Youth for Equality, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Thursday, February 23, 2012

OUR POSITION ON RESERVATION: PERCEPTION V/S REALITY

We Indian share a nationalistic pride for our policies of equality, fraternity and brotherhood. However, the current conceptof group based reservations leads us to the same drawbacks of a divided society which the founders of our constitution havealways tried to overcome.The most important reform that is required in the present situation is a departure from thepresent "Group Centric" affirmative action to "Individual Centric" benefits. At present benefits are being extended toa "class" (correctly described as "caste") which has resulted in formation of unholy "caste based" lobbies which is not in theinterest of one Nation State. At the outset, this groupism has to be disbanded and therefore emphasis on extension of benefitshas to shift from "the conditions that a group satisfies" to the conditions that "an individual satisfies" for claiming benefits ofstate protection. Thus the state thereafter has to lay down secular conditions which apply to all individual irrespective oftheir caste, religion, sex, place of birth etc. The individuals satisfying these conditions would thereafter be collectively calledthe "Backward Classes" to muster the Constitutional mandate.In the words of Pandit Nehru, "……I don't particularly like the words "backward classes of citizens" and I hope the selectcommittee will find some better wording. What I mean is this; it is the backward individual citizen that we should help. Whyshould we brand groups and classes as backward and forward……"Every individual has a right to growth, and equal and probable opportunities should be provided to each and every individual.But the growth of an individual cannot really be mapped one to one with the growth of a group (as in the present scenario ofthe country). “Forward” and “Backwardis not an absolute term. It’s a relative term and in the present concept of India,all of us are either forwards or backwards. Comparing India with any developed nations, Indians can be consideredbackward but if the comparison is done against underdeveloped nations of Africa or Asia, the entire Indian society isdefinitely forward. Hence, an individual group as such in India can neither be classified as forward or backward. It’sthe individuals who are either well off or deprived of basic fundamental rights to education, employment, information,health or growth.

Hence we support reservation based on Individualistic criteria and we are against group basedreservations.There can be numerous criteria to define forwardness and backwardness of an individual. We suggest some of thefollowing criteria of defining the forwardness and backwardness of a citizen (deprivation index of yfe). One can groupthese criteria into five different levels of forwardness and backwardness (1 – Most Forward, 2- Moderately Forward, 3-Neutral, 4- Moderately Backward, 5- Most backward). The criteria can be as follows:
Mother’s Antenatal Check Up (Completed along with intensive care during pregnancy-1, Completed-2, PartiallyCompleted-3, Never completed-4, Never completed and never heard of -5)Birth/Delivery of Child (Delivery at a premier health institute with all the amenities -1, Delivery done at a moderatefacilities hospital -2, Delivery anywhere in the presence of a Gynae doctor – 3, Delivery at home with some seniormembers of the house/society (with someone from the medical background, may be a nurse) -4, Delivery at home withno one knowing/specializing in medical profession – 5)
Mother’s Education (Mother professionally educated – 1, Mother graduate/post graduate – 2, Mother HigherSecondary/High School certified-3, Mother Primary educated -4, Mother uneducated-5)
Father’s Education (Father professionally educated – 1, Father graduate/post graduate – 2, Father Higher Secondary/High School certified-3, Father Primary educated -4, Father uneducated-5)
Total Family Household Income (Wealthy – 1, Above Poverty Line -2, Above Double poverty line -3, BelowPoverty line -4, Below Double Poverty Line -5)
Household Amenities (Well furnished Bungalows with one/multiple 4 wheelers – 1, Well furnished own house with2-4 wheeled vehicles - 2, Well furnished rented house with 2/4 wheeled vehicles -3, small rented house with basicamenities available – 4, kutcha houses/slum houses -5)
City of Residence (Residing in Metropolitan city -1, Residing in Group B Indian Cities/Capitals – 2, Residing indistricts/ big towns -3, Residing in Blocks/Tehsils -4, Residing in village/ remote areas, tribal areas -5)
Area of Residence (Residing in most forward area with 24 hours facilities and provisions– 1, Residing in adequatelygovernment fostered area – 2, Residing in area where required amenities (health/education/important governmentoffices access/internet access/important railway stations/road access) are met -3, Residing in small villages/townswhere living amenities are achievable but after some effort -4, Very difficult commute and arrangement of basic livingamenities- 5)
Child’s Primary Education (Private School with English as medium of instruction -1, Private Schools with Hindi/regional language as medium – 2, Central Government Schools – 3, Government Schools with Local/regional languageas medium – 4, no education/education at home – 5)
Psychological environment of family (Both parents healthy/alive and staying as family – 1, One of the parentsmentally retarded/bed sick but staying together -2, parents healthy but separated/divorced – 3, father dead -4, motherdead -5)11. Gender of individual - Eunuch – 5, female – 3, male - 1

Likewise, a few more criteria can be thought of, discussed and zeroed in on the basis of which individuals can be identified andto whom the social protection and reservation benefits can be extended. Each of these parameters can be graded on a scaleof 1 to 5 and a comprehensive deprivation index can be obtained. This deprivation index will have the strength to pickup the entire true backwards and eliminate false backwards. For example: Daughter of a landless, resource-less, illiteratelaborer from a village in Jharkhand will have all the plus points to avail the benefits of affirmative action policy. In contrast,a convent educated son of rich business manager from Delhi (whatever the caste may be) will not receive any benefit of theaffirmative action plan.

Rural Development Ministry also devised one such method with the help of 13 socio-economic parameters which helped inidentifying the BPL households. Though there were some inclusion and exclusion errors and later on government interfered togive more weight to caste and religion because of which the entire exercise were messed up inviting severe criticism.In Indian society, caste is not the only obstacle in the way of development of an individual. Economic conditions, educationalopportunities and discrimination on the basis of gender also contribute to the denial of opportunity to express one's true meritand worth. It is important, to discuss reservation in the holistic context of much required social restructuring and not toconvert it into a fetish of 'political correctness'. Admittedly, caste remains a social reality and a mechanism of oppression inIndian society. But can we say that caste is the only mechanism of oppression? Can we say with absolute certainty that povertyamongst the so-called upper castes has been eradicated? Can we say that the regions of Northeast, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarhare on par with the glittering metros of Delhi and Mumbai? Can we say that a student from a panchayat school in Bihar isequipped to compete with an alumnus of Doon School on an equal footing, even if both of them belong to the same castegroup? After all, this society discriminates against girls even before they are born.Such discrimination exists across religious and caste lines. And therefore, time has come now to think beyond caste,class and religion.

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