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Let's Talk Representation
If Reservation Is Against Merit

By V.B.Rawat

17 August, 2005

While the civil liberty organizations and other international human rights groups may appreciate the recent judgment of a seven judges bench ruling out government's intervention in the unaided minority institutions in India. Many of the un-aided minority institutions have challenged the government's guidelines to implement reservation for the Dalits and marginalized sections in these institutions, which was a matter of resentment among these institutions, which have become amassing huge capitation fee from the students. It is alleged that people pay as much as rupees four million to get admission in medical and engineering. It is interesting that the Supreme Court has stuck down the provisions of the reservations for the marginalized but allowed special quota for the non-resident Indians? What does it means? That any person living abroad can get into these institutions but not the people who are living in India and living the life of the marginalized.

One can appreciate the court's ruling that the state has no business to direct the private institutions but what happen when the state abdicate its responsibilities. What happen when we are told that state should get out of education and health? How can a country like ours where discrimination is institutionalized ensure fair participation of the people sitting on the margin? It is ironical that this decision of the Supreme Court comes when on August 8th and 9th 2005, hundreds of Dalit organizations from all over the country assembled in Delhi unanimously gave clarion call to the law makers of the country to bring a law for reservation for Dalits in the private sector enterprises. Former Prime Minister V.P.Singh and many other political leaders participated in these deliberations and supported the demand for reservation in the private sector.

We all know that the debate for reservation in the private sector began growing after the Indian markets were opened for the international multi national corporations and government went on a selling spree to attract foreign direct investment in India. In 1989 the then National Front Government led by V.P.Singh accepted the Mandal Commission recommendations for job reservation in the government and public sector units for the backward communities. The protest against the same turned hostile and V.P.Singh became one of the most hated political leaders of the country despite his impeccable credentials as an efficient and honest politician. That shows how the Indian middle classes look upon the reservation issue.

In 1991 Narsimha Rao presided over a coalition government of the Congress party and initiated economic reforms in the country. Man Mohan Singh was brought from the burearocracy to improve the conditions of the people. The government deliberately went overboard to privatize every institution to dilute the reservation policy. In fact, every effort was made by the government to mislead the Supreme Court on the Indira Sahney case on reservation. Narsimha Rao did those things which the RSS could not have achieved. He presided over a regime, which allowed the Babari Masjid to demolish. He promised to rebuild the mosque but instead allowed a temporary temple of Rama there.

The liberlisation and privatization process became inevitable, as the successive governments afterwards did not have any policies. The leaders were interested in their own party work and hence a vigorous campaign to sale Indian enterprises started. Every body had their own interest in it. The middle classes were happy because liberlisation and privatization process in fact nullified the reservation policy. The farmers and those claiming to represent farmers were not interested in the nitty gritty of these things. But when the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA took over the power at the center, it was clear that they would go ahead with the privatization programme. BJP needed to be accepted by the middle classes. They wanted to go beyond Ramm Mandir issue. The non-resident nationalists were roaring for an incredible India so that they don't have an identity crisis when speaking with their counterparts in the west. BJP's aggressive nationalism came handy for the same and hence the person sitting on the margin became more marginalized. One can understand the eagerness of the brahmanical forces to unleash every propaganda that they had in their hand to destroy the awareness among the marginalized communities in India. Therefore the Hindutvaisation process was in fact an affront to the assertion of Dalits and backward communities and their growing demand for power sharing. The only difference this time was that the brahmanical forces got the silent support of what we can middle classes or secular elite, which dwindle all the time.

Dalits and backward communities have realized that the ongoing privisation process is not going to help them. Moreover, it is making them more vulnerable as ways are being developed to kill this spirit of assertion. So after a long while, here was a great show of strength by Dalit groups pressing for their demand for representation in the private sector. The negative point of it is that we have admitted that we as a country cannot do anything to this growing privatization process. The second thing is that we as a nation don't want to ensure fair representation of the marginalized in the privatization process. Many Dalit scholars are talking about diversity and need to develop a dalit middle class. The question is who will develop it ? they forget that the reservation in the government sector was ultimately responsible for developing this huge dalit middle class which is fashioning its identity today. There were others who whole heartedly support the process of privatization as for them the foreign industrialists are better then the upper caste Brahmin bania industrial house, a redundant theory of enemies enemy is our friend. Unfortunately, they are completely off from the gross reality of what Dalit face in our villages. The government sector represent a very tiny sector of the Dalit population while a majority of Dalits over 90% live in villages, in slums and are landless agricultural labour. What are our priorities for them?

No body opposes privatization process if it inevitable and if it plays by the rule of the game. If you are making us believe that whatever the corporate do is unquestionable then we will have to think twice before going through this process. The most unfortunate part is that whenever the issue of reservation in the services came, the issue of merit was raised as if Dalits and marginalized communities don't have merit. If that is the case how many of our companies are doing business on the basis of their merit. How come our entire industrial sector is family business? Why not the best brain take over reliance and other industries. Why our newspaper editors today have a modest educational background. Why are the topper not in the job.

The Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment started a debate and one day got up and said that some of the industries are ready to implement reservation in their companies. Paradoxically, Ms Meera Kumar has not bothered to lobby with the government to fulfill the backlog of the quota reserve for Dalits in the Central government. Accordingly, there should have been 17.5% Dalit IAS officiers and 7.5% tribal IAS officers in the Central government but the situation is rather grim. Now, instead of fulfilling its duty, the government has suddenly jumped to another hype of reservation in the private sector, only to be rebuked by the mandarins of the business houses. Meera Kumar said that the private sector was ready to implement the quota but she did not clarify as where would they put the Dalit candidates. It was also strange as how the minister came to the conclusion that the industry would accept the demand for the quota who have been opposing it from the very first day. Ofcourse, they have sweepers as reserved in their companies. You will not find a Brahmin or Bania working as sweeper any company even if he or she had a modest educational background. The general argument of the industry came from well know reservation baiter Rahul Bazaz, who said that it would kill
the merit in the industries and jeopardize the Indian industries who are competing with the global market. " We welcome the ministry's efforts for dialogue with the industry but we would like to inform that we are totally against the reservation. The best way to help the marginalized sections is through education. We are ready to open educational institutions and technical institutions for the these sections so that they can compete and come through open competition", said Bazaz.

It is interesting that the authorities don't want to provide representation to the Dalits while claiming that they would readily provide all possible help to educate them. So, when Mandal Commission recommendations were accepted the commonest reference was that the Dalits and marginalized be given reservation in the schools and colleges so that they can compete with us. But this anti reservation mindset is not just an upper caste Hindu problem. It exists among the Muslim elite as well as the Christian and other religious elites of the country. If that were not so, the principle of a welfare state should have been followed by these so-called autonomous institutions who take income tax exemptions from the government and get huge track of land for their building on a much lower prices then the market price. How can they be autonomous if the they are not involved with those in power? And should any autonomous institution with in the country refuse to accept the country's law.

There are other important issues involved here. The issue of Dalit Christian is the top most. Church organizations have been carrying out campaign for the rights of Christian Dalits be recognized and they be given reservation in the government services. The church cannot escape from the blame of why there is a term called Dalit Christian? Why should they have to be ostracized even after conversion to Christianity? Christian elite of the country owes a much bigger proportion of educational and medical institutions of the country. They have vocational training center, institutions in the field of media and everything. They have some of the best colleges of the country where the top Hindutva Brahmins have been educated. Unfortunately, the entire campaign for the rights of Dalit Christian gets diluted when in their own institutions such magnanimity of the heart is not shown by them. One should not forget that one of the best-known colleges in the country, owned by the Christian, in Delhi, was a party against the central government's directives on implementation of reservations in their college. The principal of the college refused to follow this under the garb of the argument that he belonged to a minority institution and government's directive is an attempt to change the nature of the college.

Corporate's Social Responsibility and Supreme Court's Judgement

When the autonomous minority institutions themselves feel that 'reserve' category means demeritorious, how can we go ahead with this drive to satisfy our corporate bosses. When the Catholic Church which is in the forefront of campaign for the Dalit human rights cannot persuade its own institutions to reserve a substantial number of seats for the Dalits and tribals, how will they carry weight when they fight for the government? Government says, we are going to privatize everything so what is the option left for the people of this country, on whose land are big corporations being build, those who never get their rehabilitation packages, those whose promises are never fulfilled. The Supreme Court's ruling says that private autonomous institutions are not bound under the government interference. Fair enough, but will they do it themselves. The CII and other industry people expressed their opinion that they are ready to provide the Dalits and marginalized quality education to compete with but all of them are happy with this decision of the Supreme Court

Internationally, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations in his report ' In larger freedom', talks about his future plans for the United Nations, in which he envisage a strong public private partnership. He feels that the private companies can play a major role in helping eradicate poverty alleviation and freedom from hunger. One does not know whether Annan was saying this under pressure from the US companies or he has certain plan for the accountability of these huge transnational corporations who run amuck without being accountable to any national laws. Do we want to make giant corporations so dominant as they make us hostage to their deeds?

Clearly, the judgment of the Supreme Court is basically according to time. It has strengthened the view that state has no business to interfere in the private affairs of an autonomous body. We welcome this but at the same point of time want to emphasize that court should have asked the state to ensure that there is a transparency and that principle of social justice cannot be withdrawn from the private institutions also when the state is continuously withdrawing itself from welfare measures.

Reading these judgment and internationally understanding Annan and his entire theme of Millennium Development Goal, it looks the private participation is meant for the charitable work. We need poverty
alleviation without giving the idea of what has been responsible for large-scale mass hunger and mal nutrition. The long discussed land and agrarian reform measures have become a thing of past as the MDGs don't talk of it.

Charity is good to relieve us from the burden of future as it saves the religious organizations from going to hell, but charity does not empower people. It is the rights which empower the people. Secretary General Kofi Annan remain mute and complete silence on empowerment and participation while talking a lot on eradicating hunger and malnutrition. One should understand clearly that with a few charities we couldn't eliminate hunger and malnutrition, which are a result of denial of rights over resources to the people. One should not ignore the fact that most of the conflicts in the world today are actually to attain those rights. Loud talks of democracy would be useless with out the participation of the minorities and marginalized. And for a stronger democracy we need strong voices from all the sections of the society. In a society full of prejudices and violence, affirmative action is required to ensure the participation of the most marginalized and vulnerable sections of society including women.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's judgment would strengthen the forces of patriarchy and parochialism. It has again shown its prejudices that reservation means non meritorious, perhaps the time has now come for the Dalits and marginalized to kick out the word reservation and start talking of proportionate representation in every sector of our life.

The political parties should become more responsible now otherwise there may be a time when the court would decide everything about our life and choices. For the marginalized democracy remains the biggest hope as depending upon the 'meritorious' institutions are becoming a bit hazardous. More then ¾ of our parliament comprise of Dalits and backward community leaders who are stalling so many bills in the parliament including women's reservation bill. Will they hear this cry of the people that power elite in the country is now looking beyond parliamentary democracy, using all other mechanism to destroy the mandate of the people, make laws bypassing the parliament? They have their media and people to chant the 'merit' mantra of India shining brigade. They want to shine at the cost of other people who are trying to come up. At every attempt, there are modern Dronacharayas, who would create obstacles in the way to eliminate the status quo. So merit and court's judgments are used for their own dubious purposes. In the 58th year of our independence if the political leadership, human rights organizations and all those who believe in social justice do not arise on the occasion, it would tantamount to be betrayal with 170 million people of India and they would have themselves to blame for this grave injustice which our ruling elite refuses to acknowledge.











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