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Empowerment Strategies: Private Reservations For Dalits

By Dr. K. Vidyasagar Reddy

24 July, 2010

Main intention of the reservation policy was to assure empowerment of Dalits, who constitute around 16 percent of Indian population, were disempowered from times immemorial. Thus, the policy can be considered just as an inclusive one that ensures social representation in education and employment. In the case of employment, both the sectors, public and private were essential in securing empowerment of dalits. The private sector that attracts around 90% of the job market was left free from state control. As part of constitutional obligation, the reservation strategy was restricted only to the public sector. Even these reservations were never implemented beyond 10 percent in the middle category of posts. Upper casteist bureaucracy on the one hand and lack of will on the part of political leadership on the other hand were responsible for sabotage from ‘within’ for this failure. Thus, thousands of such posts were kept on vacant year after year for want of ‘able’ candidates. In consequence, these reservations were being renewed decade after decade.

Reservations and Globalisation

Thanks to the Nehruvian policy of mixed economy, the private sector was given a favourable treatment, whereby the public sector suffered setbacks. Initially, the Industrial Act of 1948 reserved a mere 18 sectors into public domain, leaving the rest to the private sector. Over a period of time, the Public sector was constrained with just half a dozen units in its purview. The Private sector became so potent that it dictated terms to the government. Obviously, the private sector that employs around 90 percent of work force in the country was under no obligation to employ dalits. Meanwhile, several studies referred by Prof.Sukhdev Thorat on Labour Market reveal that insignificant percentage of these communities was employed, while excluding large majority of them by way of social discrimination.

Incidentally, the Government of India having recognised the severity of the Dalit problem made a few attempts to get to the bottom of it by offering the reservation facilities in the private sector in 1965. Not much support was gathered on the subject. Meanwhile, thanks to political turmoil in the country, in the wake of Indira Gandhi capturing political power, a new look approach prevailed in the governance. Following her success in the Bangladesh war, Indira Gandhi-led government tried to proceed on the Private reservations in 1972, but in vain as her leftist image required a focus more on class, than on caste issues. What followed thereafter was the phase of Emergency rule in the country.

In the meantime, following globalisation, the state pursued such economic policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, whereby public sector became sick. Unlike others, the dalits cannot put up with the pace and process of privatisation. Their survival and development is depended upon the state support. However, if the state withdraws such support and removes certain employees, then one can imagine the plight of marginalised communities. According to a Report of Working Group (10th Five year Plan, Planning Commission) on Empowering of SCs, 1,13,450 dalits lost their jobs due to the LPG policies in 1992-97, in the Central Government (Public Sector) alone. Then one can imagine the fate of those SC employees working in the State governments’ Public sector units.

The globalisation phenomenon further excluded those who could not afford quality education in the corporate institutions. That was a time when the issue of caste discrimination was taken up, on par with the racial discrimination, at the World Conference in 2001 at Durban, South Africa. At the national level too, there were some attempts to raise the issue of reservations in private sector at Bhopal and other places. Similarly, the SKShinde-led Maharashtra government, tried to implement the same but failed, due to protest from the business lobbies. In any case, this concept of private reservation cannot be considered as charity, but a right from a government that promoted the private sector at the cost of public sector. Obviously, over a period of time these physical benefits have instilled some confidence in Dalits. Besides economic benefits, political reservations have also helped them to occupy the positions of power at all levels.

UPA Promise and BSP Initiative

Ever since the previous (2004-9) United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Centre promised to introduce job reservations in the private sector, there were a few discordant reactions from some elite and non-political quarters. In fact, as part of its Common Minimum Programme (CMP), the Congress-led political coalition provided this measure in the election manifesto way back in 2003 itself. Meanwhile, the UPA promise (private reservations) has created many a controversy on the subject. Incidentally, there arose some reservation critics from different quarters. Although undeclared reservations to certain privileged communities (upper castes) were never done away with, the defenders of ‘merit’ were making hue and cry on the concept of reservations in the private sector. As usual, a section of media has persistently been prejudiced against the downtrodden and dalit communities in this country. At last, there emerged some political consensus, following apparent attempts from several Ambedkar organizations and Dalit-based parties.

Meanwhile, within a decade of its existence, the Bahujan Samaj Party became a third largest national party, having its strong base in the state of Uttar Pradesh. By the year 2007, Mayawatiji, a dalit herself, became the chief minister (fourth time) on her own! More than what she achieved as the alternative power centre in the country, created confidence among the Dalits in the state and outside. Mayawatiji had not only promised the reservations in private sector, but also implemented them in a big way. Besides dalits, backward classes (BCs) and the economically backward communities (EBCs) were also offered private reservations in the state. Her strategy towards the private sector was that it should provide reservations to these marginalised communities, as the private sector was getting the benefit of government concessions in the establishing of industries and ventures.

To conclude, the Dalits have been discriminated by those upper castes who were at the helm of affairs. It is only after a couple of decades of independence, that they were encouraged to use their constitutional rights. But then, they were denied any job opportunities in the private sector that was gaining strength over a period of time. The situation became very precarious in the wake of globalisation and privatisation. Meanwhile, the demand for private reservation attracted the attention of policymakers in several states and the Central government. However, thanks to coalition era, major political parties had to concede the demand. While the emergence of BSP provided an occasion to the UPA regime to initiate the process of law-making on the subject, the BSP government set an example by way of implementing the policy in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This policy seems to be the most appropriate strategy that could empower those Dalits who are denied sufficient jobs in the public sector.

*Research Associate @ Centre for Advanced Study, Dept. Of Political Science, Osmania University, Hyderabad-7; [email protected]