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A reservation against reservations

25 December 2005
Posted in: Scratchpad, Social issues | 2 Comments

Reservations—in education, in jobs and in various other aspects of life—are an inescapable part of life in India, and arguably tops the list of reasons why we as a society are so progressively stunted. It makes perfectly respectable people otherwise vie for the “distinction” of being called a Scheduled Caste or Tribe or a Backward Caste/Class/whatever, I couldn’t care less!

Admittedly, there is nothing wrong in taking pride in your antecedents, but in India it has a rather sinister reason because it gives your caste/class/whatever the privilege of having seats reserved for you in government jobs, in the military, in universities, in professional institutes and in government schools. About 60 years ago, when the country gained independence, it was a way to ensure that hitherto suppressed or backward groups got their due access to good jobs and quality education, but today it is a political issue. More importantly, it has assured that a body of undeserving and inept people hold important posts in key areas, keeping the truly deserving out, and defeating the original purpose by keeping these seats away from the reach of those it was meant to benefit.

And now with the new Education Bill coming in, it appears that private institutions are not to be spared either. Any privately funded and unaided school will be required to keep 50 per cent of its seats reserved for the backward classes! It is generally accepted that the quality of education in the country is questionable. Thus, rather than look to implementing it’s own promise of free and compulsory to all children and trying to improve services in government-aided schools, the government is just piggy-backing on the only option one has of getting a remotely good education—from a few private schools.

While it might be argued that why shouldn’t the backward classes have access to these schools, it can be counter-argued that relaxing standards to take in “quota” children will only result in a dip in standards. So, no one wins.

Ironically, those who “benefit” from these reserved quota are always ready to fight in their corner, yet find themselves unable to compete on equal terms—read higher standards—with the rest of the country! This is more than apparent in the little fact that if reservations truly worked, then having them at the school level should even out the playing field when one reaches higher education. Thus, no need for them in universities and professional institutes, and most of all in jobs. Now try suggesting that to the relevant groups and sit back to watch the sparks fly!

Everyone has witnessed the harm reservations can do. For example, friends tell me about “quota” students in medical colleges. Some of them only get in because they belong to a certain class or caste and the law says you have the fill a certain percentage of seats with such candidates. Some of these ladies and gents are not even capable of passing an entrance examination, let alone do so with distinction enough to give them the privilege of holding a seat coveted by thousands of others—deserving others. These people, of course, will some day make life and death decisions about people’s health. Live and death decisions concerning you and I.

If implemented properly, the idea of reservations was (note the past tense) a noble one. However, what has happened is that it has ensured an easy way for unqualified people to make their way into critical jobs and hold down seats in institutes that should have gone to other people who have actually worked for them. It has created an entire generation and a half of so-called students and so-called professionals who are assured that their political connections and caste backgrounds assure them of university seats and plum jobs, and damn everyone else and the greater good of the country.

It is funny how the same Constitution that forbids discrimiation on the basis of class, caste or religion reinforces the same outdated and reprehensible system of classification of a people belonging to a single nation. Worse, the system is so woefully misused that it makes it hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. Because, of course, the truly deserving backward sections of society never get a real chance. Anyway, the main reason for increasing—as opposed to decreasing—reservations over the years has nothing to do with the upliftment of the poor and everything to do with garnering votes.

If indeed half the seats in any sector are reserved for so-called backward classes, it means they are no longer a minority in society. If almost 60 years of belonging to a free country has not given them the pride or confidence to stand up and be counted as a worthy individual human being rather than a member of a particular class, then, sorry, there is no hope for the future.

For you cannot ask for respect and dignity as well as special treatment.

~PD

2 Responses

  1. Nimish says:

    I wonder what they are going to reserve next. Imagine – no film can be made unless 51% of the people working in it belong to certain castes; no train can travel unless 51% of the passengers in it are from the reserved castes; 51% of the news in newspapers should be reserved for these worthies; …the imagination boggles.

  2. shilpa says:

    Private schools too??! somehow i’m shocked but not entirely surprised. maybe after liberalisation, the “quotas in power” realised that a disposable income comes from a resume of such schools. i wonder if the new education bill has taken into consideration the no. of high-school students dropping out of college to work at call centres to make this disposable income. what next – reservations at the call centres, too?!

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