01/10/2019, 15.53
INDIA
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Lenin Raghuvanshi: Quotas for forward castes are a social justice failure

by Lenin Raghuvanshi

The internationally known Dalit activist criticises the bill because it is useless and unrealistic. Forward castes have never suffered discrimination. It would set aside 10 per cent in education and public sector employment.

Varanasi (AsiaNews) – Quotas reserved for forward castes represent a social justice failure in India, argues Lenin Raghuvanshi, a Dalit activist and executive director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi.

For the first time in the history of modern India, the lower house passed a law to protect the "weaker" sections of forward castes, setting aside for them 10 per cent of public sector employment and education.

According to the activist, this is completely wrong, and favours social groups that have never suffered discrimination. For many others, such a bill is meant to gain votes. Raghuvanshi’s thoughts follow.

While there are a number of compelling legal arguments against the Constitution (124th) Amendment Bill that seeks to provide 10 per cent reservation to ‘weaker’ upper castes, no party in the Lok Sabha has come out with a strong political counter [argument]. Some speakers did raise the issue about the timing of the Bill but its social justice credentials were left largely unquestioned.

As the Bill has now been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) could be the only party which will rise to oppose the enactment of quotas for forward castes and expose the move as a policy and political failure.

In a nutshell, the Constitution (124th) Amendment Bill is to social policy what demonetisation was to economic policy. The entire edifice of social justice built on the basis of proportional representation, inclusion and equal opportunities will be in danger of imminent collapse if this Bill passes judicial scrutiny.

The reason why reservations are seen as an integral social policy solution is because they address the historical wrongs in the form of caste-based discriminatory practices. The differential treatment and structural discrimination in society, especially in the realms of education and employment, was on the basis of caste. It is this social problem that needed to be addressed; and it has been done in the past through various constitutional measures to provide reservations on the basis of social and educational backwardness. However, the present Bill aims to provide equal opportunity for economically weaker sections among forward castes. It is akin to using chemotherapy for common cold. Not only is it a wrong diagnosis, it could prove fatal for the overall health itself.

The Bill has two major components. First, it says that the state shall provide “for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clause (4), in addition to the existing reservation”, and second that the extent of reservation would be “subject to a maximum of 10% of the posts in each category”. The Bill, unfortunately, fails the common-sense test on both counts. There is no history of any structural discrimination against economically weaker sections among the forward castes. There have always been obvious impediments to equal opportunity for people who are from economically weaker sections but this is true across castes and religion. As such, the problems faced by the poor are not limited to any one caste or group.

The government has also provided no ostensible reasoning on how they arrived at the magic figure of 10 per cent. We have seen, in the past, that governments have appointed expert committees to study, assess and recommend backwardness and social disabilities among groups, and that has been the scientific and rational basis for extending reservations. The government of Tamil Nadu expanded the scope of reservations on the back of recommendations by the A.N. Sattanathan Commission and the Ambashankar Commission while at the national level the Mandal Commission played a similar role. By not taking a scientific approach, the government has revealed that the present Bill is devoid of any substantive thinking.

Another problematic area of the Bill is the definition of what constitutes economic weakness. The Bill, in the explanation provided under Section 2, says that “economically weaker sections” shall be such as may be notified by the State from time to time.” It is patently unclear whether the state governments will be allowed to issue notifications or if this power has also been wrested by the Centre. Nevertheless, any notification issued is liable to be scrutinised by the judiciary and can be subjected to further contentious deliberations.

In all, the government has shown itself to be politically desperate and crying for a way out of the governance mess it finds itself in. Perhaps, Narendra Modi even expected a face-off on the floor of Parliament but with the majority of political parties on board, he has been denied any chance to claim victory. The Constitution (124th) Amendment Bill, therefore, has turned out to be not just a dud in terms of policy but also politics.

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