Caste through Democracy part-II

Prabin Dhangada Majhi

Even the staunchest supporters of reservation flinch at the question of rich SC/ST students hogging the quota.The following discussion, on a request from fellow blogger Yayavar, assumes we have a similar understanding of the reservation policy which I have outlined previously. So I'll build up on that, and in case we differ, we need to resolve that before we get into the nitty-gritty like this one.

The first question I would ask is, does it-with the rich SC/ST getting in through quota-meet the objective of the reservation policy- a mechanism which ensures adequate representation from all sections of the society in a democracy?

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To understand that, we must field the question if a rich SC/ST can be a representative of her community? In a country, where the poor and the rich grow up in two entirely different worlds with even different water to drink, different air to breath, not to mention the schools they attend, the languages they speak, the dreams they have, some specific set of experiences which leave a sore feeling to say the least, somehow permeate this barrier of wealth. Untouchability is one of them, which in its urban form e.g. denying housing, attempting to downplay achievement, restricting association just to name a few, may not be as unbearable and terrifying as routine caste-atrocities, but it does make a Dalit/Adivasi imagine and realize the scale of oppression their lesser privileged brethren from rural areas undergo. This sense of handicap and loss can be even more in urban and highly affluent neighborhoods where dalits are much less in number and lack a sense of communal belongingness. There can be many more arguments to support, that a Dalit/Adivasi- no matter what her economic standing is, is a better representative of her community, than anyone else. Because this feeling of discrimination, the sense of minority can only be comprehended fully through lived experience.

So filling representation for Dalit/Adivasis with more affluent among them does not flout the objective of reservation.

The question remains: is it fair?

Should we be asking this question when there are thousands of backlogs in govt. Jobs reserved for SC/ST and when hundreds of seats in colleges/universities are transferred to 'general category' every year? Here, the basic requirement of representation is disregarded. The question of fairness is required to be addressed, when there is such intense competition within the reservation category that a section of urban, affluent Dalits/Adivasis always seem to knock their country brothers/sisters down. In that case, introducing another level of positive discrimination to provide higher access to the rural and poor Dalits/Adivasis would be welcome, but not an income celling which will bar many eligible candidates, and flout the objective of this constitutional mechanism. Similarly, Dalit/Adivasi are not a homogenous society in terms of societal standing. Several among us have advanced socially, economically and there are many of us who are still living in the pre-independence life circumstances and hardly connect with our socially, economically well-off brothers. These differences are less on individual achievement and more on the basis of caste/sub-caste and regions. A welcome step would be to give due preference to such disparities within Dalit/Adivasis with, as I said, "positive discrimination" and with a firm commitment to the policy and percentage of reservation/representation.

However, the question of rich SC/ST, a term reserved for Dalits/Adivasis who are really middle/upper-middle class, is rarely asked in connection with the lack of access of dalits of lesser privileges to reservation, but more so vis-a-vis that of a meritorious general category fellow who happens to be poorer than the rich Dalit. She deserves equal opportunity as other general category fellows, and there must be mechanism to ensure that, but she can never represent the Dalit/Adivasi, hence there should not be a comparison. The policy of transferring reserved seats/jobs to general category candidates thus is anti-constitutional and abominable.

( Please read the first part of the article here)

Prabin Dhangada Majhi blogs here. Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar

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