Saturday, August 30, 2008

Caste-based Reservation System

I consider the biggest hurdle in resolving an issue is either the communication gap or the reluctance of people to accept other person's point. In the context of reservation, both of these hurdles are acting simultaneously. This is a very sensitive issue and hence politicians often bypass it on discussing over it at public forums. However, if you've ever participated on any chai-ki-thadi-discussions (coffee house debates would sound more sophisticated) or get a chance to listen to any of the daily up-downers debate in train or even the canteen gossips, this issue rises almost everywhere. This is where the major problem lies, people proposes but politicians disposes. Anyways, I'm free to give my opinion over it and here, I'm.

Reservation supporters often argue that affirmative action schemes are in place in many countries including USA, South Africa, Brazil etc. However, these people forget that these affirmative action programmes especially in the USA, differ significantly from the caste-based reservation system in place in India. Affirmative Action in the USA recognizes that there are multiple factors of exclusion and discrimination working in society (such as race, gender, economic factors etc) while caste-based reservations focus only on caste at the cost of addressing social justice concerns more effectively for the sake of narrow political ends. I believe that reservation only on the basis of caste tends to only perpetuate caste in society rather than eliminate it as a factor of social consideration, as envisaged by the Indian Constitution. It also weakens the notion of democratic citizenship by evaluating a person not on the basis of his/her merits or achievements or personal characteristics, but rather on the basis of accidents of birth.

One very interesting thing about reservation in India is that the "new beneficiaries" of the reservation system has been on a steep fall for last two decades or so (refer ISI survey). Can anyone please explain me why it was so when we've yet not touched one-tenth of the lives which we aimed to. Let me tell you, it is just because of the lack of logic and sense in prevailing system. Whatever is going on, is nothing but a political melodrama where politicians (one of them who used to change diapers in a school is now a billionaire in such a short time) are playing with the lives of the people who elected them. People often say that to provide social justice to the most marginalized and underprivileged is our duty and their human right. Their argument is that reservation will really help the marginalized people to lead successful lives, thus eliminating caste-based discrimination which is still widely prevalent in India especially in the rural areas. (about 60% of Indian population stays in Villages) But they forget the basic point which is that villages consist not only of the so called "lower classes" but also of the "upper castes"(30% rural population comprises upper castes according to national surveys). The economic conditions of the latter might not be much better than the former due to the fact that India's rural areas are generally not developed and lack in basic infrastructure and education and health facilities(More than 25% of Upper castes are illiterates and 65% upper castes income is below Rs 525/Month). In light of this, it is unfair to exclude the poor amongst the "upper castes". It is also unfair to not to exclude the rich or the influential amongst the "lower castes"(Many people from backward classes & minorities appear in Forbes rich Indians list).

People often argue that the basic feature of the caste system is endogamy. According to them, reservation is everywhere in India - The head of a big firm is always the son of the company's chair, irrespective of the fact that there is another meritious person. They say that the post of Temple priest in some temples is reserved only for a man from the Brahmin Caste, even if there is another person who knows the mantras. They believe that there is no opposition to these kinds of reservations, since these are for the benefits of "upper castes" while the only opposition is the reservations in education, since those would benefit people from the "lower castes" to climb the social ladder. For all those arguments, I want to comment that a distinction has to be drawn between the actions of a family-owned company or a religious foundation and the policies of a state founded on the principals of Secularism and Democracy. Meritocracy does not mean father has to transfer his wealth to best person ignoring his son and mother has to feed food to best child ignoring her own child. Inheritance of family owned properties is accepted practice all over the world. Denial of rights to section of population only based on birth without considering other factors was being followed in countries like South Africa in Apartheid era and being followed only in India and Malaysia currently. The most loaded question of present hour is – Whether this prevailing system is serving the purpose of unifying the society or is it rather worsening the divisions within society!


Well, let me tell you the truth that this is an excerpt from just another nukkad-discussion which took place today and I've tried to keep the arguments .and counter-arguments as it is. More views are always invited as it would provide a broader approach to our thoughts.

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