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Contrary To Popular Opinion, Here’s Why Reservations Should Exist In Professional Spaces!

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This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

Before diving into who should get reservations and who shouldn’t, we must enquire about why reservations are needed in the first place. To answer this, we will have to familiarize ourselves with affirmative action which is adopted by one-fourth countries of the world with the similar intentions of uplifting the historically oppressed and increasing the number of underrepresented communities in the mainstream.

This affirmative action is applied in different regions with different parameters such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, geographical location and caste in India and with different names such as alternative access, positive discrimination, affirmative action and reservation. Since the Indian social structure was built on caste and caste defined the hierarchy of an individual in the Indian social order, the reservations in India are caste-based.

Representational image.

There’s been a lot of debate around reservations lately mainly revolving around merit in higher education and professional areas like medicine, legal or teaching. We must take a moral approach at looking at the things as they are in the current times and decide for ourselves whether or not reservations are needed in professional fields. Reservations in education are often questioned in terms of merit but the question we forget to address is the question of fair opportunity.

Is it fair to compare a person with access to resources and a person who lacks resources?

Does Diversity In Organisations Increase Productivity?

It will be only fair to compare two students who are given similar opportunities and resources, who have the same social background and a stable economic condition. This statement can be backed by a very famous research paperThe Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations” written by Emilio J. Castilla and Stephen Benard of Cornell University. It is also observed that managers in meritocratic organisations believe to be more impartial which restrains them from self-scrutinization and makes them biased against certain groups.

The rampant discrimination and caste favouritism does not just exist in rural areas but also in elite professional spaces. The NCRB data shows the rising number of crimes against members of the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi communities.

Questions are also raised on the efficiency of the organisations who practise affirmative action. A research paper “Does Affirmative Action Affect Productivity in Indian Railways?” by Ashwini Deshpande of Delhi School of Economics and Thomas Weisskopf of the University of Michigan suggested that organisational productivity may improve from a greater diversity of perspectives and talents by the integration of the members of previously marginalised groups into high-level decision-making teams.

There are plenty of researches conducted on how diversity increases productivity and a McKinsey report states that companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits. Private organisations do not have affirmative action policies in India but the studies on diversity have opened up discussions for the need for reservations in private organisations.

Representational image.

“Reservations Should Be Abolished”. Is It So?

Recently, Justice Markandey Katju, a retired Supreme Court judge wrote in an op-ed that all caste-based reservations must be abolished. He cited reasons such as only 1% of Scheduled Castes are benefited by the reservations, reservations act as psychological crutches to the SCs, weakening them and reservations are serving the policy of divide and rule of the political rulers. Justice Katju himself had entered the judiciary where appointments and elevations of Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts are done through the Collegium System.

As a matter of fact, his father Mr Shiva Nath Katju was a judge at the Allahabad High Court and he is the grandchild of Mr Kailash Nath Katju who was a governor of Orissa and West Bengal. Such Collegiums tend to remain within homogenous caste-networks. The selection of the candidates is done through the system which seemingly lacks transparency, accountability and objectivity and is questionable, unlike reservations in education and employment which is a pretty transparent system.

The credibility of Justice Katju or rather the whole Collegium System can be questioned when a man of his stature fails to understand affirmative action. Speaking of why only a small segment of SCs are benefited from reservations in employment is because I think reservation in employment is only limited to government sector jobs which only comprise of 3.55% of the total jobs in India. Out of 6% of jobs available in the formal sector, 2.45% of jobs are in the private sector and the remaining 94% workforce is employed in the informal sector which has no reservations.

Many leading personalities who are beneficiaries of the reservation have reached respectable positions but still face discrimination. Instances of cases of discrimination popup every now and then even in the most elite institutions like AIIMS, IITs, Administrative services and Central Universities. A Harvard research scholar mentions in one of his interviews about how he is the proud beneficiary of reservations and adds “Had there not been reservation I’d not be…where I am now.”

“Reservation is not only a welfare program but it is a fixture of past mistakes and it is resolving present inequalities. It is a matter of shame that such affirmative action schemes are still criticized when the onus of it lies on the oppressor and not the marginalized,” he adds.

Instances of caste discrimination in elite institutions are as common as occurrences of petty offences like jumping a traffic signal in India.

The suicide of Dr Payal Tadvi which shook the entire nation reflects that there is no place for social justice even in the medical profession which demands the values like empathy, moral integrity and a sense of equality. Since Dr Tadvi’s case was politically highlighted, she received a decent legal aid and yet awaits justice. But that’s not the case with the majority of marginalized people.

34% of the total under trial prisoners in India are the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes while the rate of filing chargesheets for reports of violence against SCs and STs stands at 78.3% and 81.3% respectively which is again below the national average of 87.5%. These contradictions hint towards the presence of caste discrimination and thus validates the need for reservations in professional fields.

This will not only aid and uplift the members of the SC and ST community. It will also create a feeling of social inclusion among these communities providing them with the required social capital to fight injustice.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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