-A Writer's Reflection

The Conundrum of Reservation

In 2003, I was freshly out of high school about to start my undergraduate in pharmacy. I had few months of down time before my college started. Being an active soul, I joined many activities during that vacation. One small event was a debate on reservation. It was a structured debate, with all five participants getting two minutes to put their perspectives and then discussing the issues one by one. The word reservation had always driven the discussion in one direction: the caste based reservation in education and jobs in India. As expected our debate also started in the same direction. However, half way into the debate the moderator clarified with an amused smile that he never mentioned caste based reservation. The topic was simply reservation in India. It could mean caste based reservation, but it could also mean reservation of tickets for a train journey. Even after the clarification, we kept debating about rights and wrongs of caste based reservations.

Five years later, I had a first-hand impact of reservation. I was to travel from Ambala to Ahmedabad for summer vacation and the train had to take a long detour because of an agitation in Rajasthan. Instead of 18 hours, my journey lasted over 30 hours. The agitation was by the Gurjar community asking for reservation. This was the first time I faced anything positive or negative due to reservation.
Now when two more agitations are on, one in Haryana and one in my home state Gujarat, I’m looking back at the two incidents. Many are debating who is responsible for the agitations or who the political beneficiary is. However, the root cause is the imbalance in the society. The broader division of Indian society as lower caste and upper caste is in the center of the problem. The real purpose of the reservation is uplift and welfare of the lower caste so that they can eventually grow to be intellectually and socially closer to the upper caste. After years of reservation we should ask ourselves: “Is the distance between lower castes and upper castes decreased?”

The answer is the distance between two sections of society has in fact been increased. Patidar community in Gujarat is relatively wealthy and upper class. Why are they agitating for reservation? The easy answer, it is a political gimmick. The real answer, they have been feeling discriminated. They have suffered from current system of caste-based reservation. Yes there are political gains, but the issue is real. I am talking about the real issue of social injustice. College admissions in India have been driven by grades. Many upper caste students, including from Patidar community, have seen students with much lower grades getting admissions in the best colleges ahead of them. Many poor upper caste students have seen rich lower caste students paying next to nothing for studies. Above examples only highlight agony in the education system. When OBC reservation was introduced a few years ago, my uncle joked that everyone should change their caste in mass ceremonies to protest. Upper castes asking for reservation is the next best alternative.

On the other side, however, the lower castes have not benefitted from long running reservation system. Removing caste based reservation is not the solution. Caste system and the differences run beyond reservation, job and education. Day to day life, friends, festivals, marriages and lot more is affected by castes. The reservation system must be viewed as a part of the society. The reservation in its current form has not only failed to uplift the lower class, but has widened the gap among the castes and sections. Revamp of the reservation system is much needed, but no one is brave enough to implement. Today it merely stands as a political weapon. The caste differences have been exploited for years and the trend is not any different today.

Let’s put our heads together to find a solution as a society. Currently, scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribe (ST) and other backward class (OBC) not only have reservation in jobs and colleges, but also have financial benefits. In addition, the minimum high school grades required are lower for SC, ST and OBC as well as age restrictions are also relaxed. To start with, financial, grade and age benefits can be removed from reservation. Financial benefits can be provided based on financial condition of the candidate rather than caste. Minimum grade and age range can be similar for everyone. Let’s all help SC, ST and OBC reach the minimum grade level at the same age as upper caste while keeping their reserved position for them only. Let’s remove the differences from both sides. Let’s not discuss who and what. Let’s find the answers to how we reach the goal of equality.
The Conundrum of Reservation The Conundrum of Reservation Reviewed by Mihir on 8:33:00 PM Rating: 5

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