Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quota System: A promise in the way of justice

After many long years, I've started re-exploring the Mahabharata by B.R. Chopra, hoping to get more insights into the intellect and knowledge of our ancestors and their understanding of social issues. And in the very first episode, I felt that I had an experience I needed to share.

Maharaj Santanu of the Bharata clan sees Ganga in a beautiful womanly form and proposes her to marry him. In reply, goddess Ganga asks a promise from him, that he will not stop her in whatever she does.

The promise is granted, and we all know what happens then. One by one, seven sons of Santanu are drowned in the Ganges. Santanu is worried and rushes to his Prime Minister as to what to do. The latter says then:

"Any promise that comes in the way of justice is a curse. You can do nothing but to live it."

We see a similar event in the Ramayana when Kaikeya saves Raja Dashratha's life and is granted a promise to ask whatever she wants.. the result is the expulsion of Ram from Ayodhya.

Today.. we have several such situations when our promises come in the way of justice. The quota system as implemented in India today is one such example.

The purpose of this system was alleviation of the people of the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes. There was a consensus that there were tribes of people that were oppressed under the infamous 'caste system' of India at the time of India's independence. As a result, the constitution of India granted 15% and 7.5% vacancies in educational institutions and jobs in the public sector. This was meant only for 5 years and the end of that period, the situation was to be reviewed. Not only have the following governments extended this period, they have also failed to review the situation and have also extended the vacancies for other sections of the society.

So does this mean that the vacancies were not applied adequately? Or did the number of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes increased all of a sudden after independence when instead they should have fallen. Thankfully, the SC had imposed a limit on the quota sytem to 50% and so, it has generally not risen beyond that limit. But why was the limit imposed at 50% and why was it not kept at the initial 15% and 7.5% as mentioned above?

Without going into the details of the quota debate, some quick points that have to be made regarding the systems are as follows:
  1. Implementation of the quota system would perpetuate the caste system instead of abolishing it.
  2. Political vote bank imperatives will lead to the extention of the quota system to other sections of the society.
  3. Scams will float to register an upper caste as a lower caste.
  4. Would other religions also not ask for a reservation for its own poor and backward castes?
The last point of the above has already bore fruit as Syed Shahbuddin has made a demand of muslim reservations. Would it not be naive to assume that all other religions will not make a demand for their reservations? Would this not also leave a gaping hole in our armour against other evils as proselytism since people can do both, convert to another religion and acquire backward caste status to avail the benefits of the quota system? Where will the buck stop?

Instead we the people of India should propose:
  1. That people be evaluated on the basis of their talent and potential for the post they aspire to and not on the basis of their birth.
  2. If at all the government wants to support the poor, they should support them with economic incentives, scholarships, etc. instead of affirmative action.
  3. If there are any reasons that this cannot be implemented (such as corruption, red tape, etc), we should attack those problems and not shy away from them and implement coward measures as these, since some of these have become general Indian problems.
(Note: Discussing funding issues for some of the above programs is outside the scope of this blog. I will link this post to a post I will make on another blog of mine)

Like the other two cases, the quota system as implemented in India is a promise that comes in the way of justice. The justice that is deserved by the people who toil hard irrespective of the status that has been conferred upon him by birth. Today's India lags behind many other countries in terms of science and technology. Besides, there would surely be many other fields which we will lag behind because of slacking in standards of quality. Who knows how many Aryabhattas, Bhaskaracharyas, Kalidases, Ramanujans, C.V. Ramans we missed because of this system?

Time to uproot this system that is allowing the caste system to thrive and make promises not in the way of justice, but of justice.


Gandaragolaka said...

playing the devil's advocate here--
lets see if you can respond to these points:
If I belong to one of the Scheduled Tribes--

a)I would show off my
'S.T.ness', play the victim-game, and get perks from the govt. because it is my right.

b)In effect, I want this caste system to stay, and I want it to get worse, so that I get more out of it.

c)Finally, as long as I see that reservation is good for me, I will continue to feed the fire and I dont think you can do anything about it.

d)I feel that upper castes are resorting to this higher moral ground of a merit-based system only because they are feeling the pinch now.

Karmasura said...

a) If only S.T. ness is synonymous with poverty, then if you want to show off your S.T. ness.. it is fine and it is the right of the poor to avail of more benefits from the Government than the rich. But why should the progress of one section of the society be due to sacrifice of the other? Why can't all 'castes' progress together?

b) The caste system should not stay.. since it incorrectly portrays poverty as solely of the lower castes and overlooks poverty in other social strata.

c&d) The reservation system is biased, whatever has happened has to be forgotten and a new system of impartiality in justice and development has to be in place. The progeny of those who invoked the system cannot be blamed for the crimes of their ancestors.

Just as in the same way you would agree that muslims of today should not be blamed for the crimes of Timur Lang, Muhammad Ghauri, Aurangzeb and their ilk...

I hope that suffices.

Dirt Digger said...

The history behind the reservation system was to provide the facility for those 'backward' communities a period of time(5 or 10 years) to come forward. However given the vote bank politics, our netas do not have the cojones to stop this stupid practice.