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17 April 2008

Right To Admission Reserved

Medical students in Kolkata, India, walk in a silent rally protesting police atrocities against them during an earlier protest against quota-based programmes for Other Backward Castes
Anish Nair

The issue of OBC reservations, which has been lying dormant for a while, has been catapulted to prominence in the public by a recent Supreme Court verdict. NDTV and IBN appear to be racing with each other in hosting talk shows featuring many opinions from either side of the divide.

This issue seems to affect everyone, so there have been opinions from almost everywhere: actors, cricketers, politicians, students, bureaucrats, scholars... It seems almost everyone's had his say. When a thousand people speak, there will at least be a hundred opinions. We have heard a variety of arguments ranging from the ones that are bizzare, like "Tamil Nadu, which has 69% reservation, has the best educational standards among backward castes", to the silly ones like "they denied us oppurtunity for 1,000 years, so reservations should stay at least for 1000 years". It seems almost every view has been heard.

While it's true that we have heard many opinions and wishes, it is surprising to see that there has not been a voice for the millions who are not affected by the OBC quota. As far as I see it, the following are the people who will be affected by the OBC quota:

1. 3,000-3,500 OBC students who make it to the IITs and IIMs every year
2. Many other OBCs who will join some other colleges funded by the central government.
3. 3,000-3,500 'general category' students who would have gained admissions to IITs and IIMs if the increase in seats had happened without quotas.
4. Some SCs/STs who will benefit from the increase in seats. It hardly matters as most of their seats are not filled even now.

Therefore, the population that will bear the impact of the much hyped OBC quota is limited to 6,000-7,000 induviduals every year. Now, let's have a look at those who won't be affected by the quota. They are:

1. SCs/STs who already enjoy reservations.
2. OBCs who are in the creamy layer.
3. Everyone else who knows that they have no chance of getting admission in an IIT or IIM with or without quotas.

Of these seven types of people, the media has focussed its attention mainly on the first six types. The voice of the millions who never had any dream of getting into IITs or IIMs has been ignored. This is the voice of millions of average students, the millions who don't have access to primary education and a few who always wanted to study overseas (surely, there can't be another group which has such variety among its members). Let me refer to this section of people as ICs (Ignored Class) for convenience.

The ICs constitute a majority of India's population and are the people who hold a balanced view of the current social scenario. The ICs have their own fears and opinions about this issue of reservation. The important concerns of the ICs are the following:

1. What can be done so that the society develops the power to think? (The thought process seems to be outsourced to a few "leaders". We need to think as induviduals and act as a society.)
2. When can we stop making caste and its derivatives appear so important in our everyday lives? (In the name of ending caste, we seem to be making caste an integral part of our life.)

It's time for the society to wake up. Otherwise, we might see a day when Arjun Singh's statues replace Ambedkar's. We might even see Rahulji do a Mayawati, demanding votes in Arjun Singh's name. One thing that's sure is that the future is exciting as well as scary. I don't think many would bet against the next government taking reservations a "step forward" and introducing quota in private sector jobs. Imagine how the industry would react to demands by the government to increase the number of jobs so that the general category would not be affected. Imagine the protests that would ensue when such a quota, which affects almost every Indian, is introduced. All that we will do is imagine all the frightening things that could happen and has not happened yet.

The writer is a Thiruvananthapuram-based project executive in the Information Technology industry


Surajit Dasgupta said...

Anish, I agree with all that you have written. True, this quota business is not much beyond empty rhetoric and it does not involve the majority of our population. Yet, one observes in dismay how gullible SCs, STs and OBCs can be. They are taken in by such vacuous promises and turn into vote-banks of the likes of Arjun Singh and the respective parties which such politicians represent.

Be it on the basis of religion or caste, the Congress was the first to cash in on every obnoxious division in our society to continue with the British legacy of Divide and Rule. It is only in the 1980s that other parties finally understood the ploy and started the game of one-upmanship. Now all of them have gone so far travelling on this road, no party can return even if it wants to. The BJP is one such example of a reluctant fellow traveller in the path of reservation.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

You may upload a photo and put it on top of your article. Or else, it is appearing like my post despite the footer saying that it's yours.

Anish The Gr8 said...

The saddest part is to see that none of our leaders have the courage to oppose votebank politics. The society as a whole is gullible, not just the backward castes. The terms "minority" and "backward castes" have become so fashionable that even forward castes prefer those who "do something" for these "oppresed" sections of the society.

However, I pity those ignorant SC/ST's who believe that the politicians will do something to improve their situation. They will someday find out that their biggest enemies are within their own castes.

The biggest weakness of Indian society is that people prefer to remain silent than to take up a challenge for the sake of the society. If the current trend is not ended immediately, future generations will remember us for what we could have done, but chose not to do.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Visiting the outskirts of any big city, one often finds slums where people who provide us with menial services, especially of sanitation, live. The benefits of reservation have not reached them and will never reach them. Ask your maid servant... chances are she wouldn't even know what reservation/quota/aarakshan means, let alone availing of it. Her pitiable state of affairs shows how hollow the policy of reservation is.

Anyway, the situation is not going to change no matter how much we curse the politicians. The only solution seems to be the Bengali model -- free and uninhibited inter-caste miscibility and even marriage. In West Bengal you may come across a Banerjee who is married to a Mandal. I have yet to see a Chaturvedi marry a Paswan in north India or a Namboodiri marry a Thandar in Kerala. Sacrilege???

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.