India is a really ‘distinguishably unique’ country on the big, blue globe. And why wouldn’t it be so? After all, as they say, with every length and breadth that you traverse here, there’s a different dish to taste, a new culture to see, an innovative tradition to get involved in, an exclusive costume to try, a creative art to recreate or a peculiar song to hear. With every step that you advance in this country, you find yourself exploring and eventually, immersing in a whole new world. It’s a country with a world within. Isn’t this why it’s called ‘Incredible India’?
Thus, ‘privileged’ to be born Indian, right? No. This is where you get ‘it’ absolutely wrong.
To be born Indian might be a privilege but to be born ‘privileged’ in India is an entirely different story.
What determines a newborn child’s fate in India is ‘where’ his/her great grandparents were born.
Didn’t get it?
OUR PAST STILL ‘DICTATES’ OUR PRESENT???
The simple principle involved here is India’s historically infamous caste system which was rampant in the contemporary world’s largest democracy during the colonial and post-independence period given the widespread illiteracy and the consequent belief in superstitions and orthodoxic ideologies where a certain group, by the sole virtue of their birth in a certain caste, were considered to be a superior class and hence, to be ‘born’ in that category was a ‘privilege’ as it automatically guaranteed you wealth, social status, access to opportunities, influence, and considerable power in most of the decision making processes then. Now being influential and powerful obviously meant that SOME people ‘did’ misuse this ‘privilege’ to superimpose their superiority over others, thus, increasing the woes and plights of those considered to be lower castes. For example, pupils of lower castes were made to sit outside the classroom in a school or weren’t allowed to touch the water that was supposed to be used by the upper castes. They were considered ‘untouchables’ and were, thus, marginalised and somehow sidelined from the mainstream of the society.
But after independence, the drafting committee of the constituent assembly of India chaired by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, himself a victim of caste-based discrimination, decided to introduce the policy of ‘reservation’ keeping in line with the noble vision of the Indian constitution to promote ‘equality’.
Reservation Policy in India is, thus, a process of reserving certain percentage of seats for a certain class such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward classes, etc, in Government educational institutions, government jobs, etc. The framers of the Indian Constitution took forward the interest of the backward classes by making provisions to have a policy of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘reservation’ to practically implement the noble vision enshrined in Article 46 of the Constitution which states that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society, and at the same time, protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. This was thought to be the best mechanism to correct the mistake that had been in practice for many hundreds of years.
But in the rush to correct one mistake, we paved the way for ‘many’ mistakes and grievances to be made and heard respectively later in the future.
It’s like the colonial era India where the colonists were hesitant to grant Indians admission into the imperial civil services regardless of the latter’s merits. So, are we still living in the past?
ACTIVISM FOR OPPORTUNISM?
You must have heard about the many different events in olympics. But it’s a whole new game being played here in India now. It is called the “we WANT TO BE backward and hence, we WANT reservation” race. When everyone elsewhere in the world are striving hard to climb the economic ladder, raise their standards of living, and be seen as ‘privileged and forward’, people in India are fighting, shouting, crying, rioting, and sometimes, even indulging in violence to be called ‘underprivileged and backward’. But why is the global history having to chronicle the birth of this entirely different cult of activism? Very simple it is - to avail the facilities afforded by the reservation system wherein a ‘general’ category (unreserved category) student in the 98th percentile fails to secure admission into premier educational institutions or get top-tier, enviable white collar jobs in India but a reserved category person could be in the 38th percentile but still manage to be in an Ivy league equivalent college in India or sit in the top floors of important government offices.
CREDIT FOR CALIBRE, NOT CASTE
Moreover, politically ambitious leaders have gone a long way in this direction by ensuring that their election manifestos promise reservations in promotions as well. I mean, like, one has already ‘got in’ with little or no merit at all, what more do you want? The ‘unreserved’ category people have already sacrificed too much in the name of and for the sake of ‘equality’ (first, education and then, employment). And hence, promotions strictly ought to be a reward for merit, efficiency, or seniority, but seems like, in India, ‘merit’ is a word limited to the remits of dictionaries only. Filling the ballot boxes is so strong a mania that both policy makers and parliamentarians have forgotten what the 15th and 16th articles of the Constitution embody in themselves - ‘Prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, caste, sex, religion, and place of birth’ and ‘Equality in matters of public employment’ respectively, which are in stark contrast to the current policy of ‘positive discrimination’ which, in the name of giving opportunity to ‘some’, has practically snatched away the ‘rightful and well-deserved’ opportunities of ‘many’. If equality is feeding all food to one child while keeping all other children hungry then I do not know where that definition got its roots from. Merit is important. Being qualified is important. If it were not then, why do we study and educate ourselves at all?
WHERE MERIT IS HARASSED......
If keeping in line with the idea of equality enshrined in the constitution is so important then, where is equality now? We are a nation of ‘overly benefited few’ and absolutely ‘harassed many’. Is this what you call equality? I call it harassment. Yes I do because merit is precious and thus, valuable. Have you ever seen the dejected expression of a 90th percentile student who couldn’t make it to a good college because ‘we’ were ‘donating’ his seat in the name of equality? Have you ever observed that young man who couldn’t get a particular government job because his merit had been outweighed by his caste which is/was unreserved? Welcome to the system where ‘merit’ has been reduced to the status of a ‘cheap’ commodity to be donated to a charity named ‘equality’.
This is what the overly altruistic policy of ‘reservation’ has brought us - harassment; mental, emotional, psychological, and social harassment. Harassment doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal or physical; it’s these little acts which poison the youth’s faith in the noble principle of equality. The young masses question now - “if ALL are equal in the eyes of the constitution then why are our ‘interests’ NEVER convergent with/protected by the policies made in line with the norms of the constitution? Is this how equality is preached and practised?”
HOW ‘THEY’ NEVER ‘MOVE ON’...
It doesn’t even end here. One would say that this is meant to bring them to the mainstream but what happens after their inclusion in the mainstream is even more pathetic. They never get rid off their quota or reserved status. Yes, NEVER. Even after being paid handsome salaries in top level jobs, being able to afford big cars and luxurious houses, being able to send their kids to expensive private schools and tutorials, they DO NOT give up their reserved status. Their kids make use of this ‘privilege of being unprivileged’ even after their parents finish exhausting all the opportunities they could in the whole of their lifetimes. And then their kids and it escalates into a ‘vicious cycle of opportunism’. It’s like feeding a hungry child even after his hunger has been appeased, his weight restored, and his health recuperated. Too much of anything obviously attracts maladies. And the malady that has contracted India and its people at present is this relentless activism to be called unprivileged either ‘by hook or by crook’.
WHERE IS ‘THE END’?
Being unprivileged has become a prerequisite or may be an imperative to succeed in the competitions in India. But whether reservation is an incentive for the ‘real’ poor in the competitive ambience of India or an immunity against ‘real and fair’ competition is still a confounding hot potato.
STANDING ON THE BORDER, WHICH WAY TO GO? - EQUALITY VERSUS EQUITY
Time is very powerful but it is whimsical; it changes even faster than one can ever imagine. Who had known back in the year 2000 that internet would be right at our fingertips day in and day out in the year 2017? But our then ‘too wild’ dreams and absurd imaginations are today’s reality and we have accepted it. How? ADAPTATION.
Similarly, over the course of time, even the principle guiding the policy of reservation has become rusted and is not parallel with the contemporary best interests of the nation and its people.
What I have understood from my personal observations is that poverty hasn’t declined over the years; it has just changed its “faces”. The 1947 India can no longer be identified with the 2017 India solely on the ground that it is grossly irrelevant to compare two entirely contradictory time periods. The former was the time when India had just been blessed with sovereignty and was still in the process of germinating the world’s biggest ever democracy. It was, thus natural, to have rampant cases of discrimination & subjugations and widespread poverty. Casteism was an epidemic and ‘suffering’ was just an euphemism for its aftermath. So ubiquitous was this pungent mechanism of segregating and victimising powerless and innocuous masses that the installation and operation of an apparatus of positive discrimination became sine qua non. But as I have remarked earlier in the passage, poverty has changed its “faces” in these 70 years after independence. We have very successfully uplifted the “then socially backward and thus poor” to the status of “prosperous individuals” now but this has been ensued by an opportunity cost - descending the “then prosperous individuals” to the status of “economically grieved individuals” now because our way of distributing wealth was wrong, i.e., giving all to some, and some to all. Also, we have reinstated the same casteism in this nation since now everyone is busy in relentlessly pursuing a “caste certificate” rather than a “degree certificate” because the former can guarantee you almost anything and everything (like education, jobs, tenders, and oh lord, what not!!!) which the latter obviously cannot.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to eliminate the policy itself, as some would suggest. The only thing that seems to be the most suitable for the time being is a slight modification in the criterion to assess who is privileged and who is not. Let the new condition be the economic situation of the family because firstly, our pockets decide the opportunities we can afford and the skills we can develop, and secondly, it has been marked in a good number of cases that today the income gap is wider than the social gap. So, it is best advisable to set an income ceiling, falling under which would entitle a family to use the facilities granted by reservation but that must come with a condition - ‘limited’, as in, once the family becomes well-off and can be marked above the ceiling, it will no longer be able to extend the reservation-afforded-amenities to its future generation, unless, due to some contingency, the latter too falls below the ceiling, in case of which, they could conditionally become beneficiaries of the policy of reservation.
This is what the policy of equity emphasizes - one should be given that what s/he rightfully deserves. Hence, policymakers must facilitate this swift transition of principles - from equality to equity. The ultimate vision of the constitution was, after all, not to add water to the oceans, but to irrigate the deserts.