Deterioration of the original aptitude-function-based Varna system into birth-based caste system turned out to be greatly harmful to equitable development and equal status of the so-called lower castes and also affected unity of the society. The lower castes and backward classes, as they are known today, therefore, naturally started movements demanding abolition of the caste system, recognition of their equal status with the forward classes and their development. Dr B.R. Ambedkar ably led this movement for the emancipation of his backward community. The erstwhile British rulers of Bharat saw an opportunity in this situation to weaken Bharatiya national movement by further alienating the backwards from the forwards of Hindu society.
With the same motive of ?divide and rule? the British rulers fomented differences between Hindus and Muslims. They proposed an apparently very attractive solution of the backwardness and minority problems: Reservation of seats for the backward classes, now called Scheduled Castes, and the Muslim minority in the central and provincial legislatures, state services and educational institutions. But reservation was a two-edged tool. By creating separate groups, it was destined to accentuate and strengthen separatism and alienate the reserved communities from the national mainstream and national movement.
Reservation was an ad hoc, unscientific and lopsided tool destined to fail to bring about all-sided development of the reserved communities. But the other side presented to the aforesaid communities was very attractive to them as it provided exclusive opportunities to the backward classes and the minorities for improvement of their lot. In the case of Muslim minority, reservation led to its natural conclusion, i.e., more and more separation from the majority ultimately resulting in the creation of a separate state?Pakistan. So far as the Scheduled Castes were concerned, credit goes to the nationalist leadership of Dr B.R. Ambedkar for stalling alienation of the Scheduled Castes from the national mainstream by first agreeing to joint electorates with reserved seats and subsequently leading his followers to Buddhism, which is part of the national mainstream.
After the attainment of Independence, the Constituent Assembly was formed with Dr Ambedkar as chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. The Constitution provided reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in central and state legislatures for a period of ten years unless it was extended for a further period of ten years. It was thought at that time that the backward classes would rapidly make enough progress within a short period and that thereafter the reservation would be allowed to lapse. However, about sixty years have passed since the introduction of reservations under the Constitution, yet there is no sign of end of it. The same is the case of reservation in services and posts.
Sixty years are a fairly long period?about two generations?for any community to attain full-fledged development. This shows the inadequacy of the tool of reservation to achieve its expressed objective. But its hidden British objective, that is fomenting dissensions, is having an ever-increasing sway. Casteism is definitely on the wane and by now it would have received a silent burial, but for the tremendous boost it has received as an aid to vote bank politics. Different political parties try to garner votes in the name of castes unmindful of the great harm they have been doing to national unity for a narrow political gain. They yield to almost every demand of the reservationists, whether right or wrong, and even propose measures that would further strengthen and proliferate casteism.
In order to accelerate the pace of development through reservation, the Supreme Court gave direction that the ?creamy layer? i.e. those members of the backward classes who had already enjoyed the benefits of reservations, should not be given them again so that the benefits would be available to the other members of the backward communities. But the ?creamy layer? is opposed to it as the layer has developed vested interest in it and as the political authorities are reluctant to enforce the court directive lest it would adversely affect their vote bank.
The reason given for continuance of reservations even for the members of the ?creamy layer? is that although their economic condition has improved as a result of reservations, they still lag behind the forward classes socially and educationally. It must be admitted that this is mostly true though not universally. But what is not realised is that it is the result precisely of the lop-sided reservation policy sanctioned by the Constitution. It makes no special provision for social up-gradation but allows relaxation of qualifications for appointment and promotion in reserved categories. The proviso to Art. 335 says that ?nothing in this article shall prevent in making any provision in favour of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of services or posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.? This provision keeps the backward classes behind the forward classes in most cases and most of them nourish the feeling of inferiority complex throughout their career. The forward classes also generally harbour grudge against the backward classes for scoring over them in spite of lesser qualifications. This enlarges, and does not reduce, the psychological gap between the backward and the forward classes. It makes the policy of reservation counter-productive.
Thus it will be clear that the called solution of backwardness is no solution at all. The real solution lies in making strenuous efforts to bring the backward classes at par with the forward classes in every respect, economically, educationally, socially, linguistically, culturally, etc. This will be possible only if the present ad hoc and harmful policy is replaced by a scientific and appropriate policy of human resource development right from childhood, so that the backwards compete with the forwards on equal footing.
On the other hand the present Government of India has been taking steps to provide 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) also. This again is 27 per cent reservation and 100 per cent politics as it is primarily a part of vote-bank politics and, if introduced, it will have the same effects, partly good but mostly bad, on the body politic. The additional problem with reservation for OBC is that they include a fairly large number of people who cannot be called backward. But they also want the advantages of reservation like the ?creamy layer? of SC and ST.
It is now absolutely clear that the reservation policy, if continued and/or expanded any further, will unleash divisive forces in the country. There will be conflicts of interests between the reserved and unreserved categories, between one reserved and the other reserved categories and also between the ?creamy layer? and the others in the same reserved category, and to top them all, there will be loud demands for reservations from all sides on the pretext of castes, sub-castes, religions, backwardness and minorities, real or cooked up. This will tear the nation into so many pieces, to the delight of the enemies of the country. All thinking people, therefore, must apply their mind to the task of finding an alternative to the system of reservation, maintain unity of the nation and also remove backwardness.
At present, there is already a spate of demands for reservation. Women have been provided reservation in local bodies and now there is demand for reservation of seats for them in central and state legislatures. It is true that women are under-represented in legislatures. It is no excuse that women are under-represented in legislatures all over the world. If represented in substantial number, they would be able to address their problems and also contribute to the total legislative work in a much better way. But the problem is: Is reservation the only way for it? Women are entering all walks of life today including the areas that were considered as exclusive preserves of males. Why can'tthat be expected to happen in the political field also? Bharat is proud of the fact that, as in the past, Bharatiya women are much more ahead of the women in other countries in occupying top posts in the political arena, such as Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Minister. The Global Gender Report, 2006 published by the World Economic Forum ?has put India way ahead of some advanced nations like the US, France and Japan in empowering women politically.? India is 20th in 115 surveyed countries while the US ?has been pushed to the 66th spot, as unlike India, the country never had any female leadership in the executive office? though it has a somewhat higher percentage of women in legislature and executive.
While women should be provided with all facilities to enable them to rise to their potential, care should be taken to ensure their valuable and natural role in the institution of family. If necessary, flexitime or part-time work should be provided to them. It is also hoped that the information technology will soon enable women, and men also, to work mostly from home. It goes without saying that in the new era of gender equality, men will also have to share household responsibilities with women.
But the wonder of wonders is the slowly increasing demand for reservation on the basis of religion and the gradually acquising attitude of certain sections of political parties to play the anti-national game of vote-banks. The past experience should be an eye-opener in this respect. Reservation on religious basis played its invidious role in dividing the nation into Bharat and Pakistan. Are we going to repeat it again? The march of Muslim and Christian populations towards garnering majority in certain pockets of Bharat is a clear omen of the worst kind in this respect and Bharat should be alert to avert this danger.
The proselytizers of Muslim and Christian religion often tell Hindu lower castes that there is equality?no low or high?in their religions and that, therefore, if the dalits get converted to Islam/Christianity, they would no longer remain dalit. How is it then that the dalits lured to Islam or Christianity by this claim still retain their dalitness and the leaders of these religious communities demand reservation for Muslim dalits and Christain dalits? Does it mean something?shall we say, truthfulness?is lacking in these proselitizers?
Whatever it may be, the fact remains that there are dalits amongst Muslims and Christians and if they feel cheated by the proselitizers, they should return to their Hindu fold and avail of the benefits the Hindu dalits get. There should be no reservation on religious basis as it will be a nationally suicidal act. However, these dalits should be included, not as Muslim or Christain dalits, but as backward people in the scheme of human resource development proposed above so that they would also be able to improve their conditions along with the other backward people.
(The author is former Director of State Institute of Administrative Careers, Mumbai and can be contacted at 113, Shivajinagar, Nagpur- 440 010 e-mail: [email protected])