RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is to speak for an hour and then field questions from foreign media personnel. | Photo: PTI
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat | Photo: PTI file
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Last week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat once again kicked a storm by calling for a ‘debate’ on the issue of reservation. In 2015, Bhagwat had asked for a review of the system that grants reservation in government jobs and education to Dalits, tribals and other backward classes. The only difference this time was his attempt to disguise his intention by asking for the dialogue to be held “in a harmonious atmosphere” – those in favour and against caste-based quota should hear each other out.

Those opposed to reservation often make similar demands and call for an end to caste-based reservation. They repeat the same myths that the proponents of the policy have busted over the years, highlighting why reservation for Dalits, tribals and other backward classes (OBCs) must continue – historical systemic injustices, social discrimination, daily atrocities over caste, and lack of representation in education and employment. Even the Supreme Court of India has started demolishing these myths.

Yet there is one point that both sides regularly miss: Reservation provided to marginalised social groups is India’s soft power in the global community.


Also read: Until 2016, India was on course to break into soft power group of 30 nations. Then it fell


India’s affirmative action a model for others

Reservations or the quotas are India’s model of affirmative action policies. In the contemporary global discourse on rights framework, where affirmative action is considered as an “international human rights dialogue”, India’s model of affirmative action, entrenched into its Constitution since 1950, is considered to be the world’s oldest. The discourse on affirmative action in the United States came in the 1960s and in South Africa in the 1990s. As other nations engaged with similar affirmative action policies, targeted at groups that have historically been oppressed in their nations, policymakers and scholars have often looked to India for lessons.

The positive impact of India’s constitutional model has been recognised by the popular judge of the US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the following words: “India … has undertaken affirmative action initiatives in regard to disfavored castes that are both older and more extensive than any program ventured in the United States”. She refers to reservations provided to marginalised social groups as Indian Constitution’s bold announcement of “a commitment to affirmative action”.

In this background, Justice Ginsburg calls for a comparative analysis for interpreting the US Constitution: “In the area of human rights, experience in one nation or region may inspire or inform other nations or regions… We are the losers if we neglect what others can tell us about endeavors to eradicate bias against women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups”.


Also read: Subramanian Swamy was right. Modi’s lateral entry plan will make reservations irrelevant


Taking pride in quota

Reservations have also made the world’s largest democracy inclusive. While the world’s oldest democracy, the US, is still facing the challenges of equal voting rights and a possible dilution of votes of racial minorities, India’s political reservation ensures that Dalits and tribals, who constitute more than 250 million of the country’s population, are duly represented in Parliament and state assemblies. This has strengthened India’s democratic credentials before the world.

American journalist Kenneth Cooper once wrote that the United States can learn from younger democracies such as that of India, when it comes to making amends for historical injustices. Cooper argued the founders of Indian democracy made a lasting commitment to social equality.

Moreover, in order to push for structural reforms in other countries, the Indian State has itself officially taken pride over its affirmative action programme before the global community. Representing India at the ‘World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance’ in 2001, Omar Abdullah (then-minister of state for external affairs in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government) had said: “The Constitution pioneered affirmative action programmes for … the uplift of the members of the historically disadvantaged castes. We are proud of the positive difference these measures have made… We are determined to continue this national endeavour”. He had added: “The Conference should also encourage countries to introduce affirmative action in respect of disadvantaged segments of their populations.”


Also read: Supreme Court just destroyed the ‘merit’ argument upper castes use to oppose reservations


Caste, not quota, needs to go

However, it must be noted that while efforts, through affirmative action, have been made to bring Dalits and tribals into the mainstream, a simultaneous dilution of these attempts continue to take place in the form of everyday discrimination and through incidents of atrocities against members of these communities.

Barack Obama, the US’ first African-American president, had once remarked in an interview, “You have countries like India that have tried to help untouchables, with essentially affirmative-action programs, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the structure of their societies”.

Nearly all discussions, or calls for one, invariably end up on the issue of reservation. What must be discussed instead is why this structure of social discrimination against Dalits and tribals still exist in India in the 21st century and how it can be destroyed.

For India to become a guiding light of justice for the world, its citizens must start working towards building fraternity and demolishing prejudices and discrimination against the marginalised communities.

As for reservations, it is time our leaders and diplomats began to openly flaunt our constitutionally guaranteed system just the same way that yoga, Gandhi, Buddha, Bollywood, and the country’s diverse democracy are projected as India’s soft power abroad. Those who oppose reservation policies or want to review them must understand the same.

The author is LLM’19 postgraduate from Harvard Law School. Views are personal.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. There exist a section of people, who delude themselves into believing that artificial barriers like caste can be removed by ignoring it, heaven & hell are delusions, because they are widespread in their adoption, decrease s their effectivemess.Exploiting the lower castes in the name of religion and god was the easier part, reversing the damage will be hard work requiring extreme pain .This is what most upper castrs are going through. To put in financial terms the forefathers borrowed too much on counterfeit collateral and now the heirs are going to court.

  2. These protectective discrimination provisions after 69 years WEF 26.1.1950 must be withdrawn immediately and separate enabling provisions for their social and educational awakening other than reservations policies may be thought of.The meritorious unreserved classes have been tortured in
    school /Colleges admission quata politics /appointment/promotion and even in payment of fees of their children in educational and professional institutions..…

    These have been creating hatred elements against the existing reservation policies and systems and subsystems. Please Save TQM in India and Indian persons .

  3. Reservation is the constitutional representation given to the underprivileged sections. This representation should only end with the end of caste system. Caste system antithetical to equal representation. It is itself devoid of merit. Under caste system merits are born and not made. Birth receives primacy over hard work. If Brahmins continues to exercise reservation in temples and wears a sacred thread as twice born than it a sign and evidence of the existence of caste. If reservation is antithetical to merit, how many Brahmins before the inception of reservation in 1950 have won noble prizes or has done scientific innovation for humanity? In private universities there is no reservation, how meritorious they are? What is there international standing? The answer is none. Opposing reservation on the basis of merit is a mark of castiest venom. By removing reservation the opponents want to produce Eklayvas without any entitlements. Moreover, the whole discussion on reservation is futile as it has also been extended on the economic basis. Upper caste poors is also seeking benefits of reservation. Hence, RSS should take a foot backward on reservation.

  4. The lies and falsehood of “marginalised”. Go to Tamil Nadu. More than 95% of population which has captured 99% of state jobs is called “weak, backward and marginalised”. Now the entire media is infiltrated by anti-social casteist mafia elements who want supremacist protection under the guise of another nonsensical concept called “SOCIAL JUSTICE”. This entire concept of quota is based on lies and falsehood of “centuries of oppression”.

  5. What utter nonsense! Soft power is not a sacrifice of merit at the altar of reservations for Yadavs, Rajputs, Marathas, Nairs, Reddys and Naidus! Simply quotuing some US judges does not make indiscriminate reservations a virtue, but a madness!. Something being called “bold” is only a back-handed complement!

  6. Caste based reservation is what keeps India divided. It is not something to be proud of. The fact that castes exist in the 21st century is itself a shame on the nation. The only way to end caste system is to remove caste based reservation. Affirmative action is definitely required in each community to help those who are disadvantaged. However, at the same time we need to move away from the caste system which is a social evil. This cannot be achieved if every interaction with the government is tagged to caste and one is required to declare’caste’ for availing any benefit from the government. The system needs to change in favour of identifying the socio economic challenges that the individuals face, such as – type of school public or private, location of school urban or rural, medium of education English or vernacular, occupation of parents, education level of parents etc. Then we need to give appropriate credit for overcoming these challenges and come up with a revised score after considering marks in any qualifying exam. This will ensure disadvantaged children/people can become at par with those who are from a better background. Thereafter all admissions / jobs should be merit based. This will ensure that those genuinely disadvantaged get adequate opportunity and the focus moves away from caste.

  7. Yes, reservations have helped the historically downtrodden communities but I would like to pose the following questions to the author [again another US educated & probably lives there]:-
    1] How many of these reservations are devoid of scholarly merit? Does the author know that there are many medical seats taken up by candidates who have failed in the qualifying exams and continue to use the caste discrimination card to gain leniency even after entering a tough professional stream?
    2] How many of these reservation benefitted candidates actually live in India and give back to the country?
    3] How many of these reservation candidates go back to their own communities and try to improve them and provide services to them even after becoming millionaires? Is the author aware that many of these people change religion in exchange for incentives from other religions and participate actively in proselytising and evangelical activities but do nothing from their own time and money to benefit their own communities? A prime example is alcoholism among dalits. I have worked as a physician and have noted that even the pastors and priests themselves are alcoholics as well as corrupt. They get their medical care in the USA but in India, they behave as brokers to supply patients to corporate hospitals for political purposes. You can take the example of the YSR family in Andhra Pradesh.[Although they themselves do not benefit from reservation]
    4] What is wrong with replacing a caste based reservation system devoid of merit with a economic status reservation system based on merit? Isn’t that one way of eliminating the caste system and homogenising the Indian population?
    5] There is a basic human psychological factor behind asking to remove caste based reservation. There are many castes in India which are Shudras and have never participated in the age old tradition backed discrimination. Many of these castes improved their own lot by hard work, education, fearlessness, entrepreneurship and support their respective community members. Even this support to their own community members is predominantly based on merit rather than caste. Any person from any caste always admires and appreciates the rise of any person based on merit and would happily allow him to have reservation benefits i.e based on economic help but when it is based merely on caste and not merit, the only resulting emotion is jealousy and anger. These emotions will continue perpetuating the caste discrimination cycle.
    6] Even Ambedkar knew this. He is a far more educated lawyer than the author here but this author seems to have neglected considering Ambedkar”s own warnings. By keeping caste based reservations beyond a particular time, you end up inverting the caste discrimination pyramid resulting in more animosity, not less. As a result, more and more castes will participate in caste & identity politics and would want a pie of the reservation.
    7] In addition, many castes mentioned today did not exist in ancient Hindu literature. They are more of professional guilds or regional associations rather than actual Varna based castes. Examples include Punjabis, Sindhis, Bunts etc.
    8] It is a huge misconception that Suvarna castes do not discriminate against one another and other Shudra castes [unreserved]. Non-secular Brahmins do not consider secular Brahmins equal to them. For example, the recently expired Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi peetham refuses to mention the name of Swami Vivekananda because he is a Kayastha [who are secular Brahmins]. Similarly, Brahmins & Vaishyas do discriminate against Reddy, Kamma, Lingayat etc all over the country. These castes are Shudra but do not have reservations.. They are also examples of castes who have improved their lot of their own free will & hard work through several generations and merit basis without asking for quick fixes from others.
    9] RBG & Obama might have paid compliments to this system but how complete do you think is their knowledge about ground reality in India? In addition, they come from an affirmative action system which is purely based on merit and hence, no one can doubt their intellect and that is how they achieved their greatness similar to the Shudra unreserved castes.

    My final suggestion to the PRINT. Please do not put up these lazy articles by ABCD and degrade journalism in India. If you have a qualified journalist with subject matter expertise and can write a holistic article looking in from all aspects, please do so and ask the journalist to take responsibility for what they have written. Saying the article is the personal opinion of the author is absolutely idiotic. I myself have personal opinions and I am far more qualified to write such articles. I do not know why you call this journalism. Since when did journalism become all about personal opinions. Personal opinioins are something exchanged in daily life. We are not interested in personal opinions of an NRI about India. When are you going to get to the journalism part?
    Why should anyone subscribe or donate money to your organisation when you call yourself a journalistic enterprises but most of your articles are not journalistic or even basic scientific endeavours?

    • Stop avoid the main issue, the elephant in the room, the issue of India’ is 155 million Muslims.
      If this discrimination against our largest minority continues they will be another Pakistan.
      700,000 troops to keep down the Kashmiri. Does India have 20 million soldiers to keep, down the 155 million Muslims.
      This business communalism and spreading of poison stop and we must all learn to live together in this great country of ours.
      Jai hind

      • You imply that likes of Khans in Bollywood, Premji in business are discriminated?? There is a poor population of Muslims and they are given reservations in OBC category. There can’t not be any reservation in the name of religion since India is a secular country! This is what Jinnah was asking and those Muslims who chose to stay in India accepted Indian principles. And if you’re dreaming that there will be another Pakistan then you can’t be more wrong!! Neither most of the Indian Muslims don’t think like you nor other people will sit quiet and repeat the mistakes of 1947…

  8. ITS ABOUT TIME RESERVATION WAS GIVEN TO MUSLIMS
    THIS IS A GROUP DISCRIMINATED AGAINST AT PAR WITH HARIJANS SINCE PARTITION.
    THERE ARE 165 MILLION INDIAN MUSLIMS A HUGE POPULATION
    BUT ONLY A MINUSCULE NUMBER IN POLICE, ARMY AND GOVERNMENT JOBS.
    INDIA CAN ONLY PROSPER IF DISCRIMINATION ENDS AGAINST ITS MINORITIES.

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