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Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The politics of forced reservations

TAVLEEN SINGH
Friday, August 26, 2005
Caste based reservations usually become the primary instrument of interference

As someone who despises political correctness, let me begin by spitting out in unambiguous terms that I believe it is time for reservations for scheduled castes, tribes and other backward castes to go. Affirmative action of this kind may have had meaning in the early years of Independence and even then only in the case of Dalits, who in our viciously unequal social structure suffered the worst form of apartheid (untouchability) for centuries.They were denied the right to education and for this reason alone needed help to be able to compete equally. Sixty years on it should be clear to anyone that reserved seats in educational institutions and in government jobs have created a Dalit elite and political class but done little to change the vicious discrimination Dalits continue to face in villages. Find me a single village in India where the Dalit quarter is not separate to that of the upper castes and I will withdraw what I have said.

Rural education
If there has been change in our towns and cities it is due to modernity, making it almost impossible to continue the evil practice of untouchability. I know upper caste homes in our towns and cities where domestic staff try to pursue segregation against lower caste staff in matters of eating and drinking, but on buses, trains and other public services discrimination against Dalits has died its own death. Urbanization has made more difference than affirmative action. If government departments and state-owned schools and colleges want to continue reserving seats for Dalit children, they have every right but the Supreme Court is correct in saying that this practice cannot be enforced in privately run institutions of learning. Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh, and our elected representatives are wrong in their attempt to overrule the Supreme Court by getting Parliament to pass a new law. It is hard not to agree with Chief Justice, R.C. Lahotia, when he says,

"If this is the attitude of the government to go after a judgement without understanding it, then wind up the courts and do whatever you want." There is already so much political interference in private schools and colleges that people think a hundred times before entering the field of education. This is unfortunate because we need hundreds of thousands more private schools and colleges to compensate for the abysmal standards that prevail in those run by the state. Keep in mind that more than 50 per cent of India's population is below the age of 25. If these young people are educated well and can compete with young people from other countries, then India's future as an economic superpower is certain. If they end up merely literate - which is usually all children from our state schools achieve - then India will remain a country with enormous unresolved problems well into the middle of this century.If our politicians spent time travelling in rural India instead of merely wafting through in cavalcades of air-conditioned cars, they would notice that rural government schools are so bad that even the poorest parents try to send their children to private schools. The same is true of higher education, because even semi-literate parents understand these days that the best thing they can give their children is a good education which these days, sadly, includes fluent English because of its status as the lingua franca of the world.

Buying patronage
Private schools and colleges must be encouraged to proliferate and they will Not, as long as politicians and officials have the right to interfere constantly in their functioning. Caste based reservations usually become the primary instrument of interference. I have a friend who set up a fine management college in Haryana a few years ago, with affiliations to universities abroad and courses that matched the best but instead of thanks from the Haryana government, he got harassment. He refused to reserve seats for reasons of caste and found himself dragged to court. Interestingly, the main reason for this was not that the government had the interests of Dalit students at heart but because he refused to pay the bribes that officials demanded for overlooking the absence of reserved seats.In the name of Dalit welfare, our politicians use reserved seats in private schools and colleges as a form of patronage and a lever whereby they get access to institutions that would otherwise not need to give them the time of day. Sadly, the media, for reasons of political correctness, rarely pays as much attention to this issue as it deserves just as it ignores the absurdity of reservations being extended to OBCs or other backward castes, who these days are often the most powerful castes in our rural hierarchy. The position that Brahmins and Kshatriyas once had has been usurped in most villages by the so-called backward castes but thanks to V.P. Singh and his Mandal Commission, they are now beneficiaries of affirmative action.

When are we going to realize that reservations have not only not worked but have become an instrument of bullying in the hands of our political class? We should be grateful to the Supreme Court for intervening, but instead we are seeing the political class close ranks - across party lines - in a confrontational mood.In the end, the issue is about the need for high quality private schools and colleges that India needs desperately. They will not be built if the state continues to use reservations as an instrument of control and interference. That is all that affirmative action has become.

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