Reservation, or affirmative action, is a topic which invariably generates controversy, whether one supports it or opposes it.
I would like to give my opinion on this issue by posing a question: Have we failed the Constitution, or has the Constitution failed us?
For me it is clearly the former. The intent of the constitution makers behind the policy of reservation is beyond reproach. What has to be questioned however, is the implementation of this policy, which has been blatantly wrong. And its high-time to review this policy of reservation.
Reservation is being extended endlessly without auditing its pros and cons; its merits and demerits. When India got its independence, the population was 35 crores, and today the people demanding reservation are more than 35 crores. If this policy was so beneficial, and has benefitted people, then why hasn’t the demand for it gone down yet? There has not yet been a case when groups have come to the fore and declared that they have benefitted from reservation and have been uplifted. The case has been quite the opposite. Daily new groups come up and demand reservation from the government citing the reason that they are backward. It’s so ironical. The answer lies in the fact that reservation has become merely a political tool in the hands of politicians to garner votes. They are least concerned about the welfare of the masses and are bothered only about gaining and retaining power.
Reservation was made for a period of 10 years but it has been extended time and again. The government is not even ready to implement the restriction of the creamy layer to the policy of reservation, because doing so might lead to loss of their vote banks. If reservation is so beneficial, then why have the classes enjoying reservation since independence not been uplifted yet? If they have not benefited, then it shows reservation is pointless. If they have benefitted, then why do they continue to enjoy reservation? The fact is that the people for whom reservation was actually meant were deprived of it. The benefit of reservation accrued to those who were already well-off in the Scheduled Classes (SCs) and Scheduled tribes (STs). Meera Kumar, Speaker of Lok Sabha, entered into Indian Forest Service through reservation though she was a minister’s daughter. Did she require a reservation? A person suffering from abject poverty will not be given a helping hand by the state for he belongs to the general category and a minister’s daughter was given reservation for belonging to the Schedule Class. Yes, she was an SC, but was she backward?
Recently, there was news that the government was mulling for reservation in promotions. The purpose of reservation was supposed to be increasing the representation of the backward class. Once recruited, how can reservation in promotion increase their representation? Let them perform and promote them on their merit. Why do these crutches of reservation have to be given every time, even when they are not required?
By now, readers must have labeled me as an upper-caste chauvinist who has launched on a tirade against reservation and hence would have made me an enemy of the backward section. But this is not true. I am not against reservation. I am against the form in which it is being practiced— as a political tool. It is being used by politicians to further their selfish political interests. A caste-ridden society can help them create vote banks without them initiating any development and by simply harping on caste and reservation. The poor and the downtrodden section of the SCs and STs are still downtrodden and poor, deprived of opportunities and representation. The criteria for reservation should be economic and not social. Yes, it is difficult to grant reservation on economic basis but the state and the government cannot and should not shirk their responsibility by giving a one-line reason that it is difficult to do so.
What India needs today is a society free from the shackles of ascriptive identities; a society free of caste politics. But how is that possible if for everything the government does, right from the census to admission in colleges, and maybe even in promotions very soon, we are asked which caste we belong to? Things like this will only engrave my caste identity in my mind and will never allow me to think beyond it. If things have to be changed, mentality has to change; and mentality will never change with rampant reservation going on.
I am against reservation for women as well. It might sound as a defensive statement in order to be saved from being declared as an enemy of a certain section of the society. But as I am stating my opinion on reservation in general and not on reservation for SCs and STs, so I argue against all forms of reservation. Reserving seats for women is not the solution to improve the situation of women. Rather women should not be seen as vulnerable. Society should be made a safe place for girls to live in; crime against women should be eradicated; and jobs must not be categorized as not fit for women. These things will come about by changing the mentality of society. No amount of reservation can help change this mentality. In fact, reservations will reinforce the vulnerability of women. As long as we are seen as inferior and our worth is measured by the amount of physical strength we possess, the world cannot become a better place for us to live no matter how many seats are reserved for us.
What was reservation suppose to do in the first place? Uplift the downtrodden or pull down the already well-off? Well, in the present case, reservation has done the latter. Please do not snatch opportunities from the general category and distribute them among others. Create enough opportunities so that everyone gets what they deserve. Don’t snatch away the piece of cake I am eating but instead bake a larger cake so that everyone can have a piece. Yes, it is easier said than done but the level of difficulty in taking action cannot serve as an excuse for inaction.
My write-up has been filled with too many questions. But this is the true face of reservation. It poses more questions than it answers.
[Maneesha Tripathi is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science.]
[Views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jamia Journal’s editorial policy.]