Lok Sabha nod to 10% quota for poorer sections: Will reservation help upper castes?
Some 190 million people are expected to benefit from the economically weaker sections quota, the key demographic of upper castes that the ruling BJP is targeting ahead of the 2019 general election.Updated: Jan 09, 2019 12:53 IST
Tuesday began for Sanket Tiwari with news of the government’s proposed quota for people like him. His family WhatsApp group, of which he is one of the administrators, has been buzzing all morning with messages that alternate between congratulatory texts and disparaging comments for “those quotawales” (the other quota people — a reference to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes).
The 23-year-old moved to Delhi a couple of years ago with dreams of getting a government job, but has failed in clearing any competitive examination since. “How could I when everything is always for the reserved guys? I am sure my position was taken by one of them with lower marks,” said the son of a primary school teacher.
Keenly aware that his Brahmin family back in rural Uttar Pradesh is banking on him, Tiwari says he has always opposed reservations and had even participated in an anti-reservation rally in college. But he supports the new 10% quota for economically weaker sections (EWS). Why? “The earlier reservation was caste-based, which are against merit and efficiency. They promote undeserving people who are already rich. But this quota is for people who actually need it.”
Tiwari is of the 190 million-oddpeople who are expected to benefit from the Union cabinet’s EWS quota and the key demographic of upper castes that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is targeting ahead of the 2019 general election. But in doing so, many upper-caste people like Tiwari may have to battle their own years-old anti-reservation stance, which experts say is steeped in casteist attitudes.
Upper-caste opposition to reservation spilled out onto the streets during the protests against the Mandal Commission recommendations for OBC quotas in 1990. Since then, an anti-reservation feeling has been pervasive among the upper castes with any SC/ST person availing of reservation benefits facing a raft of prejudices and biases right from their school years.
“They create the farcical logic of merit, which is constructed to exclude certain people. When we are in an unequal society, when we are starting differently, how can you talk of merit?” asked Vivek Kumar, professor of sociology at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Watch | 10% quota for poor: Here’s who will benefit from it
In a 2016 paper in the Economic and Political Weekly as well, Sukhadeo Thorat, Nitin Tagade and Ajaya Naik argued that there was no basis for prejudice against caste-based quotas and that the “suggestion of replacing caste with economic criteria has no validity”.
Tiwari says everyone in his family has welcomed this quota because it is based on a criterion of poverty, not caste. But a study by Thorat and Attewell in 2010 showed that the two are not unconnected, and that, in fact, the scheduled castes are significantly more poor and disadvantaged.
The study of around 10,000 respondents found that SCs had 67% less chance of receiving calls for an interview than equally qualified upper-caste candidates. SCs also had the highest levels of unemployment across communities.
The government says the EWS quota is aimed at giving jobs to disadvantaged sections. But as a HT analysis showed in August 2018, the reservation pie in government jobs is fast shrinking and share of public sector jobs in organised sector employment has sharply declined since liberalization was introduced in the 1990s.
“At a time when the rate of employment is at an all-time low, this move seems tokenistic. It is important for the government to focus on generating employment for the masses instead of securing reservations for the upper castes,” said Priyanka Samy, a development professional.
India has been roiled over the past decade by demands for quotas by a number of dominant castes, which have political influence, but are fast losing social and economic dominance — such as the Jats and Gujjars in Haryana, Patidars in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra. Experts say these communities are unlikely to be satisfied by the EWS quota.
“If the quota is implemented, it will be appropriated by culturally dominant groups with large cultural or social capital who already dominate the upper echelons of every institution. Groups such as Jats and Gujjars , who have little tradition of education or few civil servants, will be left out again,” said Kumar.
The other problem is that of implementation, which has plagued SC/ST communities. “The implementation of schemes meant for SC/STs is fraught with issues which continue to impede its implementation and access to these marginalised communities. An important question here is how is the Govt doing to address these gaps,” Samy said.
Vinod Patil never went to college and blames the lack of reservation for it. The 38-year-old Maratha man from Aurangabad jumped into the quota protests in 2016 and even filed a petition in the Bombay high court seeking time-bound implementation of the 16% quota granted in November.
“I come from a poor farmer family. Like me, I have seen many frustrated youth from poor background as we all had the urge to study further but we could not,” he said, blaming the lack of education for the joblessness. “While we saw people of other communities, who had the support of quota, progress; they studied, got government jobs, etc,” he said.
Some Maratha leaders have welcomed the 10% EWS reservation, but others aren’t sure if it will benefit them, or if the decision will stand legal scrutiny. “It is a positive step as it will help the Maratha community. We have been demanding quota on economic background since the 1980s, but successive governments did not pay heed to this demand,” said Virendra Shashikant Pawar, coordinator, Maratha Kranti Morcha.
But Nanasaheb Kute Patil, another coordinator of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, said that there was a lack of coordination between the Maharashtra and central governments on the reservation. “Maharashtra government gave 16% reservation, now the Centre has given 10% reservation. I don’t think open category will benefit from this quota for EWS.”
Sagar Savaliya knows his dream is unlikely be fulfilled, and is ready to settle for the next best thing. The civil engineering student from Ahmedabad wants OBC status for Patidars but dislikes the current reservation for SCs/STs, saying it hurts “deserving students”.
“If not OBC, then we are happy with EWS. It will be very helpful for students like me,” he said, but is not sure if the move will hold up in court. “The Gujarat government had also offered 10% EBC quota through an ordinance, which was struck down by the high court.”
“We have now understood that OBC (status) for Patidars will not be possible. We are happy with the EWS reservation but we will believe it only when it passes all the tests,” said Purvin Patel, spokesperson of the Sardar Patel Group, but added that only reservation won’t solve their problems. “First, we need quality education at affordable fees. Jobs come next,” he said.
Images of protesters setting eateries, houses and schools on fire in Haryana pushed the Jat quota agitation into limelight in 2016. More than two years on, the community says the EWS quota will not benefit them as they have already been notified as an OBC, a move the court has stayed.
“We want our separate reservation in OBC and our next protest will happen in February as planned,” said All India Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti national president Yashpal Malik. He felt the Bharatiya Janata Party had not fulfilled its promise of Jat quotas.”This government killed our innocent children and backtracked on all promises multiple times,” he said.
For an agitation that began in 2006, the Rajasthan high court’s 2016 decision to roll back the 5% Gujjar quota came as a blow for the community. Gujjar Aarakshan Sangarh Samiti president Colonel Kirodi Singh Bainsla said giving reservations to the needy should be the aim of the government, but at the same time there must be a review of the whole reservation system.
“It should not be implemented to please people and serve own purposes,” he said. At present, five castes -- the Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Gujjar, Raika/Rebari and Gadaria -- are getting the benefit of reservation under other backward classes and 1% under the Most Backward Classes categories.
Other upper castes
The Samanya Pichra evam Alpasankhyak varg Adhikari Karmachari Sanasthan (SAPAKS), a Madhya Pradesh upper-caste body opposing the SC/ST Act that seeks to protect the marginalised communities, welcomed the EWS quota but demanded that the government also introduce creamy layers in the SC/ST quotas.
“This quota will not solve problems because it will only divide society further. Our solution is that creamy layer of each section should be excluded and then the quota should be 50% of the population and the remaining 50% should be on merit,” said SAPAKS secretary Kedar Singh.
Some Brahmin bodies asked for the quota to be increased to 14%. “If the government’s intention is clear ,then a special parliament session should be called in a day or two and 14% reservation is provided instead of 10%,” said Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha president Suresh Mishra.
Rajput Sabha Bhawan president Giriraj Singh Lotwara said the community welcomed the move as it “opened new gates for reservation system as it is for the economically weaker (sections), therefore people from any caste and community will be there”.
(Inputs by Swapnil Rawal, Hiral Dave, Hardik Anand, Sachin Saini and Punya Priya Mitra)
First Published: Jan 09, 2019 08:24 IST