Reservation Debate in Perspective of National Unity
Last week there was a very interesting news in the print media.1 The electronic media in it’s frenzy of Sadbhavana bashing did not take much note of it. The newspapers also found the news a 5th -6th page material and hardly any English newspaper published this very important news on the front page. Uttar Pradesh Chief minister Behan Ku Mayavati wrote a letter on 18th September 2011 to the Prime-Minister to make the constitutional provision for enabling reservations to the economically backwards in the Upper castes, Sawarna. This needs a constitutional amendment in the 9th schedule of the constitution. Though political parties and even analyst will call it a purely political move with eye on the upcoming assembly election. In fact the CM has sent three letters on consecutive dates demanding reservations for minorities, Jats and economically backwards of the Sawarna communities. So no doubt this is a political demand.
But this demand is very important from another angle. Reservations policy has been a bone of contention in all the phases of post independence politics in Bharat. The constitutional provision for reservations to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was initially made for a limited period of 15 years. The framers of the constitution thought that it was enough to bring all the communities at equal level. The reservations were aimed at providing a level playing field to those sections of the society which historically were denied opportunities in social, economical and political fields. But as cautioned by many of the honourable constituent assembly members it became a compulsion to regularly extend the period of reservations. It is ceremoniously extended every 10 years. 15 of the total 95 constitutional amendments till 2006 have been related to reservations.2 The 109th amendment passed in 2010 was also related to extending the reservations in Parliament and state assemblies by another 10 years.
Reservation became a political tool in the late 1980s when Prime-Minister V P Singh decided to implement the recommendations of Mandal commission. This provided for 27% reservations to the “Other Backward classes” in addition to the already 21% quota reserved for SC and ST. This provoked unprecedented Anti- Reservation Agitation across the country. All the university campuses became a political battlefield. Since then the divide between the castes has taken a new dimension– Reserved and general category. Apart from agitations by different caste groups for inclusion in the quota, some educated, professional youth took the path of anti-reservation agitation. The first 4-5 years of last decade saw Doctors and engineers of the many most prestigious institutes joining Youth for Equality agitation. Along with prolonged street protests, mostly democratic and peaceful, these youth took a legal course and challenged the reservations in a writ petition. The honourable Supreme Court denied the plea of the petitioners and thus rendering reservations as constitutional.
But still we see that the emotions continue to simmer below the surface and slightest provocation results in some sort of anti-reservation agitation. The provocation usually come every year in the season of college admissions. Many deserving candidates feel victimized by the reservation policy and that they are denied their right. Hence there are always some protests in the month of August and September. This year the release of a Hindi film titled “Arakshan” with a mere commercial cunning, saw protest from both pro & anti Reservation groups. The politicians ritually banned the screening of the films in couple of states. The courts rightly found nothing objectionable in the content and treatment of the topic of the film and the ban was lifted by judicial interference. The film had enough free publicity and a mediocre film did exceptionally good business. But this gave fresh rise to the relevance of reservation debate. There have been several protest marches of different Anti-reservation groups in the last month.
What about Quality? –
The first is about qualification. The inequality of the academic qualifications of the reserved and general candidates is exaggerated by the anti-reservation protesters. Questions are asked why an undeserving student with a very low percentage is given admission in the professional courses such as engineering and medical? The anti-reservation protesters question, “what the student getting admission in medical college with 40% marks in qualifying exams will do to the patients?” They conveniently forget the fact that the reservations apply only to the admissions and not to results of the actual Medical exams. To become a medical practitioner even the candidate getting admission in reserved category has to qualify the exams. Many a times this takes years and even decades for some students. Some leave the course half way. This happens to many students of general category. In the present school education system the percentage of marks is no guarantee to academic excellence. The sad part of this discussion is that the overall quality of education has degraded to such a low-level in the independent Bharat that the selective arguments about reservations affecting quality becomes pointless.
Economic Backwards should only get Reservations.
The second argument is about economic backwardness. The anti-reservation advocates claim that the policy of reservation in educational institutes, Government jobs and even promotions is highly discriminating. The benefit is being taken by the economically undeserving candidates of certain castes whereas economically backward sections of the so-called upper castes are deprived of opportunities. On the face of it this argument looks sound. But reservations are not only aimed at economic equality but social emancipation is more important. This no doubt has been achieved by the existing policy for many sections of the society. The SC and ST communities have gained a lot of confidence. They now fell that they also have a chance.
We have to look at the historical background of this situation. The discrimination and in many cases exploitation was done in a large part of the society on the basis of caste distinctions. Even today the caste identity is of prime importance to most of the Hindus. It is also practiced in most sections of the converts to Islam and Christianity. Caste is a very interesting social institution, unique to Bharat. There is a philosophical basis on which many try to claim it to be a scientific social system. But references in the Vedic literature or arguments based on spiritual philosophies can not substitute the hard realities. The scientific interpretation of the scriptures indicate that the Chatur-Varna (Four colour code) system was initially based on Guna (Innate Nature) and Karma (Action or Vocation). Even if we accept this for the sake of argument, we do not have any substantial evidence as to when, why and how this turned into a genetic system based on birth. Varna degenerated into Jati which is derived from Jata, to be born. It is also claimed and a sufficiently deep study of texts may support this that the Varna System was not vertical but a horizontal division of society based on qualification and division of labour. Thus claiming that there is no hierarchy of society like upper or lower castes in the Hindu scriptures. But again there is no viable explanation as to how it degenerated into a rigid hierarchy of castes, sub-castes etc that exists even today.
Swami Vivekananda was so disturbed by this perversion in the Hindu society that he called it inhuman to differentiate fellow humans on the basis of their birth. When he visited Kerala in 1892 he found the practice of untouchability at its most inhuman worst. He exclaimed if this was a lunatic asylum and lashed at the religious leaders. But the dynamic Hindu society revived itself through spiritual leaders like Shri Narayan Guru and others. The Padmanabhaswami Temple was amongst the first Hindu religious places to open entry to all the Hindus irrespective of caste in 1936. Gandhi who visited Kerala on the occasion called it a holy pilgrim center. So the Hindu society if left to its own spiritual, religious and social dynamics without any political intervention and distortion is capable of turning a Bhrantlaya (Lunatic Asylum) into a Trithalaya (Pilgrim place).
The claim that the Shudras were denied all the access to education in the Hindu Bharat and education was open only to the so called upper castes is a well nurtured Myth. Most of the time the blame is put on the Hindus of the so called upper castes for denying its own people the right to education and thus required opportunity of economic growth. But this accusation is totally unfounded. Gandhian Dr Dharampal Jain unearthed an Educational Survey taken-up by the British collectors all over “British India” in 1823 and presented to the British parliament in 1824. The entire survey published by him in a book titled “The Beautiful Tree”3 is an eye-opener. It not only presents the extent and spread of education in Bharat but also shows the penetration. The survey proves with statistical evidence that the education was open to all irrespective of caste. According to the survey done by the British collectors and compiled by a Christian Missionary, 76% of the population was educated, not just literate. It is specifically mentioned that in all the districts 17 to 70 % of the students belonged to Shudra class and teachers from these castes which now are part of the 9th schedule of the Constitution hence called Scheduled castes, ranged from 7 to 17%. So we find that as recent as the beginning of 19th century there was no bar on education on the caste basis. It was the British educational policy advocated by East India Company’s Legal adviser Lord Macaulay based on the principle of “Downward Filtration Policy” that started exclusion of all castes accept Thakur and Brahmins in educational institutes run by the government and the Christian missionaries. Within 50 years the divide in the so called upper and lower caste in the educational field so widened that Swami Vivekananda, Dr Ambedkar, Jyotiba Fule had to call and work hard for drastic reforms.
Whatever the reasons, no one can deny that social prejudice prevails even today towards these sections of the society who were left behind in humanity’s march forward. So it is our duty as a living society to give them ample opportunity to come up not only economically but more important socially. The question of Reservation is to be looked into by both the side from a wider national perspective. For a Hindu caste is extended family and so is the society at large and also the nation, we call it Bharat Mata. As mother looks at her children equally but her sense of equality is not merely material but is based on the requirement of each of her child. She will not divide the food or other things equally, but her distribution will be equitable. she will give more to the child who needs more. Reservation is meant to be one such equalizer. It offers amongst other things a chance to raise the social status of the community. It is a privilege extended to the deprived children of mother Bharat with an intent to bridge the gap created by the neglect of more than almost one and half century.
Sense of victimization is the most dangerous psychic condition. It can lead the perceived victim either to commit suicide or take revenge. When this kind of feeling is nurtured in a collective psyche of any community, then it can result in volcanic irruptions in the society. Every agitation or protest does not trigger intellectual or objective debate, it fire the dormant explosives of victim-hood on both sides. This is a greatest danger to social Harmony of Hindu Society and thus to the National Unity of Bharat. Hence any demand for reform, modification in the reservation policy should come from the leaders of the communities included in the reserved category and not from the other sections. The demands by different sections of the society have widen the social divide. Though the protests are directed towards the government the communities take it as an attack on their privilege. This leads to ugly clashes, as was witnessed in Rajsathan during the Gurjar agitation. The demand by Gurjars to be included in reserved list was seen by Mina community as an encroachment on their rights. Political parties have fueled this social disintegration for electoral gains by exploiting the group interests. The provision for exclusion of creamy layer as applied to the OBC can also be applied to SC and ST. But in the interest of National integration this should also be mooted by the reserved and not by the unreserved class. This will also happen only by political compulsions. Thus the letter by the BSP Supremo and UP Chief minister should be appreciated by all as move forward.
In conclusion it can be said that reservation debate should not be limited to the individual or collective benifit but should rather be viewed in the wider perspective of social harmony. All the patriots would agree that as of now reservations must continue in the national interest. Even the economic issues should be seen in wider national perspective. The craving, craze and glamour of government job is on the decline. If free enterprise is encouraged as a policy the private alternatives will become more attractive. The spread of education will solve the problem of reservations in educational institutes. As such this year in many states thousands of seats in engineering colleges remained vacant. The overall progress of Bharat should reach to all the sections of the society then only the provisions of reservations will become unnecessary.
P. S. There is another dimension to the provisions of reservations. The christian missionaries are demanding reservation for the Dalit Christians. This is the most blasphemous demand as in the first place the conversions were forced and justified claiming that by converting the socially deprived sections of Hindu Society, they will enjoy equality. So if as per the claims of the missionaries Christianity treats all its members equally then where is the question existence of “Dalit Christians”. The real issue behind the demand is that reservations have been a great hurdle in the devious evangelical plans of the missionaries. The Scheduled Caste will not get the advantage of reservations if they convert to Christianity or Islam. Hence mass conversion of these sections by allurement or other deceptive methods in becoming exceedingly difficult. Gandhi used to say ‘conversion is violence’. Dr Ambedkar declared that he will give up Hinduism along with all his followers in 1936. But he did so in 1956. It took him 20 years to decide on the destination of his conversion. The question was selecting a religion that will not alienate his followers from the traditions and cultural moorings of the nation. He has written that he selected Buddhism because it amounted only to change of religion and not of national loyalty. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar after the conversion had remarked, “Buddhism is a part and parcel of Bhartiya Culture. I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition of the culture and history of this land.” Referring to offers from two other religions he said if he had been converted to that faith, “I am sure crores of rupees would have been showered at our feet, and I would have ruined this country within five years. But I do not desire that I may be recorded in History as an iconoclast.”