A Giant Step Backwards

The Stonebench is taking a strong position on the 10% reservations issue. Editors generally frown when we start on such strong negative note. But it helped that the editor is also the writer. We have never had this many reasons to oppose anything so wholeheartedly.

The Mandal commission was instituted as a means of social justice to uplift the oppressed by providing them opportunities in higher education. Affirmative action was never instituted as a means of alleviating poverty. Poverty is an indirect consequence of social oppression and poverty alleviation is an important component but affirmative action was never intended to resolve poverty. Poverty alleviation is the work of MNREGA and other poor friendly schemes of the government.

However we cannot even claim that this is going to help the economically disadvantaged among the forward classes. The farce of Rs 8 lakh annual income incorporates 95% of the nation’s population. It is an accepted fact that the benefits of this 10% affirmative action will benefit a miniscule of the economically disadvantaged Indians. The top earning Rs 6 lakh to 8 lakh have access to quality primary and secondary school education. These are going to be the actual beneficiaries of this ill-conceived step.

Reservation in India is already being misused by the dominant agrarian and ruling castes. The Jats and Marhattas have already emulated the Tamil Nadu model where dominant castes who have for years continued to perpetrate caste atrocities have taken a chunk of the reservation. The poorest of the poor dalits and manual scavengers can only dream of being benefitted by affirmative action when they have no access to even rudimentary school education.

Increasing the percentage of reserved seats also puts at continuous disadvantage the people competing in the open quota. It is the right of the unreserved also to compete reasonably.

Article 16(4) of the constitution claims that the beneficiaries of reservation have to be ‘minority’ in nature. An income less than Rs 8 lakh puts these bracket of people in the 95th percentile of the population. This bill will not hold in the eyes of any constitutional authority. An amendment to modify article 15(4) and make economic backwardness an criteria of reservation still does not address the issue of article 16(4).

Any attempt at eradicating poverty must aim at improving access to education and better infrastructure. There is no economic, social or constitutional logic for this reservation. We will reserve our judgement about the intention but this bill is definitely a giant step backwards.

Vinayak Rengan is a political commentator and a surgery resident in Chennai. He writes about technology, public health and socio-political issues.

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