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Reservation in the private sector: a necessity whose time has come?

Earlier this week the Backward Classes Commission recommended up to 27 per cent reservation in the private sector. The new Clause 5 in Article 15 allows for reservations to be valid for unaided educational institutions but it has not been made into a law which can be implemented in nearly 11 years.

Written by Seema Chishti | Updated: February 11, 2016 5:22 pm
reservation in private sector, reservation Reservations once accepted in the constitutional framework are not charity which is to be kept away from the ‘meritocracy’ of ‘private’ operations.

Reservations have had a place in India for over a century, much before they were written into the Constitution as a leg up for socially and educationally backward sections. In 1902 Pune’s Chhatrapati Maharaj reserved seats in educational institutions; the Mysore Maharaja and the states of Madras and Travancore too ensured representation for the very backward in all senses of the term because of highly stratified social structures and the practice of “untouchability” that had left large sections of the population backward for centuries. They recognised that it was only by actively trying to lift up these sections by offering seats in educational institutions and in employment, that some kind of level playing field could be established.

Earlier this week the Backward Classes Commission recommended up to 27 per cent reservation in the private sector.

Since the 1989 Mandal Report was accepted and reservations entered the political universe of North India, each time an attempt has been made to widen the debate – last in 2005 — there has been a huge backlash on the grounds that it is the defeat of ‘merit’.

As early as October 10, 1951, when BR Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet to protest against the obstacles the Hindu Code bill encountered, he had made a specific reference to unfinished promises made to those facing social discrimination in India. He said: “Inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap.”

The strong words used then, Dalit activists say, were prescient. Those who wish to introduce economic criteria and other factors for reservation have ignored the toll discriminatory practices have taken on the majority of Indian society not only Hindus but Islam, Christianity, Sikhism too.

In 2005, when the HRD Minister under UPA1, Arjun Singh piloted a bill to broaden reservations from just public jobs to higher educational institutions, the ambit was increased to extend it to admissions in private educational institutions as well, say activists. The new Clause 5 in Article 15 allows for reservations to be valid for unaided educational institutions but it has not been made into a law which can be implemented in nearly 11 years.

Those who argue for ‘merit in the ‘private’ sector obfuscate the fact that allowing people to buy seats via capitation fee is also a kind of an anti-reservation move, one that grants privileges to those who have money. However, allowing capitation fee to enrich private institutes seldom causes outrage.

Reservations once accepted in the constitutional framework are not charity which is to be kept away from the ‘meritocracy’ of ‘private’ operations. Like all other constitutional guarantees, India must ensure all its citizens opportunity in all spaces; giving preference and quotas for socially and educationally deprived sections in the private space is therefore, in keeping with this fundamental tenet.

As the National Commission for Backward Castes argues, with the number of jobs generated in the state sector shrinking steadily, for the promise of quotas in the Constitution to have any real meaning, it may be inevitable to extend it to the private sector. An estimate has it that less than one percent (only .69 per cent) of jobs in the
country for educated citizens are covered by reservations.

For a more balanced and equitable India and to just ensure that we don’t set about building a “palace on a dung heap” quotas in the private sector may become a necessity sooner than we think.

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  1. R
    Reservation is
    Feb 11, 2016 at 12:07 pm
    Writer shows utter disregard to reality !!!! General seats in higher education is far less than reserved seats. in "Private"/Corporate India success has been achieved based on merit. By all means reduce or waive off fee for education but taking away livelihood from someone based on cast is ic and regressive. its been more than half a decade since reservations have been granted ...ppl who are unworthy would cry in favor always!!!!!
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    1. S
      Sirius
      Feb 12, 2016 at 7:55 am
      My bad ! I stand corrected ...
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      1. S
        Sirius
        Feb 12, 2016 at 7:55 am
        Sir, the likeness to Zimbabwe will increase with time. As for relocation, please recall the recent news item on Goa'ns who have opted for Portuguese citizenship when Portugal came out will a policy that recognized the descendants of Portuguese Goa residents as eligible for citizenship . Why do you think they took that option ?
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          Sirius
          Feb 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm
          This proposal is akin to ethnic cleansing of upper caste, to which I was born to, but had no choice. It denies me the right to life and equality, and makes me forever servile of the other caste which in imagination of some, has been 'deliberately' kept 'backward' by me or my forefathers . It does not recognize the fact that I have worked hard throughout my life . The proposal fails to recognize what actually happened in a country like Zimbabwe, which has gone from affluence to desution in 40 years since independence, precisely because of lopsided reservation policies like the one being suggested ...
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          1. I
            IndianWellWisher
            Feb 11, 2016 at 2:10 pm
            Build a Dung of heap on so called dung of heap - death knell of India
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