Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reservation policy in India: Long term planning needed to serve justice to all

I am from a small town in eastern India. That government primary school, I studied, hardly had any infrastructure, even without any roof and blackboard. My parents were not rich either. Does anyone think that I got  equal opportunity as compared to St. Xaviers, Calcutta or DPS RK Puram, Delhi or Doon Schools? Then should people like me start demanding that students from villages also should get reservation? The fact remains-even without reservation I reached at the top of my profession and attended some best universities in the world. I can successfully compete with any student, educated all through in Harvard or Stanford or Cambridge or Oxford or so. No one gave me any reservation. For that I can keep my head high and dignity.
Caste is a real social problem. No one knows that better than a person from a village in India. But still I believe that reservation is not the solution. It will only create more division among people and encourage corruption and crime. Govt should set up good schools, make decent education available to all, campaign aggressively against social discriminations (all sorts of discrimination, including caste system, religion, gender etc). Nepotism and corrupt recruitment practices is very high in India which in term favors upper castes as they traditionally occupy most of the high positions, be it govt or private. But people from lower caste are equally corrupt when they get power. We know many examples for that. After all, we all (lower or upper caste) are coming from the same society, product of the same system. That explains why we don’t get gold medal in Olympics or Nobel Prize even when there is no reservation. Upper caste professionals are not necessarily the better one.

Money and power can buy almost anything, starting from education (read, degree), job, and government positions. IIT professionals are not necessarily more brilliant one as compared to that from many other engineering colleges, but surely IIT students are better trained, familiar with latest techniques (which is very different from technology and science) and mostly from affluent background from cities. A student with higher marks does not mean that s/he is more intelligent. An IAS or IPS officer does not guarantee a better job performance as compared to a non-UPSC qualified officer. We severely lack credibility in most of our institutions, starting from education to policy making. It’s a system failure. We need to make our system better, more accountable and credible. To do that, we need to have “good” people in policy making (i.e. in politics) and law enforcement. We need to remember that intelligence, senses of justice and ethics do not come from socio-economic hierarchy or degree or  power. 

This reservation controversy is a wakeup call for all sane Indians. We are facing this situation and years of under-development, extractive economic and political institutions since centuries. In post-independent India, it's supported by utterly corrupt and least efficient bureaucracy in Asia. These people thrive and can successfully impose their wrong policies on all of us because of widespread lack of any sense of justice, ethics, civility, compounded by ignorance and lack of foresightedness. We the middle class, so called intellectual Indians, may not like politics but are no less corrupt. We hate politics and politicians in public but do not have the ethics and courage to oppose them. In fact, we indulge in similar corruption and crime, according to our ability and courage, as and when we get slightest opportunity. Our education does not build character but teaches us only to survive and,  sometimes, flourish even without a much knowledge (leave alone wisdom), backbone and/or dignity. In this whole process caste is irrelevant.

Our government prefer to adopt expensive and mostly non-functional but populist schemes like “gramin rojgar yojona” to ensure 100 days of jobs for rural poor. In theory, it’s so attractive. But our policy makers hardly think about reality and whether it works or not. As if rural people are more interested to get free meal for 100 days and then get starved for the rest of 265 days! Such schemes inherently fail to reduce poverty, as happened many times in the past, like ‘garibi hatao’ by Indira Gandhi. Our government is very reluctant to build infrastructure, opportunities and, most importantly, implement unbiased law and order system that in turn improves employment opportunities for people, reduce caste and religion based hatred, besides increase the rate of development at the macro level. Once economic prosperity sets in with proper law and order implementation, the menace of caste divide surely will be reduced.

The proponents of the reservation policy, including those for SC-ST, are hardly interested in logical debate. They are more enthusiastic about shouting and continuing the policy whatever may be the outcome and impact on our society. They are not at all interested to set a defined target or a time frame. None of the policy makers know when can they say the policy has fulfilled its target and stop such reservation, as initially intended by people like BR Ambedkar who introduced such policy in Indian constitution and recommended it to be reviewed within ten years. Our policy makers also do not know how long will it take to achieve that target. Such people are reluctant to understand how population growth, mainly among the communities targeted by reservation, and overall progress of the nation are taken into consideration to determine what benefit this policy is making to the target community and the nation. This policy is like a project without any specific, tangible objective and a deadline. Supreme Court asked some of these questions but never got any reply from Indian Govt or proponents of such caste based reservation. But who cares about Supreme Court when these politicians can make any rule and force judiciary to follow those.

Unproductive schemes like “gramin rojgar yojona” (officially known as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, (A) and useless subsidies in many other govt departments suck up a huge portion of our national wealth and leave hardly anything for proper developmental projects like building schools in rural areas, improving infrastructure in primary and high school education (2). The relative prosperity of the “backward class” is not due to reservation policy but due to overall growth in India. Govt of India admitted, “the ST population accounts for 8.6% of the total population in the country. The condition of tribal people have no doubt improved over the years but their situation vis-a-vis the rest of the population in the country has worsened on all counts of development” (1).

Politicians do not like the idea to examine the whole reservation policy, particularly, what and how much justice and prosperity does this 60 years old policy brought to the target population. Initially it was suggested to be reviewed after 10 years. Now politicians dare not to touch their 'backward' vote bank, and address questions regarding population growth, availability and sustainability of quality primary and high school education, transparency in all recruitments etc. Policies like reservation doesn’t encourage the backward people to think why majority of them are still backward even after about 60 years of reservation. In the meantime, a race has started among many upper caste communities to become lower caste- only to avail caste based reservation. 

If we addressed caste related violence and hatred mainly as law and order problem, we could have a better grip over it. Cheating, beating and ignoring a lower caste person by any upper caste people can be successfully addressed if we have an impartial and accessible law and order and police. We never tried to reform our colonial police or antique legal system or British raj bureaucracy. In the meantime, some ambitious people from lower caste took this golden opportunity to promote their political agenda. But the irony is, once they achieve the status of a typical powerful person in India, they hate to consider themselves as “backward” and try their best to distance themselves from that community during any time but election time. They try their best to imitate the same upper-caste people they were fighting so hard. In the process they did not work for the real backward people but try their best to ensure special privileges for subsequent generations. It’s same trend in almost every profession. It creates more division, more hatred in the society and the problem continues.

It seems that caste based reservation policy is no more an issue towards establishing social justice or developing deprived people but a way to take revenge and get some extra benefits at the expense of others and the country. It is an attempt to hide the inabilities of our politicians at the expanse of the prosperity of the nation and also real backward people in the country. Any civilized society must not have any divisive system based on caste or religion or any such parameter. This policy is strengthening that caste based hatred rather than solving it. The caste problem took such a huge proportion mainly due to utter failure of law and order machinery and judiciary, since independence. It's time to change all that.