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Reservations for Muslim Dalits Should Caste-Based Reservations Be Abolished?

Updated: November 26, 2011 11:07 am

One man’s or one party’s need is another’s opportunity. The principal is followed, and in this unprincipled approach is that “Is behati Ganga me hath dho lo” (Wash hands in the flowing Ganges and make the best of the opportunity). Taking a cue from Anna Hazare’s movement, Muslims in UP-led Muslim Reservation Movement (MRM), in which Muslim leaders and clerics are actively involved, have asked all the parties, especially Congress to take up Muslim reservation in the winter session of Parliament. They have served an ultimatum to the Congress government asking for introduction of quota for `dalit’ Muslims if the party wants Muslim votes in 2012 state assembly elections. One was under the impression that Muslims were not divided or accepted caste system, as Mohammad Sahib preached brotherhood amongst all Muslims. It looks as if casteism has creeped into Muslims, which to the best of my knowledge is against the tenets of Islam.

Reservation is a monster which has been expanding, depending upon the political convenience. It was originally to last only for 10 years for SCs/STs. Not only has it lasted for the last 64 years, but has been expanded to pander to various groups and communities, not necessarily to benefit them, but to cater to the needs of the vote bank politics as well. The reasons for the support of reservation politics are broadly as under:

To create vote banks, which advertently or inadvertently lead to the division of the Indian society in the name of caste, religion and gender. The objective is to perpetuate the rule of the ruler forever. Reservation politics is aimed at the communities, which can offer substantial votes in the elections. In the case of Muslims, they are nearly 20 per cent in UP, 28 per cent in Kerala and 31 per cent in Assam and about 22 per cent in Bengal, where they can affect the outcome of elections substantially. In fact reservation in India is not something unique in the world. It is practised all over the world. In the USA they call it an affirmation and in the UK and other countries, they call it a positive discrimination.

Affirmative action in the United States began as a tool to address the persisting inequalities for African Americans in the 1960s. This specific term was first used to describe the US government policy in 1961, in which President Kennedy mandated “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, colour, or national origin”. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson elaborated it by saying:

“Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American…In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope…But freedom is not enough… You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair…”

“Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighbourhood you live in—by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”

He amended the previous executive order specifically mentioning discrimination on account of sex, as well. The UK has also brought about a law favouring positive discrimination, in favour of minorities and deprived sections. Our problem in India, with the reservation, is that the way, the politicians for getting and developing vote banks will keep it going for eternity. In other words, it will never go. The UP Chief Minister has written to the PM for reservation for Muslims. Samajwadi Party in UP wants a separate quota for Muslims and Congress is more than keen to do so for Muslim votes.

There is no end to the reservation policy in India. It is not that we do not want the deprived fellow brethren not to have the benefit of reservation. It is now more than over due to keep economic reasons as the criteria of reservation. Our present reservation policy is caste and religion based. No precise data is available about the beneficial or harmful effects of reservation. I know of some individuals, and the same families, who because of the tag of their caste are the beneficiaries even up to the third generations. Their advantage solely derives from the fact of belonging to a caste.

Reservation, introduced at the time of Independence, was only meant to be a measure for the ultimate goal of development of the most downtrodden sections of the society. The experience of reservation shows that it has led to the further fragmentation and division of society on caste lines, entirely opposite to what was intended.

On November 25, 1949, in the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar said: “…In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.” The membership of any caste whether upper or lower, backwards or forward caste is hereditary or by birth.

The Hindu society may be a caste-based society but the Indian Constitution is not a caste-based constitution. It positively forbids governance on the basis of caste, religion place of birth and language or any one of them. So there is no justification at all to provide or enable reservation on the basis of caste. The Chairman of First Backward Class Commission, Kaka Kalelkar, pleaded that the reservations and other remedies recommended on the basis of caste would not be in the interest of society and country. He opined that the principle of caste should be eschewed altogether. Then alone, he said, would it be possible to help the extremely poor and deserving members of all the communities. When the state does not discriminate admission to educational institutions on the basis of caste, there is no justification at all to provide reservation on the basis of caste which instead of eliminating caste perpetuates it.

The government seems to have entrapped itself in its own web and it is more than overdue to listen to the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who in his letter dated June 27, 1961, wrote: “I have referred above to efficiency and to our getting out of our traditional roots. This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group. The recent meeting we held here, at which the Chief Ministers were present, to consider national integration, laid down that help should be given on economic considerations and not on caste. It is true that we are tied up with certain rules and conventions about helping the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. They deserve help but, even so I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first-class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost.”

The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities of good education. This includes technical education which is becoming more and more important. Will the government heed Nehru and Dr Ambedkar?

By Joginder singh

(The author is former Director, CBI)

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