Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reservation: Is it being approached appropriately?

Reservation. The matter today synonymous with India has been much debated, discussed, argued for and against, and at the same time often avoided because of its sensitive nature. Article 15(1) of the Indian constitution states that the State shall not discriminate against anyone on the ground of sex, caste, race, religion, place of birth or anything. So it essentially grants equality to all, irrespective of their background - social or economic. But again, as per Article 15(4) it allows the State to make special provisions for the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens.

One can argue that the Constitution makers were seeing or foreseeing discrimination at various levels but this has turned into a very touchy topic. While I agree reservation is important, for many a times, people from ‘lower castes’ do not receive their due, are ignored or passed over which is not at all fair, especially in a country whose constitution stands for equality, isn’t it also important that for greener leaves, the roots must be strong? In our country, there is still a lack of basic education for all, while there is clamour for reservation in institutions for higher studies, which is kind of absurd.

Also, reservation just strengthens the caste and religious differences. There are chances of a psychological effect on people, and those trying to fight caste/religious differences and avoid discrimination on the basis of caste or religion are fighting a losing battle because reservation is merely strengthening those identities often compromising a more deserving candidate for one with a certain caste or religion’s certificate. So even if reservation needs to be done, there must a subtle, fair approach to it.

Imagine a scenario wherein a boy is trying for admission in a college. His father is an Engineer or a Senior Manager, his mother is a professor. He lives a comfortable life, not in the lap of luxury but most of his needs and wants are being catered to most of the times, and he has enough money to dispense for his needs and/or for his leisure. Now he gets very average marks in the 12th grade. But he gets admission into the college of his choice merely because he provides a caste certificate of belonging to an SC, ST or an OBC and there is reservation for people from this caste. So he manages to get a seat, and has a rebate in the fees.

Now imagine a scenario, where a boy’s father is carpenter, or a tailor, or even a peon in an office. His mother is a housewife who struggles to get in extra money to the household by taking up odd jobs such as at a construction site. They have three simple meals, even two at times. The father does not even have a scooter to transport him to work. But he does not manage to get admission to the college, despite his caste certificate (A) because he cannot afford even the rebated fees, and (B) because he has received low grades in the local school he went to where he was not taught proper English, which is often the medium of instruction at college/university level.

Who do YOU think deserves the reserved seat more?

Instead of reserving seats left, right and centre on the basis of religion or caste, there must be two changes:

  1. The education system at the basic level must be strengthened. The Right To Education Act has been passed indeed. But is it being rightfully implemented? Are children being sent to school by parents? If they are, are the teachers even there to teach them? And are the teachers doing their job with diligence? These are a few questions or issues that must be looked into by authorities and must be corrected. The foundation must be strong, only then will the child benefit from reservation. What will a child do with a reserved seat in say, a prestigious law college like NALSAR, when he doesn’t even read or understand Basic English and has no or little knowledge of the concepts of civics, and society?
  2. Reservation must not be merely on the basis of caste but take into account economically backward people. Once the educational basics are strong, those who are economically backward must be given a fair chance. A child may have to give up on his ‘reserved’ seat in a college merely because he is unable to afford even the discounted fees.

The issue of reservation is yet to be explored properly. The government and the authorities need to look into these and a few other pertinent issues. Also, while reservation is certainly essential in most areas, there must be a fair balance, which our vote bank driven politicians sadly fail to acknowledge!

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