Perpetuating Deprivation

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In 2010, India`™s constitutional reservation policy was scheduled to end. But it was always anybody`™s guess even before the date that this would not happen, and as at the end of every decade since the constitution came into force making India a republic, the policy was extended again by an amendment of the constitution. This will probably continue at least till the foreseeable future, and in fact, there are now more communities demanding to be put within the reservation category, as we all know. When the constitution was first enacted, the policy was meant to last only 10 years, and it is significant that one of the founding fathers of the constitution was BR Ambedkar, who himself belonged a major community for which the reservation policy was thought necessary to offset the imbalances in capabilities to take advantage of the new republic`™s offerings and opportunities. But anticipations of all these leaders and constitutional scholars proved far too optimistic. Hence, after 10 years of independence, India found itself unable to do away with its policy of positive discrimination. After 20 years the same, so also 30 years and so on, and now as the nation approaches its 70th year of independence, it will not need any soothsayer to predict that the policy is not about to come to an end. In fact, the tendency has been for the number falling within the reserved category to rise, so much so that the Supreme Court took the initiative to put a ceiling of 50 on the permissible limit of reservation. It also advised, and not directed, for reservation only in entry into government jobs, and not in promotions after entry. The advice of course remains to this day only an advice.

First it was just the SC and ST, but now more and more are discovering themselves to be underprivileged, and not falsely too. There are only two implications to be drawn from the phenomenon. One, there is something seriously wrong with the country`™s social engineering projects. Two, and more probable, there is something seriously wrong with the nature of the reservation policy, even if the policy per se is still warranted by the ground reality. On this subsidiary issue of whether the reservation policy is still necessary, the answer will still have to be in the affirmative. It must however be said that things are improving a lot, especially in Northeastern states, including Manipur. Even in Manipur for instance, consider for instance the results of some of the competitive entrance examinations. More and more from the reserved categories are making it into the general category marks. Especially after the introduction of Other Backward Classes, OBC, this has become a rule. This is natural too. Students taught and tutored in the same schools and colleges, will ultimately come to be of the same standard of competitiveness. To think otherwise would be to walk into the controversial territories inherent racial differences theories. We do not. We believe in the primacy of nurture over nature at least in matters of intelligence quotients.

The continuance of the reservation policy has a more pertinent question. Why has such a generous policy not had the result envisaged, at least in other parts of the country? Outside of the Northeast, it does seem apparent that the reservation policy has not been able to end the reality of social and economic imbalances. This is also partly because within the underprivileged categories, the policy fosters another set of privileged and underprivileged, so that while the former within this subset monopolizes the fruits of the policy by and large, the latter continues to be marginalised. Almost 70 years later, the fortune of this doubly marginalised section has been perpetuated, so that removing the reservation policy still remains unrealistic. In decades ahead then, our recommendation would not be for the removal of the reservation policy altogether, but to reform it so that it becomes calibrated. At the individual level, it must be made a one time opportunity, so that a family whose bread earner (or earners) has availed the advantage to rise to a respectable social and income status must be declassified from the underprivileged category so that those genuinely disadvantaged within the same category can have their turn to uplift themselves and declassify from the category too. In short, a `creamy layer` principle, as in OBC, should be introduced to all reservation norms. If such a continual process of declassification were to be made a reality, at some point in the future, the reservation policy would become redundant on its own. But the biggest trouble would be, selective advantages once given away, always create vested interests, and any suggestion of reformation of the current status quo would also be opposed by such vested interests, often extremely politicized ones.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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