Monday, March 23, 2009

Reservations on reservation

On April 2006 an idea was proposed by the government of India to pass a law which would provide for 27% reservation for OBCs in educational institutes. That then led to the awakening of a generation to champion the cause of social justice. Before this, so committed were they to live up to the notion of merit that not once did they allow the numerous opportunities to rebel against injustice to distract them. But that wouldn’t do any more. How else were they to do justice to their merit then?
Protests were organised and sloganeering was the in thing to do. The Rang De Basanti generation was here. After all how could they tolerate the discriminatory petty class politics of our politicians? Agreed that the motivation factor was provided by the vote banks .But like Yogendra Yadav puts it “Even the politicians who led the Indian Nationalist struggle were not always motivated by lofty ideals”. The law independent of who proposed it and why, does contribute to the larger collective good. Historically, the OBCs have been denied space in educational as well as professional areas. The National Sample Survey supports this argument with statistics that show that among every 1000 upper caste Hindus every 253 were graduates. Among the OBCs this figure is 86 per 1000.
Classes were cancelled and armed with colourful posters the revolutionaries took to the streets. The proposed law was disrespectful to the sanctity of merit. It was claimed that merit was a form of purity above all caste and class lines. What they fail to understand is that merit is dictated by ones social and economical environment. Considering the kind of marginalisation the OBCs have faced on these fronts it is obvious that the kind of resources they have access to in terms of education and otherwise has been substandard to say the least. How is merit then a measurement of equality?
Refusing to accept caste discrimination the determined braved the water cannons to make their voices heard. After all it’s a democracy. Why can’t reservations be made on an economical basis? Well, because reservations are not meant to be a poverty alleviation programme. They are meant to address issues of double discrimination of caste and class. Caste is considered to be an indicator of not only social and economic hierarchy but also of educational disadvantages due to their close interlinks. The poor are likely to be lower caste and the rich the upper caste. Caste is measured to be the single best predictor of educational opportunities if the other factors of social and economical conditions are kept in mind.
Effigies of Mr.Arjun Singh were swallowed by a fire fanned by millions across the country. Him and others supporting his stand were constantly asked “Would you get yourself treated from a doctor who got her/ his degree because of the accident of her/his birth and not merit”? Simple enough. Reservations allow people to have access to seats in educational institutes. However, every student regardless of her/his caste has to qualify in the same examination to obtain the degree.
Reservation and nation building are not antithetical to each other. But nor can reservation alone be the solution to the layered educational problems faced by India. Quotas are a mechanism of attending to the problem at one level. However, they need to be backed by strong infrastructural support and remedial classes to enable the reserved category students to draw level with the rest of the class. This will help in preventing dropouts and come closest to providing them with a fair platform on level with the rest of their class. Reservations are not an end in themselves. The gaps will be bridged only if this move is complimented by the strengthening of access and quality of primary education.

Friday, March 20, 2009


On quiet days and busy nights my thoughts are stolen. They are filled with the smell of the early morning sun on tamarind trees and of stars story-telling on a clear dark blue sky. Pretty little hills close in on my thoughts, until I have no escape.
Confined, I climb the hills. Perched on top of the valley, the breeze whispers stories into my ears. Stories the banyan tree has witnessed or the lost pond has found. Then I see them, walking down the gate and over the first bridge. As they snail down the road, some giggling and some staring at the distant sliding rock, a halo surrounds them. Innocence flows around it.
Bicycles whiz across on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The foot of astachal serving as a starting point, like always. Two of them halt at the big banyan tree. They lie down on the cold, rough stone benches to stare at the hanging roots, the large leaves and the fat trunk. Beyond that they see the blue sky with golden streaks staring down at them. Words, giggles, tears and laughter…the big banyan tree the sole spectator. Or so they think.
I see him perched on top of the guava tree, scanning the branches for a full, ripe guava to throw down at his friend. They collect a few and settle down by the edge of the orchard, chewing on the fruit as they stare at the hills. Some are picking on the carrots while the rest are pleading with the anna for some good sugarcane. Anna, happily obliges.
A distant whistle call. The song “Hey jagdata vishva vidhata” trails us for a while. The joggers move past it to stop only in an open field.
I see her as she walks down the tar road towards the K tree. The crunching leaves sigh under her feet as though relieved of pain. However, it is her whose movement is graced with a visible lightness with every step.
I want to walk down the hill, carefully this time, lest I fall and hurt myself again.