Understanding Fundamental Points About Rationale of Policy of Reservation As Affirmative Action

Divergent opinions and arguments regarding this issue have been expressed on recent judgement of supreme court on issue of Reservation. Through this article, I intend to highlight the fundamental points about the rationale of the policy of reservation as Affirmative Action.

1. Reservation is for social justice and equal representation of socially marginalized communities:

Any society that has a deep history of discrimination and marginalization of certain social groups tends to correct the impact of historic marginalization with policies of affirmative action. Different countries (USA, UK, Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, China and Japan) have such policies where the state gives preferential treatment in jobs, education (both in public and private sector) and political representation. India, which too is deeply caste ridden and hierarchical, also has such a policy of affirmative action. We call it reservation. Reservation in jobs, education and political representation is provided to certain socially marginalized groups (ST, SC, OBC). Reservation is provided for the representation of historically marginalised communities in government jobs, education and political representation (7.5% for ST, 15% for SC & 27 % for OBC). 50-percent of government educational seats/jobs are Unreserved (UR), where candidates from any social category are eligible to apply. But overtime it has been converted into de facto reservation for the socially forward castes. At the same time, even the constitutionally mandated provisions for reservation are not fulfilled deliberately, using various devious ploys and tactics like frequently declaring reserved candidates as NFS in jobs, illegally converting reserved seats to unreserved seats, not advertising for reserved seats, implementing faulty roster system, not allowing reserved category candidates to come under UR category and discriminatory marking forcing students to drop out.

The adverse impact of social marginalization and discrimination can be seen from negligible participation of people from these communities in jobs, education, and politics or in every aspect of social life. Even after sixty years of reservation these communities (ST, SC, OBC) still have abysmally low representation in well-paid jobs, industry ownership, land holding, media, judiciary, educational institutions, and in political leadership of different electoral parties. The gross under representation of people from socially backward classes is self evident from following table.

Under Representation of ST, SC & OBC ST SC OBC Forward Caste
Percentage(%)
POPULATION SHARE Mandal Commission+2011 Census 9 20 52 19
RESERVATION 7 15 27 (UR-50)β
HIGHER EDUCATION Professors in Central Universities(UGC 2017)@ 1 3 1 95
MEDIA Seniour Journalists*(2006) 0 0 4 85
JUDICIARY Supreme Court Judges(60 yrs)^ 1 2 5 92
POLITICS Union Cabinet (2014)# 3 4.6 5.4 87
ECONOMY CEO of Industries 0 0 2 98
Govt. Jobs (Group A)~ 5.9 13.3 13 68
Govt. Jobs (Group B)~ 7.2 16 14 62
Govt. Jobs (Group C)~ 8.7 17.2 22.6 51
Govt. Jobs (Group C- ~
Safai karmachari- 7 45 15 33
Sources: @UGC Annual Report, 2017, # 21 October -Livemint 2016, ^George Gadbois 2011,* Yadav Y, CSDS & Chamaria A 2006 , ~DOPT 2017-Annual Report, β- in Unreserved seats any category is eligible to apply but it has turned into de facto reservation for Social Forward Caste.

This under representation is a direct consequence of social backwardness caused by historic (continued) marginalisation based on social/caste identity.

Contrary to other countries, in India reservation only applies to government funded institutions and jobs. In India, 96% of jobs are informal private jobs and within 4% formal jobs, only 2% jobs are in government sector. Since only half of these jobs are reserved, this implies that only 1% of total jobs generated in the economy is effectively reserved. A widespread misconception created by the anti reservation and anti social justice brigade is about the provision of review of reservation in every ten years, which in fact only holds true in case of reservation of seats in elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. NO such review is allowed in case of reservation in government jobs and education. It is the least a society can do to correct the continued historic injustice perpetuated against Dalits, Adivasis and Shudras by dominant castes and classes of society.

After SC, ST and OBC communities, any other community that deserves such affirmative action is the minority Muslim community in India. The discrimination and marginalisation faced by this community based on their collective social identity has been adequately established by reports of numerous government appointed committees like Sachar Committee Report (2006), Ranganath Misra Commission (2007), and Kundu Committee Report (2014).

2. Reservation is not meant for poverty alleviation:

There are many policies (MNREGA, PDS, IRDP, PM JDY etc) to deal with the problems of poverty and unemployment. Every social group gets equal benefits of such policies. Pro big business (low tax, high subsidy, low regulation) neo liberal policies of the government have miserably failed to generate adequate jobs and reduce poverty. It has only immensely benefited top one percent rich of this country (who control 73% of total wealth) and rest of the population is under extreme economic distress. The government is also progressively reducing expenditure on such poverty alleviation programs, making such programs completely inadequate to deal with the problems. Even among the poor, the higher proportion of population belongs to SC, ST and OBC category.

Every year 50 lakhs new workers in India enter the labour market searching for jobs. What is disturbing is the fact that instead of generating jobs for 50 lakhs youth joining labour market, the economy is losing already existing jobs at a rapid rate. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data in the previous year only, 110 lakhs jobs were lost! Out of which 84 % job losses occurred in the already distressed rural areas. This has severely discouraged the workers to such an extent that they have stopped searching for jobs. Ever since demonetization, 1 crore 13 lakh people have stopped looking for jobs. This recent bill has been introduced also to conceal such failures in terms of generating jobs and reducing poverty.

But reservation is not meant to solve the problems of poverty or unemployment. It is like prescribing medicine of dengue for the problem of typhoid. Reservation is meant to provide equal representation of social group who are historically and continually marginalized based on their social (caste) identity. With respect to reservation, the Constitution only recognizes economic backwardness resulting from social backwardness. In the Supreme court judgement (Indira Sawhney & Ors v. Union of India, 1992) it has been categorically stated that reservation cannot be based on economic deprivation alone. Rather economic deprivation has to be a result of social backwardness. The judgement (90(b)) states clearly that “that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion. It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion. This is the view uniformly taken by this Court and we respectfully agree with the same”.

But the deliberate ploy by anti social justice and casteist forces to reduce and misrepresent reservation as another poverty reduction tool is a desperate attempt to destroy the very purpose and rationale of reservation itself.

When will reservation end?

The debilitating impact of centuries of inequities and injustice cannot be resolved in some decades. The rationale of reservation will be ineffective only when the society is able to dismantle the institution of caste and bring socially marginalized groups at par with socially forward castes. It’s simple. End the disease there will be no need for cure. So, reservation is the mildest dose of medicine to cure such horrid social disease. But even this mild affirmative action to correct the historic injustice, is under attack now!

The only way forward is to form a broad unity among all oppressed castes, communities and classes to resist, struggle and to expand further the horizon of social justice!

This post has been taken from FB wall of Dawa Sherpa. Views are personal.

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