By Merit or birth?
By Vimlaksh Gautam
23 July, 2005
the issue of reservation in the private sector has kicked up a storm
and expectedly so, what is amusing , how it always takes the shape of
a similar argument, job on basis of merit or birth?
Before this question
is addressed what is more important is addressing the term 'reservation'
itself. As will be shown no discussion on the above argument can be
initiated without going into the need for
reservation in the first place, this is all the more important because
many critics point out the flaws of reservation without acknowledging
the socio-economic causes of the reservation policy.
So first let us
analyse the causes which led DR.Ambedkar to fight for reservations for
the millions of depressed classes in public institutions.
The common reason
given is 'reservations were brought because the dalits were ill treated'.
'ill-treated', all right but by whom, in what degree and for how long.
The Dalits which were outside the chaturvarna system were subjected
to the most inhuman living conditions, their means of livelihood severely
restricted and confined to meanial and humiliating tasks with no right
to move up the social ladder or live in a more dignified manner even
if he had the ability and resources or should I say the requsite 'merit'
to do so.
He had no right
to education until the recent past and in many villages still does not
have, and was also forbidden from owning any land. Thus he was reduced
to a mere tenant or labourer working at the whims of his upper caste
landlord. He was denied the right to enter temples, in fact so much
for racial purity that his mere shadow could defile a caste hindu so
he had to keep a particular distance from the upper caste Hindus.In
this way his social and economic rights were completely curtailed, indeed
in most cases he was treated worse than an animal. Such was the scenario
where he was subjected to constant humiliation and life of indignity.
Now the next question
is for what part of our history did such conditions persist. five years,
fifty years? No, in fact for the most part of our history right from
the vedic times until the recent past
the caste rules were enforced in their most rigid form. In such conditions
of perpetual ignorance and helplessness it is not surprising when generations
of Dalits forgot their sense of 'self' and led lives just for the sake
of living. So when we finally did get independence in 1947 and declared
ourselves an Democratic, Secular Republic which cherished the ideals
of 'equality' and 'liberty' for all its citizens, the question that
popped up was are all of India's children really on equal footing. Particularly
so, when certain sections have got a headstart thousands of years ago,
indeed reservation from competition, while others are still tied to
the starting line how do we ensure an equal race for all the competitiors?
That's why the framers
of our constitution supported by Jawaharlal Nehru decided that dalits
and other backward classes needed some time to catch up with the rest
of India and so introduced the policy of reservation. These reservations
were created for a time period required to fill the void between the
upper and lower caste hindus. But from the last decade and particularly
during the NDA regime many public sector companies were sold off and
with it went the livelihoods of many SC/ST's. Fine, but what are the
alternative sources of income which the government has thought of for
the SC/ST's. Reservation in private sector is one of them, but the 'Captains'
of Industry came out all guns firing against this proposal. Rahul Bajaj
got so petrified, he even threatened to move out his factory from Maharashtra
if the state government went ahead with its plans.
was just a proposal, nobody is implementing anything without a discussion.
The government initiated this proposal simply because of complete absence
of any plans for the upliftment of the socially backward section from
your (read industry) side. While we hear suggestions of Affirmative
Action like in the US nobody has any concrete plans towards its implementation.There
does not seem to be any initiative from industry associations like CII
or FICCI towards improving the lot of the depressed classes. Infact
it took nearly sixty years for the industry to acknowledge that "merit
was shaped by social circumstances" ,which we have already discussed.
So much for
in US is an acknowledgement of the wrongs done to the Blacks through
centuries of forced slavery, likewise affirmative action in India should
be sympathetic towards the Dalits who have
endured thousands of years of humiliation and social boycott.
The caste Hindus
have to realise that reservation is a direct result of our unkind past
and it will take some adjustment and understanding on their behalf when
the SC/ST's feel confident enough to pursue their progress without any
As Mahatma Gandhi
said, "I want a revolution in the mentality of the caste Hindus".
The country is awaiting such a revolution.