No more reservations
Posted online: Sunday , Mar 28, 2010 at 0230 hrs
Whichever way I say this, it is going to sound wrong in these
politically correct times, so I am going to say it straight out. We
must stop all reservations. They have failed as a form of affirmative
action and have served mostly to create ugly little aristocracies of
supposedly deprived Indians and a false sense of entitlement among
those who believe that the state owes them a living.
Last week, no sooner did the Supreme Court declare that it was fine
for the Government of Andhra Pradesh to make a 4 per cent quota for
'backward' Muslims than demands rose from Muslim clerics and
politicians for a quota for all Muslims and a quota within the women's
quota for Muslim women. This sounds like madness but there is logic in
it. If there can be reservations for women, Dalits, Adivasis and other
backward castes, then why not for everyone who considers themselves
In this column two weeks ago, I pointed out that reserving 190 seats
for women in the Lok Sabha would weaken Parliament. I am happy to see
from your letters that most of you agree with me but, unfortunately,
we can do nothing because there are not enough people who are willing
to stand up and be counted. Then, there is the problem of appearing to
be on the same side as Mulayam in his new avatar as aged Roadside
Romeo and Lalu whose only contribution to women's empowerment has been
to impose Rabri Devi on the people of Bihar. Sonia Gandhi has done
serious harm to India's polity by lending her substantial might to
this foolish Bill, but she looks better than her ex-best friends.
Is there nobody around Madame who has the courage to tell her that
reservations as a form of affirmative action have not worked? If they
had, then in 60 years of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes,
we should have at the very least seen a critical mass in these
communities who were educated enough to bring real change. Dalits
continue to be mostly poor and illiterate and they continue to live in
ghettoes on the edge of villages across India in a form of unspoken
apartheid. The situation of the Adivasis has not improved through
reservations either. It is so bad that the Government of India felt
the need to pass a law not long ago giving them ownership of land in
what is left of our forests.
If instead of reservations we had given these traditionally deprived
communities schools, hospitals, roads and job opportunities, I have
not the slightest doubt that they would today be competing with the
most exalted of Brahmins. As someone who is an outcaste by the rules
of the Indian caste system (and proudly so), I often wonder if
reservations are not a high form of casteism. Why else would we deny
deprived and underprivileged Indians what they really need, which is
an equal chance? If there are to be special measures, then they should
come in the form of urgent investment in districts where there are
high levels of deprivation.
Not only do reservations not work, they make people believe that they
are entitled to special privileges just because they are poor and
illiterate. It is a terrible legacy from our socialist era and if our
political leaders bothered to travel in their constituencies instead
of whizzing in and out at election time, they would find just how bad
a legacy it has been. On my travels in rural parts I have met people
who think a school three kilometres outside their village is too far
for their children to go. I have been in villages where people admit
that they stopped repairing the village pond and ended the ancient
practice of harvesting rainwater because they believed that the
'sarkar' owed them free piped water in their homes. Not long ago in a
court house in Haryana, when I complained about litter scattered
everywhere, a court employee said, 'The government should clean it up.
It's their job.'
This distorted mindset, I believe, comes from the idea born of
Nehruvian socialism that the Government would take care of everyone's
needs even if nobody lifted a finger to pick up a piece of waste
paper. Unless this mindset changes, we can reserve till the word merit
disappears completely and it will only make things worse and worse
still. Reservations do not work. Period.
If Muslims believe that the community has fallen behind, then its
leaders should demand schools, hospitals and jobs. These are the real
tools of empowerment, not reserved seats in Parliament and educational
institutions, because in those reserved seats will sit only those who
already have access to powerful people. That is how it has always
worked, that is how it always will.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleens
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