Have Reservations Served Social Justice At All?

Posted on November 27, 2011 in Society

By Akshay Ranade:

Reservations and caste dynamics today serve a major role in Indian politics. Often, they are rationalized using syrup of clichés such as ‘promoting social justice’, ‘a chance for the downtrodden ones’ and many of this kind. Politicians advance a step further and ornate reservations with secularism. “Reservations should be extended to Muslims and other minorities as well”, they proudly declare. And to make matters worse, we see hunger strikes by our ‘progressive’ and ‘concerned’ leaders and demand an increase in ‘quota’ for a particular caste. How far have we descended? How much harm could it cause the system? More importantly, how much harm has it already caused? How when what is vehemently and most rigorously prohibited in the constitution- discrimination on the basis of caste- we turn around to exercise the same under the sophisticated banner of reservations? How is it rationalized? And how much indeed have reservation helped us in overcoming social barriers.

Is caste a parameter?

That’s the primary question that is to be raised as we delve into seemingly endless debate on caste-based reservation. Is caste really a parameter to decide backwardness or forwardness? Apparently, if we come to accept that someone belonging to a particular caste, let’s assume a so-called higher caste, will always be socially as well as economically well-off, aren’t we then placing the first brick in the structure of caste-based discrimination? There are no empirical evidences to confirm that every single belonging to backward-caste would essentially be backward by all the standards. No one can deny the fact that in such cases those who are least in the need of the benefits enjoy them while those who need them are kept bereft of them lamenting to the fact that they are not entitled to “backward caste”. This, I believe is the first stab to the very notion of bringing about “social equality”. And the matter does not stop there. Reservations don’t really end at getting into a particular institution. They are extended to professional promotions, distribution with scholarships, deflated fees and so on and so forth. Every single exercise betrays the very purpose of social equality. And yet, on the basis of caste we try to weigh the social and economic state of an individual. Unless caste being a predominant parameter in the eyes of those who formed the constitution, it could not have been used as a basis on which the special benefits are being given today. However, the core issue remains that caste cannot be qualified as a parameter to judge social and economic condition of individual. It can be ‘generally’ admitted that certain people belonging to a particular caste are socially backward and efforts of bringing them to an equal level should reach them. However, there should be an equally effective parameter to judge it. Yet to rationalize this very theory of caste-based reservations we go on to challenge more effective methods. Indeed the very concept of ‘merit’ is challenged by none other than the apex body of our judiciary.

How have courts come to accept it?

“Merit and efficiency is purely an Aryan invention aimed at maintaining their monopoly”, this is the Supreme Court, quoting its judgment. It’s quite fascinating that even to rationalize this theory of caste-based reservations we descend to these levels. Not only this, the courts even come to accept what has been already prohibited by the constitution. Article 15 (1) of Indian constitution declares, “State shall not discriminate against any citizen only on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, sex, place of birth or any of them.” This and the subsequent articles and its clauses states crystal clear that there shall be no exercise by the state that would encourage any inequality on the basis of caste, religion, creed, sex etc. The essence of constitution regarding this can be summarized, as Arun Shourie does in his indefatigable work, “Falling over Backwards” as follows.

1) The fundamental guarantee in very provision (of the constitution) was of equality and non-discrimination.

2) Caste was most consciously eschewed.

3) Wherever caste was mentioned, it was only to prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste.

4) Wherever equality was made specific, the expression used was “equality of opportunity”. And how ruthlessly have this very notion is being used to extent we see today.

There is another intriguing fact. Since 1931, there has been no caste-based enumeration or tabulation in any of the senses. It’s only during this census that the demand for caste-based census was raised. Yet we have this mythical figure of 52 % (or more) of the total population is OBCs. Such stats prove handy when we blow the old tune of, ‘social equality for majority of the citizen’. And since courts come to acquiesce this wholesale perversion of constitution, it becomes ever more difficult to pass this hurdle of social barriers.

“… but you are a Brahmin”

If you happen to talk against the reservations on the basis of caste in any of the debates and you happen to be of a so-called high-caste, you are most likely to be hurled with charges like this. Something similar happened with me in one such forum. I had tried to argue my case against the reservations and the reply was standard one, “you are a Brahmin and the arrogance is evident. (really???) How can u ignore the inhuman atrocities committed by your ancestors on untouchables? And now that they are getting a chance your blood boils over it?”“But of course, you are a Brahmin and certainly you will not approve of it…” and so many of this kind. The issue is, that all of this has been taken personally and so the conclusion is rarely with consensus. It is more on the emotional grounds rather than the rational ones. Who on earth is denying the fact that Brahmins of early age acted in an inhuman way. Had there been any way of punishing them for their deeds, it could have been done in most severe ways possible. But just because some hundred years back some section of people acted in wrong way, you cannot put the blame on the entire caste and justify it by bringing in reservations. Hasn’t the situation changed? Millions today take local train journeys every day. No one thinks of the caste of the person sitting next to them. The critical point which I want to emphasize on is that reservations are not meant to compensate for historic wrong-doings. They are meant for helping people at the moment. And certainly, dwelling in historical wrong deeds to justify today’s act is not helping us in any way.

Keeping aside the social equality, the reservations today have led to increased talks regarding the same. An OBC would talk about the ones who are getting more benefits than him. A higher caste one would talk about all those who are getting it. And the chain continues while making a pun over the issue of social justice. And under all this the standards which are meant to empower this country are compromised. The fact that India, despite of its vast potential is not standing to it’s worth and that the bright and educated and leaving this land and the downtrodden ones are still in the same state is conclusive argument in itself against the caste based reservation. It in fact is the biggest hurdle between India being a ‘knowledge superpower’. So it’s imperative to device an alternative to this present practice.

An Alternative!

No one in his right senses can have any second thoughts regarding helping the poorer and the weaker section of society. But it’s equally important to understand the ways by which we go about the problem. And to that we have examples set to us by the great reformers. Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanad, Lokmany Tilak, Veer Savarkar and so many have shown us the right way of addressing the issue. I have tried to compile these various methods explained by various thinkers. The psychological upliftment should be the first and foremost target. We must maintain its individuality by respecting others. Second, there is no alternative to economic growth and modernization. With that would come self-sufficiency. Third is personnel attention. Understand the real reason for the poor educational performance of a child. For instance, he cannot retain what he learns in class because of poor nutrition; give him four free meals a day. Not enough money to buy books, provide them for free. He doesn’t have a place to study, make free dormitories. Provide with free training and education. And all this should not be under caste considerations. With proper scrutiny of actual needs should these benefits be provided, irrespective of caste. One golden rule should be followed. No status, no job, no post, no admission should be given to anyone on the virtue of the place of his birth, caste, creed, religion or sex. None of this should be entitled as a ‘right’ for a particular caste but everything should come as a result of an effort. Only then shall there be improved standards. Merit should not be abused. “Equality in opportunity” should be exercised in true sense. One should not bend his credentials for the petty game of “vote-bank politics”. Social equality is not a treasure of a particular caste in any nation. It is pre-requisite for any just society. And so the great teaching of Lord Gautam Buddha still stands true, “As the silversmith removes impurities from silver, so the wise man from him”. Let us be the part of it and be the change.