Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reservation Policy - Does it cater to vote bank politics or levels playing field for economically disadvantaged?

According to the author, Reservation policy is inadequate and does not yield the desired results

Reservations about Reservations!

Ajaz Ahmad (Rising Kashmir)

There is a very poignant story I once read that aptly sums up the irony of the reservation policy.

Eklavya is a character in the Mahabharata – a young man very zealous about learning the art of archery from Dronacharya the guru of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. There is only one hitch though; Eklavya belongs to a low caste. Accordingly as he approaches the guru Dronacharya and asks to be his pupil, the guru refuses saying that it can’t be so because of Eklavya’s low birth. Now this Eklavya turns out to be a mighty determined character and goes on to teach himself to wield the bow to the extent that he achieves mastery in the art of archery.

One day somehow his prowess comes to be noticed by Guru Dronacharya who enquires from him as to who has been his teacher. Eklavya maintains that in fact Dronacharya is his guru and shows him a statue of himself saying that he would always practice in front of this statue of Dronacharya that he has built as a virtual guru for himself. Dronacharya is impressed but worried at the same time by the fact that his pupil-by-proxy looks all set to outshine his royal students. To offset this ‘crisis’ he asks for Eklavya’s thumb as his due as a guru (guru dakhshina) thereby rendering the low born wretch incapable of ever handling a bow and arrow.

This is the story so far as the epic Mahabharata is concerned and a touching story indeed but our story does not end there. The writer of the modern version of this story – a satire – goes on to add that Eklavya went through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth working hard to gain merit in each life cycle so much so that ultimately he is reborn in the present age and finally achieves the highest possible state of existence– that of being born as a high caste Brahmin. He seeks out Dronacharya, who in this age happens to be the principal of a professional college.

Eklavya approaches the great teacher and asks to be admitted under his tutelage now that he has managed a high caste birth. The principal shakes his head sadly and tells him that he could have got into his institution were he from a low caste, his high caste birth in itself being a factor against him!

Indeed this story serves to highlight the restrictions that one’s birth in a particular caste, low or high, puts on his future prospects. The recent controversy about the OBC quota in educational institutes and jobs including the prestigious IIMs has again brought this issue into the limelight at the national level.

Even locally, here in our state, the issue will soon be a topic for bitter debate once again as the results of entrance examinations for various professional colleges will be declared and merit will once again become a casualty of the quotas.

Has reservation policy really fulfilled the objectives that it sought to attain? Does reservation really lead to the uplift of the underprivileged classes? Is reservation about social justice or injustice?

The caste system was not supposed to be rigid to begin with. It was later on that this segregation of people into various classes merely on the basis of the vocations they pursued degenerated into an inflexible categorization of people based on birth. A person whom destiny chose to place in a particular class remained in that class no matter how much he strived to overcome it.

Unfortunately the same rigidity afflicts the reservation policy. A person belonging by virtue of his birth to an unprivileged class might be presently considerably better off than a person from a supposedly privileged class in terms of socioeconomic conditions and education but he continues to milk the disadvantage-converted-to-advantage that his birth has conferred upon him. Thus a policy aimed at providing social justice ended up fostering injustice. Merit became hostage to the accident of being born in a particular class or community.

That the lot of the underprivileged classes remains unchanged even today is itself a pointer towards the failure of the reservation policy. It is because ultimately this policy also favours the privileged, the privileged lot among the unprivileged that is.

A great majority of the people belonging to these classes do not have access to basics like food, medical care and primary education making the provision of job reservations and quotas in higher education irrelevant for them. Reservations are meant for individuals and select families rather than being an equitably distributed advantage for the masses. It ends up creating more classes, a subclass of a privileged few within an unprivileged whole.

That reservations promote inefficiency is evident in itself. Rather than ‘elevating’ an underprivileged person by granting him concessions in the level of efficiency required for a particular position wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to ensure that he is brought up to the level of efficiency required? Now that would be uplift in the real sense! Rather than pull up an individual the present system of quotas and reservations aims at pulling down the system.

What is more, ultimately it is the underprivileged lot which suffers more because of this rigid policy. A person who is born in a family several generations of which have enjoyed the privileges of reservation naturally gets to study in the best of schools and enjoys the best possible facilities in terms of housing, healthcare and education. Now when this same person sets claim to the ‘reserved quota’ another person who belongs to the same underprivileged class or say a backward area and is still underprivileged definitely stands at a disadvantage when pitted against this person.

Thus again this system ended up catering to the elite. It is a fact that most of those who benefit from the reservation policy are the ones who no longer need it!

Half a century of reservations has not changed the glaring fact of a considerable number of people in this country still having to forage for food in the filth of dustbins, or of parents selling their daughters at a price less than that of a cow or that a failed crop means that a farmer has to commit suicide.

This is because the reservation policy is mere patchwork and not a concerted effort at long-term uplift and welfare. Such a policy will however continue to flourish, in spite of its flawed nature, so long as politicians use it as a sop to establish and maintain potential vote banks and of course the privileged few that benefit from it will ensure that it does flourish.

1 comment:

N Mohamed said...

How could you assume Ekkalayva born as a brahmin in the next birth? What justice was offered to Ekkalayva when his thumb was notoriously was taken away for dronacharya? The present reservation policy, even if it is handi-capped, is the justice for the Ekkalayvas..you supressed several communities more than 2000years.. you sat on all top positions by doing mama work to the british.. now you are only healing those wounds...you should heal till your quota gets shrinked to 3% of all jobs and education