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Call for an honest reappraisal

Call for an honest reappraisal
Highlights

The debate over reservations punctuated by politics of caste-based political mobilisation is unfortunately locked up between two extremes, each refusing to reconcile with the other. The critics of reservations policy fail to accept any virtue in the positive discrimination envisaged in the constitutional scheme of things.

The debate over reservations punctuated by politics of caste-based political mobilisation is unfortunately locked up between two extremes, each refusing to reconcile with the other. The critics of reservations policy fail to accept any virtue in the positive discrimination envisaged in the constitutional scheme of things.

The protagonists of reservations present it as a panacea for all social and economic malaises and refuse to accept any reappraisal of the policy. But, the reality is this key public policy certainly deserves a pragmatic relook nearly seven decades after independence.One cannot be oblivious to the social and economic changes that swept India ever since the policy of reservations as an affirmative action was initiated.

At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that social and economic inequalities still persist in India. Caste and class overlap in India still with the backward castes, scheduled castes and tribes having disproportionately higher share in the economically marginalised classes.

Reservation becomes irrelevant only when every child is entitled to same quality education, health care, skills, nutrition etc., independent of where the child was born. But, even today it is a distant dream. Increasing aspirations, intensifying competition for limited opportunities, persisting economic travails even among upper castes are generating antipathy to reservations.

Precisely this is the reason why economic criteria for reservations are voiced. But, given the fact that over 90 per cent of Indian economy being informal and unorgainsed, implementation of reservations for economically backward classes is prone to misuse and abuse.

Reservations cannot be viewed as sanctum sanctorum denying any kind of review. The electoral democracy which sees people as mere numbers finds it difficult to toy with any idea of rethinking. But, decades of social and economic development have certainly catapulted certain communities and individuals to the higher social economic strata.

These sections proved to be some sort of impermeable membranes that block the percolation of reservation benefits to the most deprived in the same caste. Thus is the aversion to creamy layer among the privileged in the marginalized castes. Such sections should realise that the very premise of reservation is based on socially backward classes rather than castes.

How to scientifically define the creamy layer can be debated. But its utility cannot be summarily rejected. The demand for categorisation of schedule castes and the growing identity of most backward castes etc. are a reflection of the fact that the benefits of reservation are appropriated to an extent by certain communities and individuals to the detriment of the most deprived.

Reservations cannot be an eternal policy instrument. They should be phased out in a time-bound manner. But, any such policy shift should be conditional upon bridging social and economic disparities. The time is not yet ripe for doing away with reservations. But, there is every justification in demanding an honest reappraisal aimed at taking the benefits to the neediest. But, this can only happen if political parties put the nation above the immediate electoral arithmetic.

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