Reservation on the basis of Religion- A bad idea

A few months ago AP began the trend of reserving jobs for Muslims on the grounds that the community was ‘backward’.
Now the RJD and the Congress in Bihar have made a similar promise.

There is something fundamentally wrong, if in a secular nation, we introduce reservations on the basis of religion.

If a community is backward – there are other ways of bringing them on par with the rest of society. Compulsory education is a start- especially for the girl child. Business loans at favourable rates is another. Additional Tax breaks for companies that are equal opportunities employers is yet another. Ensuring that ministries concerned with rural development deliver. Penalise corruption that prevetns allocated funds from reaching targets. Ensure that the rule of law is followed. In fact the Government should be moving towards equal opportunites, and away from reservation. Equal opportunities is economics led. Quotas, on the other hand, are hand outs. The first empowers, the second allows for stagnation.

Incentivise companies to hire people. Incentivise banks to give loans to certain communities. Incentivise mentors to mentor these businesses. Incentivise schools and colleges to follow equal opportunites. incentivise self help groups that set in villages. facilitate the buying of land on easy installments.

Quotas are a bad idea. It leads to complecency – and the Government and industry and the rest of us get into this comfort zone that because reservation exists, the problem has gone away. It hasn’t. Which is why 58 years after independence political parties are still tripping over each other screaming reservation. Reservation has worked in a very, very limited manner – and the problem still remains. The communities in question have attained political weight, which has not translated into economic weight. (and in India – like elsewhere – economic weight is social weight).

If you travel around India – especially rural India – and talk to Dalit Activists – most of them tell you that the benefits of reservation are cornered by a few who don’t let the rest take advantage of it. Their argument is that if your parents are middle class, then you aren’t a Dalit. A dalit is someone who doesn’t know where the next meal is going to come from. Who doesn’t have money to buy books or pencils.

If You (as in the politicians) want to do something for economically backward groups in India – go right ahead. You need to . But, reservations may not be the solution. You need to start wtih providing security. Start with physical security, move on to economic security. The rest will automatically follow. Ensuring that the rule of law is followed when crimes are committed against weaker sections – and it economic deprivation that makes them weak – is a start. These crimes can be discrimination, rape, violence, . It could be companies that don’t hire people from a particular caste or community – or don’t promote them. Ensure that the full force of law is brought against the people who discriminate. But, no. Those who commit these crimes probably support some major Party or the other. The problems of the poor and the dispossessed remain unanswered until election time, when vague – and possibly unconstitutional – promises are made to them in return for votes.

Finally, if we are to continue with the reservation policy, and the parameter for reservation is “backwardness” surely then – reservation should be on the basis of economic status – not caste or religion. But under the income of x thousand per annum does not a vote bank form !


  1. Author

    Reservations for Dalits need to be seen as a gain that have to be consolidated and built upon. It is but natural that a Dalit middle- class will arise out of it. What is wrong in that? It was the upper- caste, primarily Brahmins that served the Empire in the late 19th century that formed the early Indian National Congress. The INC was not exactly a revolutionary party then.

    Similarly for the Dalit movement. The advance of any movement will see its contraditions, the Dalit political dilemma is one such. Kansi Ram and Mayawati may have come from this Dalit middle class, but they have led to a fundamental change in the Hindi- heartland. Without the creation of this middle class, the DS4 and BSP would not have emerged. A Dalit woman as the Chief Minister, gives faith to the multitude. If nothing else, it gives them a faith in democracy in a country where every Prime Mininster who has completed a 5 year term in office has been a Brahmin (Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi (well a half- Brahmin in a sense), Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee.

    I was still in college when the anti- Mandal “angst” among the upper castes happened. At that time, on investigating, I realized that out of the 12 or so students from my class that were supposed to come from the SC/ST quota, hardly 4 actually came from scheduled caste/scheduled families.

    The rest had forged documents to “qualify” for the quota.

    One of my class mates from the Scheduled Castes worked in a karyana store after competing this 12th class. It was acidentally that a customer asked him to appear for the Engineering college admission. He had never heard of an engineering college till then ! His parents could never understand what his qualification was when he completed his engineering !

    Stoppage of this reservation will stop whatever little avenues Dalits have today.

    Still later, working for one of the largest Indian software company, it was interesting for me to find that 55% of the managers were Brahmins, about 25% were Banias and the remaining were filled in by Punjabi Hindu Khatris (this was in Delhi). Later, when I moved to Chennai, I found the same pattern- except that the Brahmin dominance in key positions is not only evident but also blatant.

    There is a defacto reservation of the upper- castes already in place.

    What is needed, is for the Dalit activists to make Dalits aware of the gains of reservations and ensure that a wider set of people benefit from these policies.

  2. Author

    Hi Bhupinder
    i agree with you on this. my problem is not that reservations exist but that they are being misused. it is like i don’t have any issue with any of the welfare schemes that the government has – but i do have a problem with the monies going walkies.

    i have worked in the private sector (TV channels) in India and i don’t think that i had an OBC, SC/ST or Muslim colleague. A company of 3000+ people and not one from these communities.We also have to be very aware that employment has moved away from Government to private sector enterprises. In such a situation it is not quotas that are going to work – industry is going to fight them tooth and nail – but ‘equal opportunities’ through incentives. There is nothing that makes a company move fast in a given direction like a tax break does 🙂

    58 years of reservation – how many millions do you think that it should have empowered? And yet today when we look at census data – the poorest are these communities. people below the double poverty line.
    There is political empowerment – and that was there even before indepedence. But, there is neither economic nor social empowerment. And that has to be attacked and rectified.

    Finally, there also has to be fundamental religious reform. Mahants and Mutts coming out and saying that discrimination on the basis of caste is wrrong, a sin … what ever. Unless this happens, and people – rightly or wrongly – see the religion condoning caste – we are not going to have too much progress.

    Dalit activists – like the rest of the political class – is too busy fighting with each other for power to do anything about the people they are supposed to serve.

    Discrimination has to be attacked politically, economically, socially. For 58 years we had a political solution. Now, all of them have to be brought into play.

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