I have my Reservations……

The recent #Maratha agitation to claim a slice in the ‘Reservation pie’ in #Maharashtra brought back an issue which never really had gone off people’s mind; one way or the other. Something that was conceived for the welfare of the oppressed and backward people for a certain time, ten years to be precise, became a political tool and no political party was willing to let the hen, that lay golden eggs aka votes, go. The rationality had long left the side of the cause that it was started with and for. An agitation by Jats in Haryana, not so long ago had the same objective.

Is it a coincidence that in both these states, the regional political parties as well as the national ones seem to be in favor of these demands? Definitely not. While in Maharashtra, they form around a third of Maharashtra’s nearly 13 crore population which owns 80 percent and above land, 55% educational institutions, control and 70 percent corporative bodies, in Haryana, Jats constitute about 29 percent of Haryana population. They too want to squeeze into the OBC quota.

Why is it that instead of people coming out of ‘#reservation’ umbrella gradually, after having benefitted from it in all these years, more and more want to come in its ambit, even the conventionally well-off people. May be this guarantee them security, job, social standing and most importantly, less competition, which acquires a very important aspect in this over populated land but to my mind, this is the picture which is more political than real. There can’t be any denying of the fact that SC/ST and to some extent OBCs (things have improved a great deal for them) still need help but so do the economically backward section.

So, what can be the solution? Is caste/religion-based Reservation really the ticket to claim equality, social upliftment? Should we continue with this system till a new ‘elite’ section is created? If even after seventy years of Independence, all the welfare measures and other schemes, if our population still needs crutches like ‘caste-based reservation’, then there is something grossly wrong with the way our country is governed.  

While digging for the information, I came across some interesting data. According to the World bank, one in five Indians are poor. On June 27,2018, a report was published in Times of India, announcing that India, no longer is the country with the highest number of poor. It’s now number two in the dubious list. Can you think whom have we come ahead of? Nigeria.  With this, one can understand the poverty situation in India.

Now, who are these ‘economically backward’ people? Not a surprise, mostly SC/STs. While they constitute 28 percent of the Indian population, 43 percent of them are poor.

Coming back to reservation, creating a ‘level playing field’ was the objective when reservation was brought to the table. But then it can not happen at the cost of people who do not have means like those people who are in the quota, so why not change the rules.  Why not make the ‘economic’ parameter the base of reservation than the caste! Even if the govt opts for this, the maximum beneficiaries would be from the SC/ST and OBCs because they are the most backward people. So, in effect, they shouldn’t be having any problem with this arrangement.  However, either way, I do not think that any country which aspires to be a part of developed world, ‘reservation’ of any kind can be a long-term solution.

So, may be, it’s time to look beyond the crutches of ‘reservation’! #Caste/religion wise or based on economical parameter. We need so much more, if we want an inclusive growth story. There are welfare schemes but ridden by graft and often ill-conceived. Rather welfare schemes have become an easy populist tool that is a second-best solution to government reluctance to embrace difficult policies, like reforming agriculture and other sectors- that may make deeper inroads. To make these schemes work, we need more transparency and accountability.  Notwithstanding these schemes though, nothing shall work, if we can’t provide good education to our children. It is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality, a key to enhance India’s competitiveness in the global economy. If we can equip the children, in particular the rural and poor, with the correct tools, they may not require the ‘reservation’ at all! But here again is the catch.  To say that the state of our education system is dismal, perhaps will be an understatement. According to the latest  Annual Status of Education Report, which assesses government schools in the country, nearly 20% of students surveyed from Class 2 didn’t recognize the numbers between one and nine, and only 25% of students in Class 3 could do subtraction. This brings forth the point that there is a significant mismatch between education spending trends and learning outcome.   So, basically, on one side we do need to see that there is 100 percent enrolment at both primary and secondary level, on the other we shall have to ensure that the enrolled children receive quality education. If that doesn’t happen, even 100% ‘enrolment’ will lose its purpose. Curriculum and teaching practices need upgrading to impart more relevant skills, such as reasoning skills, problem solving, learning-to-learn, and critical and independent thinking.  May be, if we provide the ‘underprivileged’- a sound platform to begin with; they wouldn’t even need any quota. Caste wise or economy based. Actually, if the successive Govts had worked in the right direction, ensuring accountability and good use of resources, by now, we would be a country with vast demographical advantage, which we are losing on to big time.
For the issue of “RESERVATION’, let’s work towards eliminating it, albeit in a different way!

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  1. There are several other alternatives than reservations
    1. Improve quality and quantity of govt schools such that anyone can afford great education (great equalising force)
    2. Create more jobs for less educated – cheap eating stalls run in every locality by less educated and skilled people within govt run food courts , other such ideas where govt provides infrastructure where less educated and skilled people can do business (maybe sell vegetables in govt run veg market, or run a stall for ironing clothes, stitching clothes etc)

    All such ideas require govt to work well. The pain is that govt typically does not work well, so these ideas are tough to implement. However, reservation does not require govt to do anything.

  2. That’s precisely the second half of this write up addresses. We wouldn’t actually need reservation if Govt did its work with a set standard of accountability rather than going for short term populist schemes( that too doesn’t work because of corruption, apathy ) . Good education with good teachers and skilled syllabus, coupled with employment avenues, will surely eliminate the need of reservation.
    But then the problem is no political party wants to let go if this vote bank. Now we can only hope that the very people who are getting it , see the demerits of this system and come out of it. I know it’s blissful thinking.

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