CAT Essay: Policy of Compensatory Discrimination: A need for Review
Compensatory discrimination is one of the most controversial issues. But out of the whole issue one of its most debatable program is the policy of reservation. It is often confused that compensatory discrimination or protective discrimination and reservation program are the same thing. In fact, reservation program is one of the programs of the policy of compensatory discriminations. It includes, financial, housing and health facilities apart from reservation in jobs and educational institutions.
It is true that reservation has generated much passion than any other issue. There are reasons behind it. Reservation for SCs and STs had been accepted in late 1940s by our 1st generation leadership who were much committed for the organic unity of the Indian society. The stigma of ‘untouchability’ in case of SCs and ‘isolation’ of STs could be broken only by education aid mass emancipation. For this, the masses were also educated, which is evident especially after 1932, i.e.. Poona Pact Gandhiji's special drive for the emancipation of the untouchables helped to generate an ideology which could counter the communal ideology of untouchabiiity. Thus, reservation for the depressed classes was an outcome of ideological campaign along with the fear to lose national unity. So the whole issue had been internalized in a different sociopolitical situation, forty years ago.
Now the situation has changed alongwith a major shift in the issue. At present reservation is demanded not for untouchables of Physically and culturally isolated tribal groups, who constituted minority; but for a large section of masses who constituted 52% of the total populations, which includes some big land owning castes like Yadavas & Kurmis in Bihar.
Secondly, there is no threat to the unity of India, after forty years of independence it is more secured. Now people want their share in the cake of national polity. And in this particular point the reservation policy takes political dimension. The trend to use reservation as a tool to mobilize certain sections of masses is also having a long history. In 1939, Chaudhary Charan Singh demanded 50% reservation for the farmers. Later in 1947 he wrote an article in Hindi in this regard. He achieved a little success to mobilize Kisans. As neither constitutes a class or a community. In fact the present structure in India is not homogeneous; they divided among big landlords, middle peasants and landless laborers. So to unite them as one class is something out of question. Later, Chaudhary Charan Singh too shifted to mobilize masses on the basis of caste. This is evident in his political career during the Janata Government.
A similar move could be seen in the political mobilization of Shri Ram Manohar Lohia who tried to break the hegemony of Brahmins and Banias by mobilizing the shudders and other backward classes. The N. F. Government's move on August, 1990 is very conspicuous in this regard. The Prime Minister was blamed dividing national unity on caste lines and promoting casteism for personal political gains, the circumstantial evidences raised a needle of suspicion on the intention of V. P. Singh.
But all these attempts at national level failed to mobilize a vote bank of more than 50% masses. The reasons are quite simple. Firstly, the 52% of OBCs as calculated by the M. C R is not a homogeneous category. There are economic, social, political, cultural and ritual differences within these groups. There are depressed castes, communities juxtaposed with politically dominant and economically well of castes. The dominant sections have vested interest in the policy of reservation. But the really depressed are so backward that they are not educated enough to reap the benefit of reservation.
In fact, it is a political battle of two groups of elites; the elites who belong to forward castes and the elites who belong to the other backward castes. The third group of elites, i.e.. The elites of SCs and STs had already had their share. And they do not find any substantial gain by taking side of the OBCs as this would dilute their own interest.
Whereas elites of SCs and STs have their own mass bases, the elites of forward castes and OBCs do not have distinct mass base. Now, this is clear that both the elites are trying to carve out their own mass base so as to ensure their political position. But, where the SCs and STs are homogeneous and distinct categories the OBCs are heterogeneous hence their calculation is bound to fail.
Secondly, the nonacceptance of reservation policy by a vocal section of people of India could be understood in terms of regional variations. The policy of reservations for the OBCs is tremendously successful for South Indian states whereas it failed in the North Indian states i.e.. Hindi belt, except Bihar. It is because of the historical and ideological roots of the OBC movement in the state as it generated the socialist and secular political forms which has taken support from the masses of both SCs the STs as well OBCs. This is mainly due to the social composition. The masses of South Indian states are largely deducted and the OBCs are dominant there both numerically and politically. This is not the same for North Indian states where dominant sections belong to the upper castes.
There are various other reasons. The policy of job reservation could excite small sections of masses but not the whole people. The Economic Liberalization has challenged the public sector corporations and government jobs. Their absorption capacity is bound to decrease. In an open market, naturally merit will be given priority. Hence, there is a need to review the whole policy of compensatory discrimination, if we are really concerned about social justice.