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Reservations: Dilemmas Galore
04/03/2010
By Ram Puniyani

Heated debate has been generated around womenís reservation bill (WRB) with both sides having their inflexible positions. On one side there are those calling for its implementation and on the other those who are opposing it. This is a superficial view of debate. As such the debate is, on side are those saying that it should be implemented as it is and on the other side are those who say that there should be quota for OBC dalit, minorities within the quota. There are very few who are totally opposed to WRB, there are many willing to support it if quota within quota is accepted, so to paint them as being against Womenís reservation is unfair. The bill is hanging fire from last one and a half decade, and the rigidity of both sides is so obvious. In democracy it need not be just a brute majority which should work; a process of consensus should be tried before polarizing the issue.
 
One can very well say it is a bit of the reminder of Mandal days. Many of those opposing Mandal are the strongest champions of this bill while the supporters of Mandal are trying to argue that if implemented in the present form, it will increase the hegemony of upper castes, as the upper caste women are in a better position to compete, while the lower castes and Minorities will be left behind. The supporters of reservation as WRB is, rhetorically dismiss the concern of quota within quota by saying that if these parties are so concerned with that section of women, why have they not given them more seats so far? The same argument can be turned up side down to say that those who are strong proponents of the bill as it is; how much they have bothered to give the tickets to women. By present estimates the three major parties Congress, BJP and Communists, if they would have followed this in allotting more tickets to women, by now the composition of parliament would have been very different.
 
The point is that, precisely because parties give tickets on winnablity criterion, women are not given tickets in proportion to their percentage in population, and so the need for reservation. The opponents of quota within quota argue that this will divide the women! Question is, are all the women united? The upper caste women, do they supp comfortably with the lower caste? What type of unity of women prevails when a large section of Muslim women have been forced into ghettoes in the aftermath of massive carnage, which in turn has created fear amongst minorities and a situation where they are excluded from social space.
 
One recalls with pain and horror that during communal violence a section of the women from majority community have been bystanders, if not outright assisters, when the women from minority community were raped! What unity we are talking about? There are surely many concerns which are common to all the women, but in our society unfortunately the caste, class and religion divide has affected the concerns of different sections of women.
 
The empowerment of women is an absolute must for democratization process of society, so rather than polarizing the debate there is a need to pass the bill with some modifications with a consensus, brought in by taking the concerns of its opponents in present form seriously. Those who oppose the womenís reservations in toto can be bypassed but the opinion of quota within quota is a different terrain.
 
There is another glaring phenomenon taking place in the society since independence. The representation of Muslims in Parliament is on a constant decline. From last Lok Sabha to the present one there is a reduction, from 36 to current just 29 of them. The present number of Muslim MPs is close to half of what it was in the initial period of the republic. One welcomes the move to ensure the improvement of empowerment of women, but what about declining representation of Muslim minority? One is sure with present social dynamics it is going to slide down further. Is it a sign of health of democracy or does it indicate that democratic process is being subverted from deep within the system by the communalization of society.
 
At another level one can safely talk about the reservation for dalits, OBC's and women, but when it comes to the question of Muslim minorities; all the antennas are up to sense that it is dividing the nation. What in fact is dividing the nation is the regular occurrence of violence against minorities, what is dividing the nation is the ghettoisation of minorities and the constant propaganda demonizing them on one pretext or the other.
 
It is in this context that the Judgment of Supreme Court restoring the Andhra Pradesh law for 4 percent quota for backward Muslims in Jobs and colleges is most welcome. We are going through delicate times when there is some superficial concern shown for minorities, Sachar Committee is appointed, Rangnath Mishra Commission is appointed, but the rulers get cold feet when their recommendation are to  be implemented. Rangnath Mishra Commission recommends 15% reservation for Muslims, but not much is being heard on this front.
 
Most hypocritical stance on the issue of reservation has been that of BJP. It has been the constant opponent of reservations for dalits and OBCs on the ground that this is discriminatory, and due to this the meritorious candidates will be left behind. During the speech in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitly of BJP (March 09, 2010) while defending the WRB, stated that it is a myth that reservation creates privileged society. He also said that with WRB politics of tokenism will be replaced by that of representation. Sane words. Only thing is there are double standards in this. So far we heard something totally contrary from BJP worthies as far as reservations were concerned.
 
Unfortunately the reservation has to be resorted to in our democracy as the proper democratic process has failed to take care of the needs of deprived sections of society. A holistic approach to reservation to all sections of deprived communities is what we need and thatís what will ensure that the gross disparities are done away and justice reaches to all section of society.