Updated: December 17, 2019 10:51:16 am
B R Ambedkar’s death anniversary was observed on December 6. It is, therefore, an appropriate time for serious introspection. As the chief architect of the Constitution, Ambedkar ensured an equitable atmosphere in every sense, which was essential due to the years of institutional oppression faced by more than a quarter of the Indian population at the time of Independence. Some progress has definitely been made but there still remains a significant distance for us to cover as a society to create the kind of atmosphere that Ambedkar and his colleagues imagined.
The debate on reservation is highly polarised and, usually, brings out the worst in us. Arguments made by all the sides are logical and extremely passionate. It can be challenging to evolve a middle path that includes opposing perspectives. On the one hand, there is a school of thought that derides reservation and advocates a merit-based order. On the other hand, there are ferocious supporters of reservation who consider any debate around reforms as blasphemous. Merit is contextual and means different things to different people. Caste creates networks and upper castes, through years of institutional linkages, have established an infrastructure that invariably helps in mentorship and handholding. This is missing for the Dalits. Even the exceptionally skilled and competent Dalits are first treated as Dalits, everything else becomes secondary.
A study by Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell in 2010 had reportedly observed that “for equally qualified SC and upper caste (about 4,800 each) applicants, SCs had 67 per cent less chance of receiving calls for an interview. What is more disturbing is that the high percentage of less qualified high castes (undergraduate) received calls compared with the more qualified SCs (post-graduates).”
However, this does not absolve the people on the other side of the spectrum who become absolutists when it comes to reservations. Political reservation was never intended to perpetuate the interests of a single family. The case of Lok Janshakti Party is peculiar. Ram Vilas Paswan, Pashupati Paras (brother), Chirag Paswan (son) and Prince Raj (nephew) are in Parliament from reserved constituencies. The community can see through this hypocrisy.
There are a lot of difficult questions that we need to confront as a community. Reforms to reservation have become the need of the hour. A section of SCs and STs have benefitted, and are constantly benefitting from reservation. It is time we transcend our selfish interests and advocate a rethinking of reservation that is more inclusive.
The contours of reforms in reservation must be developed through a consultative process involving real and potential stakeholders within the Dalit community. The idea of preferential treatment in sectors that are still underrepresented must be explored objectively. The civil society, industry, media, higher judiciary and the upper echelons of bureaucracy still lack social diversity and, therefore, the empathy required to address the concerns of the community. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, through a recent notification, has asked the IITs, IIMs and other premier institutions, to follow the reservation norms in faculty recruitment: People from marginalised communities did not have any leadership role in these institutions for so long.
We need fresh dialogue and thinking on reservation. Including the excluded will be the real tribute to not just Ambedkar, but the Constitution of India.
The writer is an assistant professor at Patna University
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