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At present when the reservation awareness among the suppressed has got strengthened, the social monopolists try to divide the beneficiaries of reservation. To achieve this plot, the weapon to divide the already discriminated masses is ‘economic criterion’. The contention of anti reservationists is that the benefits go to the section of the discriminated which is economically rich; the reservation benefits must go to the section of the discriminated who are not economically privileged. Apparently it may look reasonable to look at the propaganda of the social monopolists. If the argument is deeply analysed, the demand of the monopolists will be proved baseless and meaningless. To understand the inequitable argument in favour of reservation based on the economic criterion, it has to be analysed indepth.
• What is the prescription of the religious texts and based on that what had happened historically?
• Whether the argument of the social monopolists is substantive empirically that the reservation benefits go to the discriminated masses who are already well off and privileged?
The basic tenet of reservation policy is that the socially discriminated masses must get their due representation in education, employment and legislatures. It is nothing but the representation has to be made to the respective discriminated section in proportion to their population. Prior to the awareness of dispensation of Social Justice through the tool of reservation, people were originally discriminated into four fold divisions – brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras based on their birth.
These four fold divisions was developed into so many sub-divisions within the same division as castes. Beyond these four fold divisions, there existed an outcaste group called panchamas, again there also emerged sub-out castes. These divisions created in the society in the name of god and religion enslaved the masses and segregated people within themselves. They were socially enslaved with the ultimate subservience to the supremacy of the brahmins. The social enslavement was perpetuated and deep rooted. The social slavery continued for so many centuries, irrespective of the economic well being of the enslaved. Whether the enslaved masses are economically privileged more or less, they have to continue their lives by being subservient to the supremacy of the brahmins. They were tuned to carry on their social duties, which was predominantly physical labour. Because of the economic well being of the enslaved or discriminated they were not considered elevated from their social slavery. The continuance of the centuries old social hierarchy keeps denying education to them. Mythical as well as religious texts were quoted for the verdicts of the monarchs with the support of the priestly cult which was fatal with severe strictures on those who violated the employment, destined to them. Again, it has to be reiterated that those verdicts did not discriminate the violators based on their economic status whether the violators are economically sound or less; it was immaterial for the rulers. The social violators were punished on the same footing without getting segregated on their economic status. So social status i.e. status based on birth was in force and it was reinforced in the society permanently. The slavery existing in the society is purely on social basis. To liberate them from the century ridden slavery, the reservation policy was framed and it is necessary on the social basis and not on the basis of any other criterion including the economic. Reservation is the tool to offset the position of the discriminated and enslaved masses through the liberation. The diagnosis for the cause of the disease, ‘slavery’ is blatantly social and the treatment and medication has to be necessarily, reckoning the social criterion.
The theory tells us that social exclusion and discrimination is a ‘group concept’ based on group identity like race, colour, religion, ethnicity, caste and gender. In the case of group exclusion, all individuals from a group are excluded due to their social identity, irrespective of the economic status of the individual within a social group thereby making the discrimination neutral to economic status. All the untouchables face discrimination on the basis of their caste, irrespective of their financial status as the people belonging to the higher castes do not make any distinction between the economically weak or better off among the discriminated group.
An empirical comparison of NSS estimates will prove this fact.
As per the National Sample Survey (NSS) estimates in 2011-12, out of a total of about 20 lakh permanent SC employees about 68 percent were educated below the secondary and higher secondary levels or were diploma holder, while 32 per cent were educated upto the graduate level and above.*
SC Government Employees by Level of Education(%)
Source: NSSO Employment – Unemployment Survey, 2004-2005 and 2011-2012
At the all-India level, in rural areas 82 per cent of the SC employees who were graduates or higher level of education possessed land less than 1.23 acres which highlights their relatively weak financial status. In fact, the ratio of those who owned less than 1.23 acres of land varied from 76 per cent to 89 per cent for employed with different education levels, which implies that the poor at all education levels have benefited from the reservation in employment on a significant scale. Thus employment in reservation has been a significantly pro poor policy. The argument that weaker sections benefited less from reservation in employment is not based on facts but by a myth created by the critics.**
Land Size Owned by SC Government Employees at Each Level of Education
(Rural Areas 2012)
Source: NSSO Employment – Unemployment Survey, 2011-2012
From the above two empirical analyses, it may be inferred that the benefits of reservation in employment have gone only to the poor among the entitled sections. The reservation benefits, of course have reached during the past six decades of independence not that effectively, also not in proportion to the population of the eligible category and to the extent of social discrimination that has been practiced in this land for more than 250 decades. At present the water sluices are opened for the purpose of irrigation of arable land. When the water released has not reached the ultimate far off land holdings in the command area and had not started to wet the soil there, the social monopolists discuss the inundation of water in such arable land holdings.
In practice, any of the executive exercise of the State Governance, Indian Constitution remains as the touchstone as well as the governing text. As far as reservation benefits are considered the criterion for its eligibility is social and educational backwardness of the subjects. This eligibility criterion has been provided in the Indian Constitution like this:
Article 15(4) says, “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes.
The Constitution prescribes only the social and educational backwardness for making any special provision for the advancement of the discriminated section and the economic criterion is not mentioned. It was not mere omission in the Constitution. When the Article 15(4) was inserted through the first Constitutional Amendment in 1951, the economic criterion was deeply deliberated in the Parliament. After listening to the for and against views on the reckoning of economic criterion to determine the backwardness, Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister stated in the Parliament that economic criterion was not a fixed feature but a changing one, in fact it was elastic and the economic criterion could not be used as a standard measure to decide the backwardness.
Despite this provision in the Constitution of excluding economic criterion, many State Governments and Central Government during the past, have allocated certain percentage of reservation both in education and employment through issuance of executive orders. When those orders, prescribing economic criterion to determine backwardness, were challenged in the Court of Law, the apex judiciary decided the executive orders were against the Constitutional provisions and hence they cannot be implemented.
What is the compensatory provision to the economically weak in the society?
The contention of non reckoning of the economic criterion to avail the reservation benefits does not mean that the economically weak need not be cared at all by the State. The economically poor have to be favoured with finance in the form of loan, coupled with subsidy or freebie. It is purely a welfare programme which is entirely different from the uplift of the socially discriminated people through the reservation system. The economically weaker sections may be helped irrespective of their social status, forward or backward. Yes; the economic status is not an everlasting phenomenon. It may change over the generations or within the same generation period; whereas the social discrimination is historically perpetuated and decided on the basis of the birth of the individual in a particular sect. They could be uplifted only through reservation in education and employment, which were denied to them during the past.
So advocating the economic criterion for reservation benefits is irrelevant and any move on it is a tactic on the part of the social monopolists to weaken the reservation policy, the implementation of which is already at slow pace.
*,** Acknowledging with gratitude the use of the text excerpts from the article, ‘Prejudice against Reservation Policies – How and Why?’ by Sukhadeo Thorat, Nitin Tagade and Ajay K.Naik, published in ‘Economic & Political Weekly Volume LI No.8