Reservation and Integration!

What an irony, till date a lot of importance is being accorded to reservation for weaker sections of the country. The weaker sections are defined and recognized not simply by their economic deprivations but more strongly by their castes and also religious identity. Despite this country being recognized as an important developing nation, that has been independent for around seven decades, India still cannot boast of its entire population being at least modestly fed. Nor can it claim to each citizen having a shelter, means of earning, basic educational as well as health facilities and so forth. With a gnawing gap between the facilities that can be prevailed of by the well-off and basic ones of which the poor seem deprived of, one is forced to deliberate on what do claims/promises made by politicians really suggest? How can India be assumed to be actually progressing, when the same claim cannot be made for the majority of the country’s population?

A similar dilemma stands out when the concept of reservation is reflected upon. The idea was initiated, adopted, encouraged and is still being practised to help weaker sections move ahead in life, socially, economically as well as politically. Understandably, reservation of seats for certain sections in schools and colleges for admission and also in the government jobs sector is expected to help them avail of these facilities. There is no denying that from this angle, reservation is being studiously followed particularly for several Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. Yet, tragically, despite being implemented, “reservation” has apparently not helped all the weaker sections gain a stronger foothold in society, at least socially. What else do incidents, in which Dalits have been deliberately targeted, suggest?

This also implies that even if the reservation policy is further expanded and is allowed to continue for decades, prospects of the weaker sections remaining “weak” may not be eroded for quite some time. The explanation is simple. Certainly, reservation does help a percentage of these sections acquire education, jobs and so forth which enables them to move ahead socially, economically and also politically. However, it cannot be ignored that their “higher” status has some importance primarily in their community. That is, among their particular sections, they may be recognized as better off than others of their community members. Their “progress,” however, does not prevent certain sections, particularly of higher castes, from looking down upon them, abusing them, targeting them and so forth. Thus, in essence, they remain socially deprived, discriminated against and also isolated to a considerable extent.

Democratically and socially, the practice of reservation is expected to help the deprived sections progress in life so that they cease being isolated, looked down upon, abused and also targeted. In essence, the practice is assumed to help their being integrated into the Indian society, polity and economy, without the handicaps that they suffer from because of their birth. Yet, political history and prevalence of social malice against the weaker sections only indicates that the so-called reservation concept has barely contributed to their integration with the rest of the society. They still continue to be discriminated against, that too strongly. To date, they are not recognized as members of the Indian society’s mainstream. Till they continue to be isolated and looked down upon, the essential objective of the reservation to uplift their status shall remain unfulfilled. Till reservation does not contribute to their integration in the rest of Indian society, it cannot be viewed as totally effective.

The practice and promotion of reservation only partly contributes to weaker sections’ gain in life. The malice of their deprived and handicapped status does not rest solely on their own selves. Rather, it arises from and remains in force primarily because of the prejudice against them among certain sections belonging to the so-called higher castes. After all, the latter are responsible for looking down upon them, encouraging their isolation, abuse, exploitation and so forth. And till these germs remain active at various levels, the deprived sections shall remain handicapped, at least socially. A key objective of these germs is to basically prevent the integration of the deprived sections into the rest of society.  

Perhaps, some importance needs to be given to taking needed actions against forces indulging in moves to prevent the integration of sections of our population into the Indian mainstream. These may be viewed as anti-national activities, which should be punishable as per dictates of law. Sadly, though discrimination and practises such as untouchability are not permitted by the Indian Constitution, they are still continuing. In rural areas, the practice of keeping separate wells for weaker sections still prevails. And this is just a minor, symbolic example of the prevalent moves directed at preventing their integration into the rest of society.

Irrespective of however loud and forceful be the claims and promises of various politicians directed at gaining votes of underprivileged sections of the society, the hard truth cannot be ignored. Just reservation or more reservation cannot contribute to their integration into the national mainstream!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2016 on page no. 11

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