Dated: 15th August, 2018.
On India’s 72nd Independence Day a look at the issue of ‘reservations’.
India is not just a country. It is a civilisation. For thousands of years it has been invaded, occupied and looted. Yet its people and their faith – Sanatan Dharma (the eternal way) – have withstood all this and in many instances absorbed aspects of the arts, architecture, religions and more from the perpetrators. It has turned India into a fabulous gem of unimaginable beauty.
However, the societal compartmentalisation of the people by the people is fast turning this ancient land into a country reserved only for half the population – positive discrimination to favour those castes and classes that are economically and socially disadvantaged, historically. And in a way creating reverse discrimination in its wake.
Mahatma Gandhi was right. He had forewarned Dr B R Ambedkar, architect of the Constitution of India, about the issue of ‘reservation’ while the latter embarked on framing the constitution. Now, 72 years later citizens have been sucked into a vortex of rising claimants for addition to the list of ‘reserved’ seats in the arena of government hand-outs. Thus, transforming this country into a land of reservations. A land where one’s birth right for a hand out based solely on caste and/or social status.
The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all citizens. So why enforce reservations?
Politicians will claim that this group or that group needs their rights to be protected, a ‘need’ deliberately instigated, often through violent means resulting in mobs blocking roads, burning/destroying public and private property, arson, beatings and murder.
They promote a particular group to increase their vote bank. This post-independence development confirms that the Constitution of India and successive governments have failed miserably to provide equal rights to all.
More laws, less governance. And more corruption. A shameful state of affairs that impedes the rights of the other citizens. Successive governments have always taken the short cut to social development by imposing reservations, a quick-fix attempt to right the historical wrongs. Though this has been partly successful, development must begin and be sustained at the grass root level. The much maligned NGOs have contributed immensely to this grass root development but continue to face hostility from politicians for obvious reasons – NGOs are a threat to politicians’ machinations. They are facing all kinds of intimidation. Some dubious actions by certain NGOs have created a volatile situation.
The list continues to grow under OBCs (Other Backward Classes), Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Presently, the Marathas of Maharashtra are demanding the favoured status of ‘reservation’. And they will get it as violence has raised its ugly head. But why shouldn’t they be granted this status? A political party needs their votes in the upcoming General Elections of 2019.
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) put the OBC population in India at 40.94%, Scheduled Castes at 19.59%, Scheduled Tribes at 8.63% and the rest at 30.80. These figures are disputed. However, 50% of the population has its place ‘reserved’ in education, government jobs etc. to the detriment of the remaining 50%. New social groups keep emerging, thanks to the scheming of political parties. If there was a concerted effort by all political parties and their followers from 15th August 1947 onward to work systematically and honestly for equal rights and opportunities for all, much would have changed by now in India. Today, in spite of the reservation policy hundreds of millions of Indians lack basic facilities, opportunities and face discrimination. Why?
In 1992, the Supreme Court of India ruled that reservations could not exceed 50% of the population. The government could not cross this limit because it would be in violation of equal rights for all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Equal rights as mentioned in the Constitution means just this, equal rights. By reserving seats in education, government jobs etc. for 50% of the population this in itself is discrimination against the rest of the population. Hence, equal rights translates into unequal rights.
In the past 72 years this country’s state and central governments have continually failed to provide equal opportunities for socio-economic growth to all citizens. Performance has been patchy with caste-based politics and religion playing a pivotal role in elections.
There have been a number of reported cases where higher caste folk have desperately resorted to fraud by obtaining a document certifying that they are of a lower caste in an effort to gain the benefits of reservation. Those of the remaining 50% are fast becoming disenfranchised in a country of reservations. Perhaps they too will one day have a place reserved for them?
Could it be that Dr B R Ambedkar in his wisdom failed to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s advice and instead inadvertently created a schism in Indian society? A schism that has become a festering sore for the past 72 years? Or, has Dr Ambedkar’s attempt to right historical wrongs been deliberately used and abused in caste-based politics? And why has this survived and flourished?
Intense media coverage of politicians vying with one another to eat in a lower caste person’s home or to visit a place where economically backward people live in makeshift homes is a vulgar display for ratings, both by media and politicians.
The media invariably takes sides, when its reportage should be neutral and balanced. Faction (fact and fiction) is churned out in spicy and greasy presentations.
In the fourth estate there is a pecking order (a hangover from colonial days) – the English speaking media are the brown sahibs and memsahibs – the oracles, followed closely by the versatile vernacular press.
One can praise the uniqueness of this country, its vibrant ethos. One can argue about the historical inequality of its social structure. One can argue about atrocities committed against less fortunate sections of society. But how can reservations change an entrenched socio-economic-religious mind-set, which has become a genetic disorder? How can laws enforce this? Atrocities continue despite these laws? Why?
Perhaps the answer lies in the political collusions, for self-gratification, expertly crafted to perpetuate a fraud on the citizens of India, a fraud to make it the land of reservations in permanency at heart-breaking cost to the future continuity of a nation that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens.
What is being witnessed now is a septic form of reverse discrimination that can only lead to further social unrest.
Will the name of this great country morph into India Reserved, an oxymoron with frightening implications? Or will another Mahatma Gandhi be borne to guide this ancient land with the mantra:
“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free.
Where India * has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.”**
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
*original ‘the world’ changed to India, emphasis on country.
**Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali: Song Offerings
© Mark Ulyseas