Napoleon Bonaparte said “ability is nothing without opportunity”. This assertion describes the case of Tina Dabi, who has topped the civil services examination 2015 at the age of 22. Just after the results were declared, when social media was flooded with reports that a Dalit girl has topped the UPSC, it seemed unbelievable to me. This achievement could not have been possible 40-50 years ago. Dabi has not availed of the quota, but reservation has provided the opportunities, of which her triumph is the byproduct.
Down the years, reservation has been an issue of debate, and some in our country think that it is hampering efficiency while another section of people sees it as a shrinking of opportunities.
It was the East India Company that started the coveted civil services in 1757, whose members signed covenants with the Company; the Macaulay committee gave India its first professional bureaucracy in 1854 which recommended that the patronage-based system of the East India Company be replaced by a permanent civil service based on merit and competition.
Indians were not qualifying, so there was a demand led by Dadabhai Naoroji for their inclusion. If during the British regime, the upper strata of Indians fought for inclusion, later it was Dalits after the Poona Pact and backwards through the Mandal Commission.
A study, conducted jointly by Thomas Weisskopf of Michigan University and Ashwini Deshpande of Delhi School of Economics to measure the impact of reservations on efficiency, concluded that reservations have not hampered the efficiency of administration, rather they have enhanced quality. The example of the Indian railways proves that where SC/ST employees are more in number, the results have been better. In the course of the study, zones and periods of time with a higher number of SC/ST employees were compared with those with lower numbers, keeping other variables constant. They found no negative impact on productivity and efficiency in any area, and positive effects in some areas of work.
Those coming from marginalised sections are highly motivated to perform well when they attain decision-making and managerial positions.
The policy of reservation has not harmed, rather it has integrated, society. Only those who do not see it in the wider context harbour ill will and heartburn. It should also be welcomed from the nationalistic and humanist point of view. In the US, too, affirmative action has opened up spaces for African Americans and Hispanics; African Americans can be seen in every field, be it journalism, film, industry, politics or sport. In South Africa, a cricket team cannot be constituted without blacks.
It is environment and opportunity that shapes merit. In Locke’s philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the mind is at birth a “blank slate” without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one’s experiences.
Merit is much talked about in our society to criticise and oppose reservation but merit mongers should not be under any illusion. We are far behind many developed countries as far as the frontiers of research and technology are concerned, but the reason is not reservation. It is the intelligentsia and middle class who bring about a change in society, but that has not happened. Rather. most of the progress and change is expected from politicians.
We have a robust education system which could have changed society and at the same time produced thousands of inventions and technologies. We need to ask ourselves seriously why that has not happened, what stands in the way. Women have also not got the opportunity to contribute to the greater good; they too deserve that we devise ways to open up spaces for them to advance and rise.
Let the marginalised avail opportunities till Tina Dabi does not remain an exception.