EXCEPT for a few glitches here and there, the extension of 27 per cent reservation to candidates belonging to the OBC category in Central Educational Institutions seems to be more or less settled. Half-a-century past the genesis of the Constitution, we still seem to be wrangling over the issue of who is deserving of what percentage of reservation. The ambit of reservation rather than constricting seems only to be expanding?reservation based on caste, religion, income and so on.
A few inevitable questions arise in such a context. How successful has been the experience with reservation? Has it been able to achieve its objective? Answers to these questions constitute a prerequisite before any attempt is made towards expanding the ambit of reservation.
The aim of reservation is to compensate for operation of policies of social oppression that have continued for centuries resulting in the disadvantaged state of some communities. It is intended to be an enabling measure aimed at bringing these communities on par with the others. It is assumed that over a period of time, these disadvantaged communities would so benefit out of reservation that there would be no further need for it. The practicalities nevertheless have been far too removed from theoretical propositions.
Reservation is a clear admission of the incapacity of a few segments of the society to compete with the rest. The policy of reservation when seen in the light of caste based social reality seems to be rightly justified; the need arises in the context of social and educational backwardness. Those belonging to these communities ordinarily avail of the educational facilities in extremely compromising conditions. Primary education is usually pursued in some local or nearby schools, whereas secondary education in some government schools or through some schools affiliated to such schools. Senior schooling still remains a privilege of the few; it is futile to talk in terms of infrastructural facilities available at such places. Taking into account the inability of these individuals to compete with the general masses, some relief is extended in the form of reservation at the undergraduate level and onwards into educational institutions.
The concept of reservation comes into play primarily at the undergraduate level and onwards when the process of schooling is already over. Ironically, the real sphere of work eludes the imagination of the champions of the policy. The real need arises at the level of primary and secondary education, which constitutes the bedrock of an individual'sintellectual achievement, in terms of providing better educational and infrastructural facilities.
Though there is nothing to suggest that state-of-the-art facilities should be made available in government schools and colleges, the discrepancy between standards of such institutions and similarly placed private schools and institutions which stands at an enormous level necessitates serious action. Measures should first be taken to bridge this gap to the best possible extent. Reservation, if at all required, should be provided at the stage of schooling itself. Meritorious students from government or government-funded schools shall be provided reservation in private schools in terms of admission, fee waiver, etc, as there is no gainsaying the fact that a substantial amount of time is needed to bring these government institutions on par with their private counterparts. Further, education, unlike other professions, entails some responsibility sharing by all in order to reach it out to those who could ill-afford it.
Working at the grassroot level in terms of providing better educational and infrastructural facilities augurs well for a smooth and peaceful change; firstly, the benefit shall reach those who are actually in need; secondly, the debate as regards compromise on merit shall fade away as shall resentment against the reserved communities; thirdly, these communities shall no longer be subject to the mercy of the political gentry to have their interests secured; and finally, they shall be able to give a head-to-head competition to the others thereby resulting in their enhanced morale and social stature.
Repentantly, the issue of reservation has been hijacked by the political masses in order to have their own parochial interests served. Rather than purely remaining a measure of social reform, it has transmuted into a machinery in the hands of political masses to cast slur on the opponent, lure communities into voting, and achieving multiplicity of political ambitions; all in all an expedient way of earning mileage points by one political entity over others.
The current scheme has the crippling effect of perpetuating disability; reservation is offered as a cure-all with the ulterior motive of retaining the very caste based social disability so as to ensure that political melodramas could be performed. Further, the benefit rarely accrues to those who are actually in need. The real benefactors happen to be the people who have acquired social status and education comparable to those of the privileged classes and the vicious circle goes on and on.
(The writer is a IIIrd year student of Law at National University of Judicial Sciences, Kolkata.)