Aarakshan No Panacea
Bhat in India politicians can go to any abysmal depth for a petty cause of vote-bank politics was displayed when in Uttar Pradesh the movie Aarakshan was banned on the plea that it would cause a disturbance in the state. It is worth mentioning that no movie has caused a disturbance as such. In this backdrop, the Supreme Court’s rapping on the knuckle of Uttar Pradesh government order suspending the screening of Aarakshan, which deals with issues of caste and reservation, has struck another blow for the cause of freedom of expression and against the tendency of the state to resort to censorship at the first sign of political protest. In fact, what makes things truly disturbing is that the State, which should in the first place be at the forefront of upholding what one of its own wings has decided, succumbs to misplaced populism on unfounded fears. For State governments to say that a film has the potential to incite violence or create a law and order problem is a specious argument. First, at a fundamental level, how can any government infringe on one’s right to choose what to watch or not? Second, is it not the government’s first duty to ensure law and order, come what may, in the face of threats by intolerant and unreasonable individuals or groups? To seek to ban or suspend the screening of a film certified by the Censor Board under the procedure established by law (in this case, the Cinematograph Act 1952) goes against the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution—and is a threat to democratic dissent and artistic creativity.
Now I come to the issue of reservation on which the movie is made. The basic goal of Indian Constitution, as envisaged by its framers, was to create an egalitarian society. The preamble of Constitution mentions equality of status and opportunity, and the Right to Equality is one of the Fundamental Rights granted to people of India. However, a need was felt and special temporary provisions were made for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, by carrying out First Amendment of Constitution in 1951. The provisions were to last for ten years and they took the form of reservation in jobs and educational institutions. The experience of over half a century of reservation in government jobs and educational institutes clearly states that the present system has failed miserably in attaining its objectives. All that has been achieved is creation of a class unto themselves which has blocked the benefits from trickling down to the categories concerned. On the one hand, reservation has hampered the growth of economically weaker sections, who do not belong to Backward category per se. On the other hand, merit has suffered. In spite of having a Dalit President of the country and Chief Ministers of many states from Backward Castes, the lot of these castes hadn’t improved, clearly indicating a flaw in the system. The need of the hour is to review the whole gamut of reservations. If at all reservations are to be provided, the care should be taken that benefits thus provided are not usurped by few and that it should be provided in such a manner that ultimately all are freed from the shackles of reservation. Other powerful tool for fighting backwardness could be education. Free and compulsory quality education should be provided to one and all at both primary and secondary levels. Once India achieves quality universal education, the need for reservation will be on the wane. The reservation is not a panacea for all ills, as it is made out to be, rather it is a folly. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the great visionary, foresaw the pitfalls of reservation. On 27th June, 1961, while addressing the Chief Ministers, he stated: “I dislike any kind of reservations. If we go in for any kind of reservations on communal and caste basis, we will swamp the bright and able people and remain the second rate or third rate. The moment we encourage the second rate, we are lost. This way lies not only folly, but also disaster.” If the problem is viewed objectively, one would come to the inevitable conclusion that an economic problem of ‘uplift and amelioration’ of a vast population, steeped in social, economic and educational backwardness for ages, has deliberately been soiled and stained in uncalled-for puerile polemics and futile fretting and fuming, simply to score points and for settling narrow class/caste interests. In more anguish than anger, one finds the leadership of all colours and combinations lost in the quagmire of petty politics, where every move of the opponent looks like ‘a red rag to a bull’. Real social justice can be ensured by vigorous economic programme for all the backward classes, with the same amount of conviction and commitment with courage, which the country had fought against the evil of a foreign rule. Falling into the trap of convenience, compromise and even collusion for the sake of power, and its use for self-aggrandisement, will lead to further tensions and turmoil. There are no short-cuts to social justice and it cannot be secured by reservations.