Website authored by
Dr. Ram Puniyani
Issues in Secular Politics  •  Issues in Democracy and Fundamentalism  •  Secular Actions  •  Useful Links

Reserved Past: De-reserving Future
07/19/2009
By Ram Puniyani

Reservation has been a big bone of contention in our society. Since last two decades the issue has been expressed in subtle, direct and indirect, forms. In popular psyche while some reservations are desirable and good others are the one which are regarded as an obstacle to social progress and some others are regarded as an obstacle to national integration. Currently the ones related to Women's reservation is regarded as being highly desirable, the one relating to Dalit-OBC is thought of as cause of stagnation, obstacle to progress and depriving the more meritorious upper castes from the portals of opportunity, while the mere talk of reservation for minorities is presented as dividing the nation.

Despite India coming out of colonial yoke, despite the democracy and modern constitution being in place, the process of transformation of caste and gender has remained half way through. The foundations of these twin transformations were laid during the freedom movement, but since forms of landlordism and hold of clergy continued in society, the caste-gender transformation has not been completed. Nehru expressed this to a French journalist, Andre Marloux, that a secular constitution is there but country is gripped by deep religiosity. Our Constitution makers took up the step of affirmative action for dalits-adivasis, reserving seats for a stipulated period of time. Since the implementation of these policies was in the hands of upper caste, the proper implementation could not take place and the problem lingered on, resulting in every succeeding government extending the period of reservations, part of it was also motivated by electoral compulsions. To add  to this came the issue that reservations for these groups were used by a few in the community, leading to creamy sections fattening themselves and a larger sections remaining deprived of the basic amenities and consequent dignity.

The process of urbanization resulted in the affluent middle classes coming up and by 1980 they became assertive, and dead against the reservations for dalit-OBC. They crystallized around RSS affiliates and the result was the first major anti dalit violence in Ahmedabad in 1981, this was backed up by the one in 1986 against OBCs in Gujarat. By this time women's movement was picking up. From last more than a decade women have been demanding their due in the social and political sphere. The RSS support base saw the Mandal, reservation for OBCs, as a big threat to their social status and rallied around Advani's Rath yatra. Mandal was to be countered by Kamamdal (politics in the name of religion) as Atal Bihari Vajpayee put it. Kamandal spilled the blood on the streets and the issue of reservation went to the back drop and major assault now was directed against, minorities, First the Muslims and the Christians, Pehle Kasai-Phir Isai, as their popular  battle cry put it.

With the severe security problems of minorities, the question of equity remained in the background. The Muslim community as a matter of fact went down on the social indices as pointed out by the Sachar Committee. With declining economic indices the talk of reservation for Muslims in education and jobs started coming up. But RSS affiliates, working for a Hindu nation, essentially the one with hegemony of upper caste males, struck hard by saying that any reservation for Muslims will mean formation of another Pakistan. One can't understand the logic of the same, but one can surely understand the threat concealed in this formulation. So now the compromised talk of Equal Opportunity Commission, affirmative action for minorities and the formulation that all steps short of reservation are to be thought-of, is going on. How far Equal Opportunity Commission will achieve the purpose, if the societal thinking is so hostile to the minority welfare, remains to be seen?

During this time the Women, another major and deprived section, were given reservation in Panchayats. This effort had all the merits but some deeper flaws prevailed. One was that in most or many Panchayats, where women were Sarpanchs (chief), their Husband or other male relative practically controlled the scene. Despite this, women did make some headway in the direction of empowerment. With this came the demand of reservation for women in Parliament, the highest law making body. Most of the political parties, including BJP, the one controlled by RSS, so inherently believing in the birth based hierarchy of caste and gender, supported it. The only opposition came from the OBC dominated parties, for whom the caste inequality has been the central concern of their politics.
Their argument is that at present mainly upper caste and affluent women are in the social space so this move will tilt the caste balance in favor of upper castes. So they say that there should be inbuilt sub quota based on the basis of caste and minority. To say that women are women, no inner differences are to close the eyes to reality. The poor dalit, adivasi, Muslim women have little in common with the affluent elite women. The Bill for women's reservation has been struggling to be passed since 1996. So far as there was no clear majority of any party in Lok Sabha, the bill kept hanging fire. Now with UPA, in comfortable position the expectation is that the bill should be passed.

Is there any merit in what Sharad Yadavs, Mulayams and Lalus have been saying? It has been presented in the media that they are against the reservation for women as such. Their demand that the bill be presented after modification has been underplayed and rejected out of hand. One whole-heartedly supports the reservations when necessary, to bring in gender and social justice. At the same time there has to be a safety clause that the reservation should be suitably implemented to avoid the adverse effects. While some political voices that are very vociferous for 'merit', are against the concept of reservation more so for SC-ST-OBC-minority reservation, are also strong proponents of reservation for women! Why these double standards? Why the bill has not been amended to include the sub quota for caste and minorities not added is a mystery, or is it that, it shows the real agenda of those who are for the bill in present form?