Uplift the underprivileged but don’t kill the merit
Enhancing the number of reserved seats in MBBS for EWS has again brought the reservation policy into focus. Though the deprived sections should get equal chance to prosper but should it be at the cost of meritorious ones?
The new matrix of MBBS seats in the UT has invoked sharp criticism, and even protests by the Open Merit (OM) seat aspirants, who are accusing the administration of robbing at least 30 seats from the OM category to increase Economically Weak Section (EWS) seats further.
The J&K Board of Professional Entrance Examinations (J&K BOPEE) issued a fresh matrix of MBBS seats in medical colleges of the UT on February 21, enhancing the total seats for the EWS category up to ten percent. The rearrangement has eventually reduced the seats from the OM, which has annoyed the aspirants.
It is pertinent to mention that out of the total 1085 MMBS seats from as many as eight Government Medical Colleges and a private Medical College of the UT; only 423 seats are for OM candidates. To be more precise, 42 percent of seats are unreserved, and the rest of the seats are given to the aspirants from various catagories – Scheduled Caste 8%; Scheduled Tribes 10%; Other Social Castes (OSCs) 4%; International Border/Along Line of Control 4%; Residents of Backward Areas (RBA) 10%; Paharis 4%; Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) 10%; Defence/Paramilitary/Police 2% and; Sports 1%.
Pertinently, the reservation system in J&K was earlier derived by the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004, which was replaced by the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, after the revocation of Article 730, and 35A in August 2019. The Reservation Ordinance has included the people living in areas adjoining to the International Border (IB) into the socially and educationally backward classes.
Since the reservation system has always been a matter of debate in J&K, the fresh matrix of MBBS seats has intensified the debate. The critics say that despite the purpose of the reservations being a noble one, it mostly ends up killing the merit not only in the professional institutions but elsewhere as well; thus, it needs to be reformed to ensure justice to all.
To grasp more information and knowledge about the issue; to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the reservation system; to look into the prospect of its reforms; KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts and the concerned people.
Here are the excerpts
The provisions contained in Articles 15, 16, and 335 of the Constitution of India, govern reservation about the appointment in public services.
Over the years, courts, through their various judgments, have paved the way for smooth application of these provisions. The court judgements also removed doubts and anomalies, which arose from time to time in the implementation of reservation.
There is no doubt that the courts have upheld the constitutional validity of the Reservation, over the years; but I feel that these provisions have not achieved the desired results due to various reasons.
The reservation policy was basically made for the benefit of particular classes. But with time, it has acted adversely. It has been observed that the benefits of reservations are being availed only by those who have got resources to avail the benefits. Mostly, the people from the creamy layer, such as children of educated and well-to-do parents belonging to the socially and economically backward classes manage to get the benefits under the reservation rules. Seeing this, the courts laid down the ‘Creamy Layer’ principle, but it appears that even the purpose behind the principle has not been taken note of and not implemented at all.
The courts have said that the reservation is required for transcending the caste, not perpetuating the caste. Reservation is to be used in a limited sense; otherwise, it will perpetuate casteism in the country. Also, it is being felt that reservation would divide society on caste lines which may create complex problems and lead to social unrest.
The reservation was for socially and educationally backward classes in terms of their economic condition and occupation. The object of reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is to bring them into the mainstream of national life, while the objective in respect of the backward classes is to remove their social and educational handicaps. But we find that under the garb of these grounds, the reservation gets extended to persons belonging to a particular caste though there is no provision for reservation on the ground of a caste. There is no provision for making reservations based on caste.
Furthermore, it is also felt that reservation serves the interests of politicians as they use it for their vote bank politics. There are also reports that fake certificates are being made and fake claims made to get the benefits. With the reservation, merit becomes the causality as meritorious and talented boys and girls get deprived of their due rights.
The idea of “reservations”, or what has elsewhere been called “affirmative action”, is based on the acknowledgement that certain segments of society are discriminated against because of their demographic size, economic disadvantage, social status, religion or caste or, simply, bigotry.It was meant and envisioned to give these sections of society access to a slew of state privileges such as education, jobs, income equity, civic services and so forth.
The idea of reservations was not meant to be at the cost of merit per se, although it did provide the economically disadvantaged, socially downtrodden and otherwise deprived with additional benefits to ensure speedier socio-economic ‘progress’ for them. At times, advantages to individuals can translate into benefits for a collective; that, precisely, would be the thinking behind the idea. So, reservations are not meant to devalue merit or even to “represent” any segment of society. They were instituted to give access to individuals or even groups of individuals so that they had a fair chance of succeeding.
The link between “reservations” for the purposes of access and political “representation” in politics, therefore, is a completely unintended, invalid and false one. However, political parties have weaponized this as a tool for electoral gains; so more and more it has translated into the political right of a community rather than access to benefits for individuals as a duty of the state towards disadvantaged citizens. Its shrill use towards electoral gain has translated into deep rivalries between religions, castes and even political parties. In the case of the J&K, the clever use of this in the so-called “delimitation” exercise is a prime example of how the practice of “reservations” has devolved into an exclusively political tool rather than a socio-economic institution.
First of all, let me tell you that the concept of reservation is not found only in India. It exists in many countries, in different forms though. Everywhere, the main purpose of this concept is to develop an integrated society. In India, the reservation system has helped to keep the country integrated.
In Pakistan, reservations are given on the basis of regions, since the country has learned the lesson from its splitting up into two in 1971. After the country attained independence, Punjabis had dominated all the positions in the political landscape, and even in its Army. Punjabis refused to give equal rights to the Bengalis, and eventually, they ended up with partition. Since then the leftover part called Pakistan has started giving reservations on the basis of regions.
As far as J&K is concerned, I think the reservation system is ensuring justice to all. For instance, the Gujjar community including the Gaddis and Sippis constitute 15 percent of the total population. To ensure they get their due right, reservation is the only option. It ensures that if there are 100 posts to be filled, 15 of them must be from this community.
We must understand the fact the reservation is not a charity; it is rather a right to the concerned community.
Having said that, let me also tell you that the core purpose of the reservation to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) is to get these communities out of the caste stigma. The backwardness and economic factors are secondary in terms of the purpose of the reservations to the SC and ST. Unfortunately, some anti-reservation forces always try to link up the reservation with the economic status of some people from these communities. They refer to creamy layer and elite to oppose the reservations to SC and ST. They do so to suppress the employment opportunities to the tribal.
The reservation system is the only hope to ensure equality and justice for all the people of UT. Otherwise, there is huge inequality and disparity among the people because of the different geographical locations. How a student from Karnah can be equal to a student from Srinagar? The former is deprived and the latter is privileged. The people in Srinagar have seen the electricity since 1907 when the first power station was established here; we in Karnah saw the electricity in our homes for the first time in 2014. You people have started using mobile phone facilities more than 20 years ago, and we had the same facility just a couple of years ago. How can we be equals? How can a student from Karnah compete with a student from Srinagar? I have done masters in History, but still don’t consider myself equal to a student from Srinagar or other towns of the Valley because we are living in a disadvantageous place.
Furthermore, People in Karnah remain delinked with the rest of the world for at least two-three months in harsh winter (until a few years ago our area would remain cut off from the rest of the world for six months). We are at a disadvantageous position in terms of our geographical location. We are considered backward. We are mostly ignored and economically weak, and the reservation is the only way out to ensure our growth in the various fields of society. Therefore, let the reservations system be there to offer some advantages to the disadvantaged.
I have always been of the opinion that giving reservations is not a correct way to uplift the poor, neglected and downtrodden communities and classes of society. My considered opinion is that reservation creates divisions in society. Reservation is the biggest hurdle in developing a society based on equality.
That said, I do not say that nothing needs to be done to uplift the marginalized communities and people. We ought to do that; but not at the cost of merit. We need a strong mechanism and result-oriented policies, which will ensure poor and unprivileged, across-the-board, are uplifted and educated. This is the only way to develop a society based on equality and justice. Reservation has failed to yield this result so far, thus it needs reformation. In some cases, we see undeserving people placed on important posts, and eventually, they are unable to do justice to their responsibilities.
Also, we have an ample number of examples wherein we see some people attained disproportionate success due to the reservation policies over the years. Now, they have become wealthy; they have attained huge properties; they live in luxurious houses in posh colonies; they are delinked with their ancestral locations; and yet their children and grandchildren, who have studied in elite schools, are reaping the benefits of reservation. This is total injustice; and mockery of the reservation system. This is murdering the merit.
Contrary, in some cases, we see people who are not eligible for the reservations are actually deprived of even the basic facilities of life and grappling with poverty. For instance, in the Mandi area of Poonch, most of the villagers are living below the poverty line. But 70 percent of them are Kashmiri speaking – ineligible to the reservations. Now, hoping they will get some benefits of reservation, they claim being Paharis.
I strongly believe that we need new policies based on logic and sincerity to ensure that the unprivileged are uplifted. But I fear that most of the politicians will not allow this because reservations fetch electoral gains to many of them.
Given the caste-based society in India, B. R. Ambedkar fought for the reservation system to ensure equal opportunities for all in the country. He himself was a Dalit, and thus knew the harsh realities on the ground. He desperately wanted the end of untouchability in the country and hoped the reservation system will help in this regard. But nearly 75 years down the line, untouchability and caste system still exist in the country and a large chunk of the population is discriminated against and refused equal rights. This is mostly because of the poll politics of the country.
In the case of J&K, we do not have an untouchability issue here but we have some ethnic communities that have a social stigma attached to them. Thus, it was decided to give reservations to SC, ST, and some other categories to uplift those who are in a disadvantageous position. Sadly, like in the rest of the country, the reservation system has failed to bridge the social gaps in J&K too.
In my opinion, reservation must be given only on the basis of economic disparity, so that the weaker classes irrespective of caste, creed, and region get a chance to prosper. I say this because I believe the purpose of the reservations is not fulfilled even after so many decades.
Look at the interior areas of Srinagar’s downtown. You will find lakhs of people living in pathetic conditions. They live in obsolete houses in narrow and dark lanes. Every house, without basic amenities and even sanitary toilets, holds multiple families in them, and yet, these inhabitants are not entitled to any reservation. On the contrary, you will find many villages that are falling in the definitions of ‘backward’ areas as per the Reservation Act, are in a much better state.
I can give you a number of examples wherein villages that were earlier backward because of the lack of basic facilities have progressed a lot. The inhabitants of these villages are now affluent but the local politicians, for their electoral gains, are ensuring these villages remain in the category of reserved.
Furthermore, I have observed that a huge percentage of merit gets murdered just because of the reservation system. At least, important positions — like of a doctor, a judge, an engineer, and so on — should not be filled compromising merit and talent. Only meritorious candidates whether they belong to the reserved or unreserved categories should be placed on important posts wherein human lives are at stake.
Last but not least, I am afraid that ours will turn into a society of concession seekers if the reservation system continues. I am not against uplifting the underprivileged people and localities, but we need a reformed system because the present system of reservations has failed to attain the desired results. Since the matter falls in the Concurrent list, the UT administration has enough powers to reform the reservation system and bring a better system in place.
The reservation policy, in its essence, is a tool for the social inclusion of the excluded communities. After the independence of India, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar fought for the reservations for marginalized communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, and so on.
In the case of Kashmir, we do not have Dalits and Adivasis here; but we have some ethnic communities —12 mentioned in the constitution of India. We have a dominant identity that is Kashmiri.
Since the reservation was meant for the inclusion of excluded communities; a question must be asked, whether the reservation policy really has helped mainstreaming the marginalized communities or not? If you ask me, I would say, No. These communities are still socially excluded. On one hand, the reservation policy has succeeded economic empowerment of Gujjars and Bakarwals to some extent, but, on the other hand, they are still socially excluded communities. We can say that the basic principle of reservations has not been fulfilled, even after more than seventy years. The reservation has failed to discord and erode the concepts of marginality of these marginal people.
Now coming to another aspect of the issue, I must tell you that some people from these tribal communities, who have grown as well off, are continuously reaping the economic benefits of the reservation policy, and the masses from these communities are still grappling with acute poverty and deprivation.
The same is true for other tribal communities and tribal areas. Unfortunately, the dominant majority of these communities are unable to avail the benefits of the reservation because they face serious deprivation within the community. In Gujjars, for example, you will find Choudhary, a particular cast, who are continuously reaping the benefits of the reservation policy for decades. The rest of the Gujjars are still doing their traditional jobs like pasturing, and cattle raising for their living.
During four years of my research in places like Gurez, Tangdhar, Teetwal, Karnah, Uri, Poonch, Kargil, I have found the majority of these people still living in two or three rooms on the first floor of their mud houses, and ground floors are occupied by their cattle. Their kids are out of school. That means even the next generation has the least chance to get the benefits of the reservation policies.
I would suggest the government must focus on the education of the new generations of marginalized communities. Once they are educated, they will attain economically well-off status. Then there will be no need for reservations.
Ironically, in some cases, people after attaining high life standards due to the reservations are still getting the benefits of the reservations. In my area (Bandipora), Shina people, who are eligible for reservations, have already attained a high standard of life. They live in four-storied houses, own luxury cars, but they still reap the benefits of the reservation policy. While as in the same area, there are many non-tribal people who are deprived of even basic facilities of life. There must be some checks and balances. Once a particular community or a group of people from a particular community attains a particular degree of life standard, the reservation to them should be stopped there and then. The continuous benefits to a particular class or community or a family create hierarchies within the tribal, which eventually makes things more complex for the overall tribal community.
To conclude, I would suggest that there should be periodical, even annual reviews to ensure only those who are really marginalized get the benefits of the reservation.