Thought this way after watching TV channels and reading up newspaper edits on the SC judgment on reservation to OBCs in IITs and IIMs.
The Supreme Court verdict, last week, upholding the validity of the 93rd Constitution amendment and the consequent law to reserve 27 per cent seats in such centres of excellence as the IITs and the IIMs to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has raised a debate. It is still too early to conclude as to whether the concerted attempts to whip up passions would lead and another round of anti-reservation protests or not. But then, it is most likely that the grudge against reservation persists for long and pervades our social life.
The forces of status quo, however, will continue to have a free access to the private engineering, medical and business schools. The Government is still not sure as to whether these institutions must be allowed to carry on with their business without being asked to fall in line with the imperative for social justice. There is, in any case, very little scope for interference, as things stand now, in the aftermath of the apex court judgment in the TMA Pai case. It is another matter as to whether these institutions can be called private at all.
The point is that the exclusivist agenda was carried out by the forces of status quo in the area of school education with such effect and finesse in the past couple of decades. It is simply impossible for those without adequate means to go to such schools, attend coaching classes thereafter and land up in any one of the centres for excellence. This way, the potential for social change through positive discrimination for the OBCs was frustrated.
This was achieved through a two-pronged strategy: Letting the Government run schools drift into a state of dysfunction. And those who went to such schools landed up in the Government run Arts and Science colleges, end up with graduate and post-graduate degrees and competing for petty jobs and struggle to live for the rest of their life.
Meanwhile, another set of schools, with infrastructure needed to equip children land up in the centres for excellence, were set up across the country over the past three decades where only those children with means could study. One does not have to be a genius to realize that only those with reasonable means can afford to send their children to these schools. And if only one looks at things with a sense of honesty, it is clear that a large chunk of those with such means had the privilege to go to good schools and colleges and thus landed in government or public sector jobs. It will also be evident that a majority of that large chunk happen to belong to social groups that are held as Upper Castes.
We do find graduates and post-graduates in various disciplines competing for class-IV jobs in the Government and working as security guards and errand boys in shops in our own neighbourhood. Most of such young men and women happen to be first generation literates and more importantly belong to social groups that are classified as Backward or Other Backward Classes. There may be exceptions to this.
This indeed is why the Supreme Court verdict last week makes a lot of sense. It will ensure that at least 27 out of every 100 students in the IITs and IIMs, from now on, would have gone to schools without adequate infrastructure, studied in ordinary colleges and those who did not go to coaching centres (to prepare the entrance tests) because they could not afford that. They too can now hope to land in jobs that fetch them several lakhs as annual compensation.
The other important issue raised in the debate over the Supreme Court judgment is whether caste alone could be the criteria for determining backwardness. This dispute too, if there was one, was settled by the apex court as long ago as in 1968 and reiterated in the Indira Sawney case in 1993.
In the P.Rajendran Vs. State of Madras (AIR 1968 S.C.1012), the apex court held: ``If the reservation in question had been based only on caste and had not taken into account the social and educational backwardness of castes in question, it would be violative of Article 15(1). But it must not be forgotten that a caste is also a class of citizens and if the caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, reservation can be made in favour of such a caste on the ground that it is socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4)…’’
This indeed was the basis of the Mandal Commission’s identification of the Other Backward Classes. The Commission’s list of OBCs was prepared on the basis of data collated on the basis of a questionnaire containing data on 11 indicators and these involved the social, educational and economic status of the castes.
Castes that were considered backward by others and depended, predominantly, on manual labour for their livelihood and castes where the proportion of women getting married even before they are 17 years of age are at least 25 percentage points higher than the average (of this) in the respective State and where the participation of women in the labour force are 25 per cent lower than the mean in that state were considered socially backward.
As for educational backwardness, the Commission treated those castes from where the literacy rates (among the 5-15 years age) were at least 25 per cent lower than the mean average in the State and where the drop-out rate in the same category was 25 per cent more than the mean average of the State and castes where the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 per cent lower than the mean average in the respective State as Educationally Backward.
For the economic status, the Commission enumerated as backward only those castes where the average value of family assets were at least 25 per cent below the State average, where the families living in kuccha houses were 25 % more than the state average, castes who lived in settlements where the drinking water source was beyond 500 metres for more than 50 % of the households and castes where the number of households having taken consumption loan is at least 25 % above the State average.
The OBCs that are now eligible for positive discrimination in central institutions for higher learning were identified on this basis and belong to those castes that secured at least 11 points in the 22 point scale. The basis for reservation, hence, is not merely the castes described backward in the 1931 census as those opposed to reservation make it appear.
Meanwhile, the social elite and their articulate votaries will continue to grudge reservations as such; it is only natural for them to do so because these seats, until now, were reserved to them because they, by virtue of the caste in which they were born, had the advantage of having been sent to good schools, good colleges and thereafter to these centres of excellence!
The Supreme Court, in fact, had made a pointed reference to this tendency as long ago as in 1971. In the Periakaruppan Vs State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 1971 S.C. 2303), the apex court held that sections of the people will be unable to compete with the advanced groups and hence upheld the need for positive discrimination for the Backward Classes. Of significance here is this observation by the bench: ``Advantages secured due to historical reasons should not be considered as fundamental rights’’.