a girl for daring to marry a boy outside of the community. The boy, as it happens, is from a Brahmin denomination. I am not even suggesting that the tables are now tuned. Nor I am trying to extrapolate any social message out of this one incident. Today, in Tamil Nadu, there is a major caste violence unleashed on some Dalit groups by Vanniyars, who belong to the MBC category. Look at the cruel irony of it. The point is caste identities can assert themselves in manner that we are not used to when there is a social churn. And any system that seeks to aid the socially disadvantaged, with the larger goal of eventually dismantling the caste barriers, cannot remain static or approach the whole thing with a one-size-fits-all strategy. If the government continues with such a mentality, we will be faced with the vulgarity of a lot of communities, even while unleashing caste violence, flourishing out of the same system that seeks to help those at the receiving end of the same caste violence. When villains claim the benefits due to the victims, the whole thing becomes a mockery.
Which is when it becomes a subject for spoof writers.