Sunday, April 3, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Handle quota disputes with a clear mechanism (Yogendra Yadav)

Handle quota disputes with a clear mechanism

Yogendra Yadav | Apr 3, 2011, 06.33am IST
Earlier it was the Gujjars, now it is the Jats. Before that it was the
Mala-Madiga dispute in Andhra Pradesh. And one often hears about
reservation for all Marathas in Maharashtra. The names keep changing,
the pattern does not. Neither does our response.

The script is familiar. Caste groups like Jats and Marathas,
land-owning communities with some numeric strength and political
clout, lay claim to backwardness. Those below them in the social
order, like the Gujjars in Rajasthan, resent this intrusion and want
special protection to safeguard their benefits. Or those communities
among the SC or OBC who have not benefited much from reservations want
a sub-quota . Agitators take to the streets, often blocking roads and
railways. Governments do not want to take a decision and resort to
soft-pedaling , delay tactics and collusion, hoping that that the
judiciary will step in to relieve them of the burden of
decision-making .

The national media responds with impatience , as if it is being
dragged into an alien land and a bygone era. Caste groups in question
are discussed as if these are unknown tribes from Africa. Editorials
deplore political motives behind such protests and call for strict
action to ensure smooth traffic. There is a clamour for judicial
intervention. Once some committee is formed, everyone forgets it like
a bad dream, till the next crisis erupts.

We do not stop to ask the hard questions. Why does this crisis erupt
so regularly? Why do these demands always turn into a street battle?
Why is every solution so transient? What is the way forward?

These questions force us to face an unpleasant truth: the policies of
social justice have reached a dead-end . For a country that has such a
vast and influential programme of affirmative action, we are
remarkably deficient in imaging mechanisms and designs of social
justice schemes. We have a maze of institutions to handle it but
simply do not have a system of processing competing claims to
affirmative action. This is a country famous for its statistical
system but has virtually no evidence for settling these claims. We do
not know, for example, if the proportion of graduates and professional
degree holders among Jats are more or less than other OBC communities
in Haryana and UP.

There is no need to start from scratch in the search for a way
forward. As often happens in India, the solution lies in the cupboards
of a ministry. The report of an expert committee headed by professor N
R Madhav Menon, "Equal Opportunity Commission: What, Why and How?" has
been in the public domain for two years. (Accessible at http:// eoc_wwh/eoc_wwh.pdf). The
report suggests the formation of an equal opportunity commission (EOC)
as a long-term mechanism for dealing with disputes concerning social
justice. The proposed EOC would be a path-finding institution that
would help evolve and evaluate mechanisms for affirmative action,
using an evidence-based approach . It would gather data on the
socio-economic and educational status of various social groups and
communities. It would also monitor the social profile of higher
educational institutions and select sectors of employment. The EOC
would be open to any social group that perceives a denial of equal
opportunities. It would cover public and private sectors. Unlike the
existing commissions , the EOC will focus on advisory, advocacy and
auditing rather than individual grievance redressal.

An EOC was on the Congress manifesto in 2009. It was mentioned in the
president's address to Parliament. Yet the proposal is still doing the
rounds of the corridors of power, caught up in the turf-wars that
ministries and commissions play in New Delhi. If we had such an
institution by now, the Gujjar dispute, the Jat agitation, the
Mala-Madiga dispute and several others could have been resolved.
Protests may still occur but there would be a clear mechanism and some
solid evidence to resolve disputes.

The forthcoming caste census could help with some of the evidence
needed for a clear affirmative action policy. But it can do so, only
if the findings of the main census are linked to the caste census and
we get demographic , educational and economic data for each caste. The
preliminary figures of Census 2011 are out and we still do not know
the exact nature of the caste census that is to take place later this

Perhaps we are waiting for another crisis . To borrow a Hindi proverb,
we believe in digging a well after we notice a fire.

The writer is senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies, Delhi

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