Mr. Hardik Patel is a leader to the ‘Patels’, who form a major community in the state of Gujarat (a state in India). On the 25th of August 2015, this self-declared young crusader conducted a big rally in the state of Gujarat to demand reservation for the ‘Patel’ community in Gujarat. He demanded that the state should either give the ‘Patels’ a certain share of reservation or eliminate reservation entirely. This episode hit the headlines of many national newspapers. This got me thinking about the practice of reservation (on the basis of caste) not just in Gujarat but the entire country of India.
Reservation is a very sensitive topic in India. As I pen my thoughts down, whenever I use the word ‘Reservation’, I mean reservation on the basis of caste. Castes are the biggest contributors to discrimination. In an otherwise united Indian society, castes have initiated an element of hostility between groups of people belonging to different groups or castes. While analyzing Reservation in India let us begin from the very basic question, “ Why and how were castes created?”
WHAT DOES HISTORY TELL US?
Castes in India were not created intentionally. In the medieval era a person’s caste was associated with a person’s profession. In those golden days, castes were just used as a reference to one’s profession. For example, the Kshatriyas were supposed to be warriors while the Brahmins were supposed to be the educated people who acted as distributors of knowledge. Each profession had its own importance and that importance was respected then. Gradually as time passed by, people rarely changed their professions. By the late 18th century, the British had almost taken over India. Gradually, the number of wars started decreasing. Scientific inventions were given extreme importance. This created a feeling of superiority in minds of the educated class (which at that time consisted mostly of Brahmins and the Pundits). The British were hell bent on creating a rift between Indian people. They planted a sense of undue importance in the minds of the educated class. They imposed unjust laws on the working class. They convinced them that they were born to work laboriously for the so-called ‘High Class’ people, mainly the British. Thus they successfully implemented ‘Divide and Rule’. All this terribly affected the relationship between the various Indian castes. The ‘higher class’ people also took a lot of advantage of these downtrodden classes. Around the year of 1930, Indians had successfully gained some seats in the British parliament. The British further tried to widen the gap between classes by introducing reservation for the scheduled castes. Thus discrimination on the basis of caste is a devil our country has adopted very recently, in the past 200 odd years. So why have we failed to uproot this adopted devil?
WHAT DETERS US FROM UPROOTING RESERVATION?
The practice of reservation was followed even after India’s independence. The sole objective of not stopping this practice was to attempt to abridge the gap between the castes. Actually there is no law in the Constitution Of India that makes reservation compulsory. In fact the Constitution regards the slightest distinction on the basis of caste as a crime of the highest level. The policy of reservation was included in the directives of the constitution. The directives clearly state that the practice of reservation should be followed only for the first ten years. It was expected that the disparity between the various castes be reduced by then. However the gap was not reduced to the extent expected. The politicians kept on pushing reservation for the years to come. Politicians have always remained in support of reservation. By safeguarding reservation, the politicians aspired to seek the votes of a particular caste. Many of the voters from the reserved category supported such politicians. For instance, the Congress party (a national political party in India) established its stronghold on the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh by creating divide on the basis of caste. They made false promises to these communities. They promised them to maintain the reservation quota. The people from the reserved castes did not want reservation to go away because it was helping many of them to go ahead in life without having to work hard for it. This created a scenario wherein the politicians as well as the reserved category people were unwilling to do away with reservation. They were very happy with the current state of affairs. The politicians were getting their vote banks filled whereas the reserved category people were getting the share of reservation they were demanding for. Hence there was no great effort made to overthrow this practice of reservation. Thus the practice continued all along. Now the next question that comes to my mind is “What were the consequences of keeping this practice alive”?
IS RESERVATION TRULY HELPING INDIA?
Reservation on the basis of castes builds walls in society. Currently 42% of Indian population gets to avail the benefits of reservation. But do all these people truly need reservation? When I analyze the social groups, which get to avail the benefits of reservation, I divide them into 2 categories. I call the first category ‘HAVEs’: people with good education and a decent financial background, who belong to the reserved castes. I call the second category ‘HAVE NOTs’: people with improper education and thus a poor financial status, who belong to the reserved castes. The atmosphere around the ‘HAVEs’ is usually motivating, informed and positive. This atmosphere acts as a catalyst in their development. Technically the ‘HAVEs’ can avail the benefits of reservation as they belong to the reserved castes. But do these ‘HAVEs’ truly deserve or need the benefits of reservation? Is it right for the government or authorities to keep on sponsoring these ‘HAVEs’?
Now we come to the second category, the ‘HAVE NOTs’. These families have to undertake a lot of effort and pain to make both ends meet. The life of these people is full of hardships. The ‘HAVE NOTs’ generally focus on earning money instead of education or other better prospects (which is indeed very understandable given that there is no social security in India). This deters the HAVE NOTs’ from paying attention to acquiring better skills or capabilities. Within the ‘HAVE NOTs’ there are again two groups. People from the first group are ready to put in hard work, which would be necessary to bring them out of a life full of struggle. While the other group of people does not realize the mess they are stuck in. They also do not care to work hard to get out of this mess.
The group of ‘HAVE NOTs’ may not necessarily posses the skill or capability to acquire entry into a college or job. Allowing this group to avail reservation blindly creates disturbances in society. Let us take an example. Sometimes the cut off marks of entrance examinations for good schools are as high as 98% for those who belong to the non-reserved category. However due to the quota reserved for certain castes, students from that group can get in even though they have secured marks as low as 33%. This creates a vast gap between the groups of students entering these institutions. Many of the students belonging to the non-reserved category cannot get in just because of this forced quota. Some of the candidates belonging to the non-reserved category work very hard, but many of them miss out by a mark or two. Such candidates have equal potential as the ones who cleared the exam by just a mark. Also they could definitely have more skill and capability than the ones with very poor marks who got in due to a forced quota. This creates a very unfair system. In summary, do we not require a fundamental change?
A NEW BEGINNING
As it is sufficiently evident, there needs to be a change in the way of delivering social justice. The practice of caste reservation is not doing the nation any good. So should reservation be completely abolished? I don’t think so. However it should be cast in a different form.
First of all, I feel that the people belonging to the category of ‘HAVEs’ should not be permitted to make use of the benefits of reservation. I also feel that people belonging to the non-reserved castes should be able to avail Government benefits, only if they have a very weak financial background. Therefore this makes it necessary for us to distinguish between the ‘HAVEs’ and the ‘HAVE NOTs’ and also to identify the ones from the non-reserved castes with a weak financial background. In India, a BPL (Below Poverty Line) card is issued to those who live in extreme poverty. This BPL card can be used to distinguish between a candidate who does not need reservation and a candidate who does. In this manner we can ensure that all the people who need reservation receive help. But does every person who needs reservation deserve it? Not necessarily. Hence it is also necessary for us to distinguish between the ones who deserve reservation and the ones who do not even those within the BPL category. The system that I have in mind is as below…
In India the government runs schools for the ones who are financially under-privileged. One either does not pay any fee or has to pay a very nominal amount to study in such schools. The government should conduct an evaluation, which tests various capabilities and skills of all students. A passing criterion or eligibility should be decided for each skill or capability. The evaluation test as well as the passing criteria must be uniform throughout the nation. The criteria should ensure that only deserving and hardworking students make the cut. These students who make the cut should be either given financial grants or should be given advanced coaching for free. This is the new form of RESERVATION I have in mind.
A perfect example of how we can provide assistance or free education for the deprived is the model implemented by Anand Kumar who is a revolutionary thinker, a great teacher and most importantly the founder of the SUPER 30 program. Mr. Kumar lives in the Indian state of Bihar. He himself spent his childhood in poverty. Thus he knows the help required by poor but deserving and hardworking students. He trains underprivileged students for the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination), one of the toughest all India exams, which secures one’s admission into the coveted Indian Institutes Of Technology. He has named this program as the SUPER 30. Last year 26 out of 27 students he coached were selected for the IIT (Indian Institute Of Technology), which is the best set of engineering schools in India. Then why can’t the Government learn from Anand Kumar’s model when they have much more resources than he does?
The government should conduct the evaluation test mentioned above every year and keep it open to all the financially underprivileged students. With this evaluation, the government should keep on filtering the students who are selected to avail the Government’s help. Every student attending these government schools can attempt this examination. Hence if a child is a late starter, he can be evaluated each year. This will make sure that no deserving candidate misses out on the opportunity. The continuous filtering will also ensure that no undeserving candidate can avail the benefits of the Government’s help. The third and the most important thing in this system is that no one can take these benefits from the Government for granted. They will have to keep working hard to make the cut. This will also create a competitive atmosphere. In this system, we need not have a fixed percentage quota of reservation. The students who are eligible can avail all the benefits. If the number of students is high for a particular year, so be it. Thus the number of people who can avail reservation will vary from year to year. In this way, this system will act as a powerful medium to deliver social justice.
THE PATH AHEAD
Introducing this new system will be possible only if the Government or the authorities take it upon themselves to implement this change. To implement positive changes, we will require extra-ordinary leaders. Hence we must hold ourselves responsible for electing the right candidates. While doing so we must elect those who will get the best out of our society and not the ones who will simply work for their selfish interests. Meticulous planning is very essential for the implementation of a new system. The government must also make sure that they possess all the resources required to implement and start this system anew. The Government will definitely face resistance from the ones who demand reservation on the basis of caste. Such people will try their best to hamper the implementation of this system. This will make it necessary for the Government to have the support of the citizens. They will have to convince the people of the merits of this system. Whenever we try and establish a new system, some time will definitely elapse till the system becomes completely foolproof. However we must work hard through these years and make sure that this system indeed does become foolproof. It will test our patience. But once the caste reservation is eradicated, we will have a country that will function completely on merit. Such a country, having manpower and talent as largely as in India, will progress very rapidly. Thus let us try and not create walls in society by introducing discriminating barriers. Let us help the needy wholeheartedly and thus bring each and everyone in India out of poverty. I believe the road ahead is a long, tough one. But I am sure that if we make it to the end of this road, glory shall follow our nation.
P.s.: I realized as I completed my blog today (September 16 2015), that on this same day in 1932, 83 years ago Mahatma Gandhi the undisputed leader of India’s non-violent Independence movement, had started a fast unto death against this practice of Reservation on the Basis of Castes. 83 years later, we are still fighting and fasting to seek more reservation. We sure have come a long way (!)