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Talk Point: No job quota, but private sector should focus on voluntary action

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Nitish Kumar spoke in favour of 50 per cent job reservation in the private sector on the basis of caste, and called for a debate at the national level. In Bihar, he has introduced a caste-based quota in outsourced jobs, which has been called a ‘backdoor entry’ for private sector reservations. Uday Narayan Choudhary, a JD-U leader, has questioned the legality of private sector reservations.

Is Nitish Kumar’s proposal for caste-based quotas in the private sector a feasible idea?

In response to UPA-I’s private sector quota call, the CII set up an Affirmative Action Council, led by Dr J.J. Irani. The council is now headed by Farhad Forbes, a business tycoon with a large heart and vision. Thanks to visionaries such as Irani and Forbes, about 800 members of India Inc have signed a model code that hints at voluntary implementation of affirmative action for Dalits/Adivasis.

I have worked with CII since 2006 when Irani invited me and academic D. Shyam Babu to assist the CII Council on Affirmative Action.

Should it be a voluntary exercise?

Delhi University has 77 degree colleges, and probably doesn’t have a single Dalit as a principal. The central government has probably two Dalits as secretaries. This is the scenario despite the constitutional mandate. To enforce job quota in private sector is problematic. A voluntary exercise on the part of the India Inc would be fine.

India Inc, however, has always feared that the once Dalits/Adivasis are given preferences, OBCs will follow suit. And who knows, minorities will also ask for it.

Are OBCs a problem area?

The “kisan-occupation OBCs” such as Kurmi, Yadav, Gujjar and their equivalents in the rest of India need to be integrated into the system — bureaucracy, education, professions, and in all sectors. The government, the private sector, PSUs and the nation itself need a creamy layer from within OBCs who can act as a social moderator.

Here are other sharp perspectives on private sector reservation:

Rupa Subramanya: Co-author of Indianomix
Anand Teltumbde: Writer, civil rights activist
Milind Kamble: Founder, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Cynthia Stephen: Social policy analyst on gender and caste issues

But, there is a problem. Historically, OBCs have had contempt for English, and disinterest in urban living. Their love for farm land, cattle, and village society is inestimable. OBCs are problematic because they also spurn modernity. More so, OBCs seek for Dalit-like facilities, but treat Dalits as their prajas.   It is this OBC complexity that frightens India Inc, also liberal the upper castes.

Dalits have associated social reforms with reservations. The OBCs, largely don’t. And thereby, they undermine the moral power of reservation.

Since Nitish is being seen as a villain among a large sections of Dalits, and is also an ethically beaten public figure right now, everything he says might appear bad.

When India Inc is slowly but steadily moving towards integrating Dalit/Adivasis in their workforce chain, why is this man barking private sector quota at this juncture?    

Chandra Bhan Prasad is a Dalit entrepreneur and author

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