Positive Discrimination Regime: Is it already there?

At a national seminar on “Positive Discrimination: Some Unexplored Dimensions” organised by the Institute of Development Studies, Mysore, yesterday (Friday the 13th March, 2009), Shri N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, delivering the inaugural address,  referred to missing components in the quest for social justice like gender inequalities and observed however,  that positive discrimination in India had delivered significant redistributive effects and the basic issue pertaining to the reservation was not contested at all.

Professor Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, who delivered the keynote address at the same seminar, lent a new perspective to the debate on social justice and reservation. Professor Yadav called for a comprehensive fine tuning of the system and pleaded for a positive discrimination regime which recognised the complexities of caste and class in society and the constitution of an Equal Opportunity Commission whose only function would be to coordinate the works of other commissions, collate information and submit a white paper to Parliament every year.

Professor Yadav argued for expanding the range of instruments available for social justice which, at present, comprised only reservation and stressed the imperatives of evolving an evidence-based system to ascertain if some caste or groups required the benefits of reservation. He said the concept of social justice should be expanded to include areas of power centres which were not necessarily confined to the state but were increasingly concentrated in the private domain and other institutions.

Defining social justice as a set of policy initiatives and measures to reduce the impact of unjust social order, Professor Yadav regretted that the concept of social justice had been reduced to mean only reservation in government jobs which was only a tiny fragment of the nation’s economy.

Similarly, in the political arena it had been reduced to caste profile of political leaders while there was no holistic view of the issue as evident by the constitution of different commissions and committees to study the problems of the scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes, the OBC, minorities and women as a result of which there was no integrated vision of the issue, said Professor Yadav.

“We do not have an integral vision of social justice which has been divided and sub divided and we have a peculiar solution to each segment and a solution for one comes in the way of the other,” he added.

Professor Yadav said the concept of social justice should not operate only on a single point of caste hierarchy but include gender inequalities, rural-urban and class divide, among others. He also called for an evidence-based system and hinted at internal reservation by splitting the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and OBC into upper and lower end as the benefits of reservation had been cornered by a few at the expense of the many and there was a vast difference between them which was shocking.
He said there was an intellectual paralysis in seeking a way out of the political dead end on the reservation issue and the votaries of reservation who argued against sub-categorisation used the same arguments used by the upper castes against the concept of reservation itself.
In the light of the two contrasting speeches by the two luminaries, from the same venue at the same time, I am seeking enlightenment from other experts in the Indian political administrative and public employment scene, as to what  the exact situation is in our country. Is all well with the implementation of reservation policies in public employment? Does a positive discrimination regime exist? If it does, is it doing well?

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