Reservation – a tool used to divide and rule or just divide?
Reservation is a system in India which was designed to eliminate social disparity based on one’s religion or caste. It is part of the Indian constitution which hails India to be a secular state.
In all societies and cultures there was always a division in people based on religion, sex, colour, profession, wealth and the list carries on. India in the Vedic ages was a land of Hindus and in the Hindu scriptures it has been stated that societies were divided into four groups based on their occupation. They were
• Brahmins – priests
• Kshatriyas- rulers
• Vaishyas- traders, merchants
• Shudras- servants for all the above.
Then there was another group called outcastes who are regarded as the modern day dalits. This is a system which is archaic and it probably worked in those ages but this system of dividing people prevailed even when the British came to India. The British used this to their advantage and established a strong and concrete system of dividing people based on their caste. They also included Muslims and Christians in this system of divided the people even further. Although the British exploited the divisions in the society to rule our country it was actually the upper caste people who executed this division in a systematic manner. The worst form of this division was untouchability which was abolished by Indian constitution in 1950 and the reservation policy was put in place to uplift the generation of people who were deprived of equality. This was done in a very noble sense to give a fair chance for the lower caste people against the dominant upper caste people. Although it has benefitted the lower caste people it has still widened the division in the society. If we look at in simple terms the policy of reservation actually promoted division by identifying each individual by their caste. The system was designed to reduce social disparity based on caste and make our country a land of equal opportunity but it actually divided people by giving them an identity based on their caste or religion. This was obviously a great tool for politicians who continued the divide and rule legacy left by the British and adapted it to a reserve and rule policy. The reservation policy like any other law or policy in India was never rewritten or audited and is still being used by politicians to gain votes. Although the advent of foreign companies into the Indian market has taken the topic out of our headlines it still remains in place and caste and religion have become deep rooted in our country.
Let’s look at a few examples to point out the downside of the system and the reasons why it widens the division in society
1. Reservation means a certain percentage of jobs or educational seats are reserved for a section of the society. So if a position is supposed to be filled in by a person from SC and if there is nobody available to fill that position, this remains vacant even though there are a lot of qualified people from other sections of the society.
2. A person from a backward caste benefits from the reservation system and progresses themselves in their social status. Ideally, reservation should not be applicable anymore to this person’s family as they have economically progressed and the objective of reducing social disparity has been achieved but the same reservation policy is applied to the second generation of that person which makes the system unfair. In the case of a 2nd generation benefiter this becomes an unfair playing ground for the upper caste person. I would probably agree with a lot of parents in the country who will find it difficult to justify to their kid that their friend who has got lesser qualifications than them, whose family is equally or sometimes more economically prosperous gets an unfair advantage over their kid when applying for university education or jobs. This example is applicable in in-house promotions where people who have benefitted from the reservation system are given unfair advantage again and again.
3. The reservation policy provides certain percentage of reservation for each section of the society but there is no such reservation for the upper caste people which means if 20% was reserved for open competition only 5% of them will be from the upper caste and this actually pushes the upper caste people downwards. I am convinced that this was not the intention of B.R Ambedkar when he wrote this policy.
4. Reservation does not start at school, it starts only when you are pursuing a college education and from then on into jobs and governance. This again provides an unfair advantage for somebody who is not competent.
5. A person from the upper caste does not mean that they have a higher social status which means an upper caste person from a low socio economic background does not have any support to progress.
6. In the name of reducing inequality quality suffers because the person who has secured 500th place lands a job when a guy who has got 50th rank cannot get it due to his caste. In essence a less qualified person is preferred when opposed to a more competent person. This is actually damaging for the economy in itself as these are people who are involved in policy making, governance and quality suffers.
This may also be a major reason for brain drain as all these people who have been denied opportunity, go abroad and build a successful life for themselves. It’s a pity to know that some of the best professionals from India are working abroad and those countries are benefitting from their knowledge and wisdom.
In essence reservation has divided people, deprived the best in our country an opportunity and has not achieved the objective set by B.R.Ambedkar instead promoted inequality in the society.
This brings us to the question “Do they have social disparity in other countries and how is it reduced?”
Let’s now take a quick look at the British system. Britain in itself is a multicultural country due to immigration and a lot of ethnic minorities living here. So how do they make sure that there is no discrimination in all walks of life? In the UK when somebody applies for a job or university education they are asked to fill in a separate form called equal opportunities monitoring form which is not available for the person who is assessing that individual thereby maintaining confidentiality and allowing an unbiased approach. In a lot of the institutions the assessor does not even get any personal info about the applicant until the shortlisting process is done. This information is collected separately and is accessed only by the HR department which is called an equal opportunities monitoring form. The equal opportunities form collects data on race, age, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability etc. If you prefer not to disclose any of the above info you have a prefer not to say option for all the questions. This data is monitored by a separate department and if it suggests any form of discrimination actions should be taken to address it. So this acts as a safety net to prevent discrimination on any basis.
So how is social disparity dealt in Britain? Social disparity in Britain is addressed through a benefits system which provides support for people/families who are economically challenged. There is a whole range of benefits which you can get if you are unable to provide yourself like employment benefits, child benefit, housing benefit, disability benefit and so on. In this system people are means tested and provided support by the government to reduce social disparity.
In the education sector there is no discrimination as everybody gets the same opportunity to take up the education they want and it’s solely based on remit. Student get a student loan towards their tuition fees which they have to pay back when they have started earning. Parents are means tested and if they have a low income their kids are provided living support when they are in university. This is a really fair system where kids are provided equal opportunities to pursue education.
The key here is if you have a low income or a disability which is stopping you to earn better support will be provided irrespective of your gender, race, religion, age etc.
Obviously there are downsides to this system as well because people start exploiting the ambiguities and false fully claim benefits which is being addressed by the current government.
It is very clear that to reduce social disparity the support system should be a needs based system rather than a caste based system. So the following are some of the steps which can be taken to achieve that.
1. Devise a needs based system based benefits system which will provide income support for the poor and disabled. If this system is well planned it could be something like a loan to the individual and when they are able to support themselves they should repay it back to the system.
2. Provide equal education to all sections of society from primary school so that everybody has a level playing field.
3. Income based educational support which should be given as a loan to repay for people who cannot afford education etc irrespective of their caste, religion.
4. A separate equal opportunities monitoring policy which is not mandatory to complete should keep a check on discrimination.
The needs based system should be reviewed every 5 or 10 years atleast and changes applied according to that period. In doing so we can hope that social disparity can be reduced in a fairer way provide equal opportunity for everyone in our country.