The Reservation Complex — A look at the “Systematic approach” to treat a non-systematic problem

Overview

Egalitarian — Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.

In the recent past, many a blogger and columnist has written about this phenomenon and the newspapers have been awash with related news as a result of which a lot of what I am trying to articulate in this article might seem a tad “clichéd”. But I ask that you bear with me – perhaps a different perspective will shed a different light on this topic?

NOTE: This is a re-post of my original article on Sulekha.com. Since there were a couple of articles written on this phenomenon (or it's root cause), I thought I'd add this one to provide a little more perspective. On an aside, this article sunk into the bottomless pit of Sulekha's weird editorial policies — promote mindless fluff and flush the real stuff down the drain.

I have a few minutes to spare today at work and thought it’d be wiser to spend it trying to organize my thoughts on a known social problem than generally wile away my time. Therefore, here goes:

The fundamental principle that Modern Indian Egalitarianism (and Indian Politics) thrives on is disparity. Is that a bold statement to make? Perhaps…but then again, maybe not. Let us see –

Disparity — The condition or fact of being unequal, as in age, rank, or degree; difference: “narrow the economic disparities among regions and industries” (Courtenay Slater).

This is what my trusted online “Dictionary.com” gives me when I look to it for an answer. See above the meaning of “Egalitarian”. This most certainly needs the foundation of disparity to stand up under scrutiny. Now, I have not made pronouncements on the merit of this phenomenon any which way — so my p-sec brothers (and/or sisters), please wait a few more minutes before pouncing on the cyber-me and pontificating about my RSS/Upper-caste credentials.

Well – the fact that Egalitarianism is based on disparity isn’t such a bad thing then, is it? It is after all, the principle and instrument for promoting equality. Obviously not – but the point I am trying to draw your attention to dear reader is that Egalitarianism doesn’t stand without the support of disparity.

Let us try and trace the history of Indian Egalitarianism over the past 500 years or so now.

{sidebar id=22}Egalitarianism happened in India in distinct phases (the way I see it).

  • In religion – the Bhakti movement was indeed an egalitarian movement – that tried to reconcile the disparity between scriptural knowledge (or pseudo-knowledge in many cases) and actual spiritual succor by the means of devotion. The equalizer was devotion (Bhakti) and the disparity was in “God-awareness”.
  • In Social interactions – The various movements that were brought about by stalwarts such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda; were pertaining to social reflections of scriptural aberrations. The abolition of the phenomena of Sati, Dowry, Child Marriage and the promotion of Widow re-marriage were promoted by these great people (and many more like them). To a large extent, it worked – and grotesque social practices such as Sati were outlawed.
  • In the political sphere – The political disparity was neutralized starting with the First War of Independence (1857) (and perhaps even earlier in antiquity) and culminated into a successful Independence Day on the 15th August, 1947. By attaining Independence, India and Indians overthrew centuries of political disparity (with respect to the British) and attained the noble principles of Democracy, Equal Adult Franchise and the whole bottle of beeswax with it.
  • In the Socio-economic sphere – The first phase of egalitarianism that was pioneered by Vidyasagar and Ram Mohan Roy was given it’s next incarnation (let’s call it SEE (Socio-Economic Egalitarianism) 2.0 ) with the establishment of the Indian Constitution and the caveats there-in with the incursion of the phenomenon of Reservations.

While the first three phases of this phenomenon are things of past (and their results are evident to those who can “see”), the fourth (and present) phase of SEE 2.0 is in play to this day (about 60 years from India’s Independence) and is portrayed to be an on-going struggle till date.

SEE 2.0

 

The fourth phase in the phenomenon of Egalitarianism has “Reservation” written all over it. This too had sub-phases of course.

Phase I – Creation of the Indian Constitution (1950) – As a result of which, reservations (or Affirmative Action) were created as follows:

  • 15% of educational and civil service seats were reserved for "scheduled castes" and 7.5% for "scheduled tribes."
  • The first backward Classes commission, headed by Kaka Kalekar submitted it’s report in 1955.
  • In 1963, the Supreme Court of India ruled that reservations cannot exceed 50% under any circumstances.

    Phase II – The Morarji Desai government planned setting up another Backward Classes commission in 1978. In January 1979, the then President of India made it official and a commission was formed, chaired by a then parliamentarianfrom Bihar — BP Mandal (who interestingly was a zamindar of the “Yadav” caste (yup! Lalu Prasad fame…) who was so rich that he himself didn’t know what he owned).

    The Mandal commission employed 11 criterion (under three broader categories to identify degree of backwardness of the various classes/castes within India. To quote from theWikipedia sourcethe following were the categories

    Social

    • Castes/classes considered as socially backward by others.
    • Castes/classes which mainly depend on manual labour for their livelihood. Castes/classes where at least 25 per cent females and 10 per cent males above the state average get married at an age below 17 years in rural areas and at least 10 per cent females and 5 per cent males do so in urban areas.
    • Castes/classes where participation of females in work is at least 25 per cent above the state average.

    Educational

    • Castes/classes where the number of children in the age group of 5-15 years who never attended school is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    • Castes/classes where the rate of student drop-out in the age group of 5-15 years is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    • Castes/classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 per cent below the state average.

    Economic

    • Castes/classes where the average value of family assets is at least 25 per cent below the state average.
    • Castes/classes where the number of families living in kuccha houses is at least 25 per cent above the state average.
    • Castes/classes where the source of drinking water is beyond half a kilometer for more than 50 per cent of the households.
    • Castes/classes where the number of households having taken consumption loans is at least 25 per cent above the state average.

    Weightage

    Of these three groups, separate weightage was given to indicators of each group. A weightage of three points each was given to all the social indicators. Educational indicators were given two points each. And economic indicators were given one point each. All castes which had a score of 50 per cent or above by applying the score were listed as socially and educationally backward and the rest were treated as ‘advanced’.

    As a result of applying the Mandal Commission guidelines, a whopping 52% of the Indian Populace was found to belong the OBC (Other Backward Classes) category. The Commission recommended that there be 27% reservation added to the already pre-existing 22.5% (see above). That takes the count to 49.5% (obviously with “respect” to the 1963 supreme court ruling that reservations were not exceed 50%).

    Does it make sense to have a 50% reservation in all walks of life (because from Education and Public Sector employments, this has trickled into the realm of the Private Sector and Private Education as well), given the finding that 52% of the Indian population qualified for this “OBC” stamp?

    The number (52%) does seem overwhelming. Then why is not a good idea to forcibly implement such a policy (of 50% reservation)? We shall delve into that very shortly…now to complete my narrative.

    The next two major phases in which the implementation of SEE 2.0 was attempted were during the V.P. Singh government in 1990 and again in 2006 (when the “protectors of the oppressed” are back in the saddle).

    We all know what kind of mayhem ensued following V.P. Singh’s rule – more reservations followed self-immolations followed more reservations. The latest attempt did manage to rake up some dirt, but things have been quiet since.

    Why Reservation doesn’t work

    Any country’s primary asset is its population and it’s capabilities. A Nation’s greatness is defined by its citizens and their attitude towards life, their abilities and skills. The key word is therefore [[Merit]] which my trusted dictionary says means this “Superior quality or worth; excellence”. Why is this so important? Because “Merit” decides what kind of Innovations, inspired discoveries and overall material growth occur in this world (and any society as a corollary thereof)….

    I have to become a little subjective at this point, since I’m not privy to any objective study (that may have been performed) on the effect of Merit within a Society. So, if someone were to ask for a “double-blind” study on the effect of Merit, my answer would probably be unsatisfactory. But to continue with the point I am trying to make here –

    Merit is very important in the operation (natural course) of the world as we know it. Without this (Merit being the deciding factor in the process of natural selection that is at work in the machinations of Evolution), the very context of Evolution would be over-ridden and we would be left with an ineffective, stagnating society. Consider all the major breakthroughs (that have aided in the overall evolution of humankind) that have happened during the course of history – all of them have their footing deeply and soundly in the building foundation of Merit. If Albert Einstein did not have Merit, he would have not been able to revolutionize the world of Physics as he did. Take J.C. Bose, S.C. Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, and C.V. Raman – could such folks have risen in a society where more than half the population would be living off what are practically doles handed out by the Government? Probably! But how many others such as them would have sunk into oblivion just because someone who is undeserving (vis-à-vis merit) gets to take his/her chances towards higher education and/or working in an industry of their choice?

    Indeed there are millions of Indians today who have to go without the basic amenities of life (because of various circumstances) or basic education and an opportunity to compete reasonably in the economic field. These people and their families definitely need to be provided with an ecosystem that sustains them and helps them progress. But should this be at the cost of Merit? Definitely not! In fact, Merit should act as a catalyst to help them strive harder and harder, to reach a particular goal (be that in the field of academia or in everyday life). Life isn’t easy folks and Evolution follows the process of natural selection.

    By disrupting the natural flow of evolution, politicians are only creating more problems that will come back to haunt us later in our lives. This “forced” egalitarianism is “Unnatural” and will result in oppression, rancid socio-cultural fallout in the long run. By dividing the Indian society by the lines of “Caste and Religious persuasion” our politicians are only succeeding in causing more rifts in an already divided entity. Anything that is based on disparity will never let it (disparity) vanish. The fact that most politicians base their ideology aligned with this disparity (either by claiming to want to eliminate it or by playing it to their benefit; and in most cases doing both) automatically ensures that they will never let go of it.

    Here are some suggestions (some might be silly and/or impractical, but do humor me by reading along…) that might address some actual afflictions of the Indian masses.

    1) Create non-sectarian/non-casteist parameters to ascertain the economic capabilities of families in India.
    2) Create a social-security framework that will gradually develop into a foundation for a robust socio-economic support system for the Indian citizens (the aged, the ailing, and veterans – akin to the way it is set up in the US.)
    3) Create taxes that the Indian “haves” will have to pay in order to support and uplift the “have-nots”.

    • These taxes and funds should be used to provide basic education and improve the public school system in India
    • Create “Scholarship” funds that might be reserved exclusively for the under-privileged classes (as ascertained by the parameters in condition 1 in this list) for a limited period of time (say 50 more years). Students who grow up studying within the Public school system (new and upgraded to private school system standards) will be eligible to opt for these scholarships – but there would have to be a natural selection in place there. Have them participate in the competitive exams and tests that everyone else in India has to, except that their education will be paid for by these scholarships.

    4) Ensure that all employers are “Equal Opportunity” Employers and that they are accountable and auditable in this regard. Also, provide legal machinations for the common man to challenge any employer who might have unjustly discriminated against him/her.

    These might seem like simplistic solutions, but they are onion-like (for the lack of a better example) in nature.Each layer is followed by another. Peel back all the way and we will find the primary condition for implementing such a solution also lies in the paradigm shift from “Partisan egalitarianism” to “Meritocracy”. If our politicians and bureaucrats have come forth to public life (and service) sans the defining touch of natural selection (may the most capable survive), they cannot be expected to understand and/or value the concept of merit.

    Unfortunately, due to decades of poor judgment (and even unscrupulous motives in many cases), the great Indian experiment (in this modern age) of Egalitarianism has been turned upside down on it’s head. Stalwart opportunists who like to consider themselves “egalitarians” and “pro-downtrodden” have milked this (and continue to do so); all the while relying on the chasm of disparity that they themselves help(ed) maintain –while continuing their dogged leash-hold on the actual emancipation of their “Ward”.

    References

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandal_Commission

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