INDIA IS LANGUISHING ON INTRODUCING TIME-DEPENDENT CHANGES IN ITS ‘RESERVATION POLICY’

It was some 20 years ago or even before that. My elder sister had a friend whose family happened to the big land owner of its area. If I try to remember things with a wise guess, it should be over 500 acres. And most of the members of her community (the caste group) that she came from, were having sound financial conditions, as far as I knew.

Like happens – like happened in those days – my sister, her friend and everyone in her group were consistently applying here or there, mostly for the government ones – colleges, universities, jobs. And being close friends, they would mostly go together to procure and submit forms.

Now, here was the thing that literally pinched me, in fact sucked my soul into a thinking mode even then, those long years ago – for the same application form, my sister, who was supported by my father’s government salary, would pay Rs. 500 and her friend, whose family assets were in crores, would pay just Rs. 150 – because – she was counted among the ‘Other Backward Castes’.

I could not understand the reason then, because there was no logic. I know now that there is no reason, no logic behind such practices in the name of ‘affirmative action’ – to such population groups.

Affirmative action or ‘reservation’ in India ceased to be an effective ‘social change’ tool a long ago – and has been rendered toothless now – because the practice was never looked into for its ‘period relevance’ after a period of time.

I strongly believed then, in my childhood, for the same reason, that ‘reservation’ to such population groups was unnecessary. And I still think with the same reasoning – with my analyses based on socio-economic and cultural context now.

Affirmative action like ‘reservation’ is a welcome step to correct social anomaly in our society and basing it on the socio-cultural context initially was practical and logical.

But equally logical is the aspect that such ‘affirmative actions’ need timely intervention to introduce elements to meet the needs of the target groups in a changing society.

Our ‘reservation policy’ has remained unchanged for decades.

Politicians, after a point of time, and that time came too early, stopped seeing ‘reservation’ as a tool for social change. They started seeing it as an imperative for their caste arithmetic – an easy digression from the rigour of development politics.

Since then, the deterioration has been consistent. And today, ‘reservation’ has been reduced as nothing but a political tool to exploit votebank politics.

Otherwise, it is beyond the common sense understanding that why a parliamentarian or a legislator’s children need reservation in government jobs or schools or why they should pay peanuts for applications forms that are quite costly for the general category candidates.

It is beyond the logic of common comprehension that in a country where poverty lines are in the range of Rs 800 to Rs 1500 a month, how a family earning Rs. 50,000, i.e., the creamy layer limit for the OBC category, can be seen as poor enough to be counted among the economically backward castes and thus are given reservation?

Big land lords like my sister’s friend or businessmen with handsome monthly income enjoying perks of ‘reservation’ are among the banes of the system of ‘affirmative action’ in our country.

And the ongoing row by Patels of Gujarat, the most influential social community there, for ‘reservation under OBC category’ is yet another manifestation of that regressive mindset. Patels have led Gujarat for years and have been at the forefront of state’s growth story.

Now, that some of their youth are facing difficulty in government jobs or getting in government colleges, it doesn’t mean that they have become so socially backward to be counted among the OBC castes in the state. The forwards castes like Brahmin, Thakur, Bhumihar, categories of Kayasth and Vaish or so on, have faced this difficulty for long. But they cannot complain. Here, in Gujarat, Patels come in the same category. Giving OBC reservation status to Patels would start a spiral for many other castes.

That will, in fact, be the most illogical step – even if political compulsions force for some other calculations.

We, as a society, are languishing on introducing the time-dependent changes in our ‘reservation policy’. India needed to introduce an income based reservation system much ago, but the irony is – no one in the policymaking institutions talks about that.

The poor of socially, politically and economically castes are still bereft of the gains while those who are in no need now, are cornering the benefits – making ‘undue’ voices for more.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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