The issue of caste-based reservation has become a subject of conversation with many commentators calling for recasting or reviewing the system. Many, in fact, want the category of creamy layer introduced for the Scheduled Castes.
The agitation by the Patidars in Gujarat and RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat’s remarks seeking a review of the reservation system may have caused the flood of articles on the subject. But caste-based reservations have always bothered a section of the social elite. Social justice, for them, is an idea that must be abhorred.
Much of the people crying foul over the alleged lopsided implementation of reservations belong to the creamy layer of society. These are people who have studied at prominent technology and management institutions in India and abroad. Though reputed as writers, academicians and entrepreneurs, they have a narrow social vision, devoid of any understanding of the social and economic conditions of the oppressed castes. They are prejudiced against any affirmative action for the socially oppressed, economically exploited and politically marginalised sections of Indian society. They want to stop reservations in the public sector. It is nothing but an ideological position that is opposed to ensuring equality, empowerment and justice for all. This is what former president K.R. Narayanan cautioned against when he said in 2000 that “in the social realm some kind of a counter revolution is taking place”.
While unfairly claiming that undeserving people now occupy high government posts because of the reservation policy, the social elite is silent about the situation in the private sector where most jobs are generated. A recent study indicated that Muslims, who are 14 per cent of the population, make a minuscule 2.67 per cent of the senior management in BSE 500 companies. In absolute numbers, just 62 of the 2,324 directors and top executives in BSE 500 companies are from the community. If a similar study is undertaken on the state of Dalits, the outcome will be worse.
Look at the admission policy followed in private professional colleges. Commentators lament that when a student sees another with fewer marks getting admission in a course of his choice, he gets angry and frustrated.
But have these analysts thought what children from underprivileged homes feel about the admission policy in private colleges? For example, the cut-off marks for admission to a professional course, say MBBS, can be 98 for the general category, 97 for OBCs and 90 for SCs. Yet, admission in these colleges is open to anyone who has scored the minimum eligible marks of 40 but can pay a crore of rupees as capitation fee. In such a state, what will make a student, who has scored 97.9 and has failed to get admission, angry? Admission for students who scored 97 and 90 or someone who bought a seat after scraping through the examination?
The current discourse on reservations does not mention private-sector job selections and private college admissions. The fact is that the well-heeled corner all the jobs in the private sector while there is no reservation for the marginalised classes. Hence, the question to be asked now is this: Can the private sector, which draws several benefits from the government, be allowed to continue in the present manner?
What is private in the private sector needs to be questioned and defined. In his 2002 Republic Day address to the nation, Narayanan had said: “Indeed, in the present economic system and of the future, it is necessary for the private sector to adopt social policies that are progressive and more egalitarian for these deprived classes to be uplifted from their state of deprivation and inequality and given the rights of citizens and civilised human beings. This is not to ask the private enterprise to accept socialism, but to initiate something like the diversity bill and the affirmative action that a capitalist country like the US has adopted and is implementing”.
Besides, should not the constitutional amendment that facilitated reservations be applied to the private sector as well? If it is not mandatory for the private sector to implement the laws pertaining to reservations, should not the government amend the Constitution to make it so?
That, of course, is asking for the moon. The government is now run by the corporate lobby. We have seen members of the affluent classes that run elite schools scoff at the RTE act and prevent children from underprivileged homes getting enrolled, lest they mix on equal terms with their sons and daughters.
We have allowed the unholy nexus between the upper castes and the rich to continue for long and keep the backward classes, SCs and STs suppressed. The time has come for these classes to insist that the reservation policy should not be restricted to the government.
Reservations in the private sector and private institutions are necessary to further the idea of social justice. That’s the only way to build an equitable society. Hence, the reservation policy should be reviewed to bring those sectors that refuse to adhere to state policy within its ambit.
The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, is national secretary, CPI.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the print edition under the title ‘Building a just society’.