Look beyond quota for Dalits
As we celebrate 125th anniversary of Babsaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, we are reminded afresh that some political leaders have found no better means to perpetuate his memory than extending the scope of the job quota in the private sector. The latest to join the bandwagon is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who last week emphasised on increasing the reservation quota in jobs beyond 50 percent in view of the increasing population of Schedule Castes, and also advocated extending the provision in the private sector.
Pushing his point further Kumar, who was giving a vote of thanks upon receiving K Veeramani award last week, said, “In today’s time of economic liberalisation if reservation is not provided in the private sector then it would be playing a joke with the concept of social justice.” Kumar is the second leader from the state to ram for reservation in private sector. Before him, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had been pushing along similar lines.
Your reporter had mentioned last week in the Notebook that at a seminar on Constitutional Rights versus Human Rights, it was asked why the media went to town with the Nirbhaya case but ignored the rapes of Dalit women on a regular basis in the countryside. The accusation brought against the media was that absence of women and Dalits at decision-making levels contribute to this trend. While there is no dearth of women in the media, even at positions of leadership, there indeed is the absence of Dalits in the right places.
While people may like to blame their absence on bias against Dalits, the fact remains that an industry woefully running short of competent individuals can hardly afford to lose on any good talent irrespective of their social and economic background. In my experience of 25 years, I don’t recall any Dalit aspirant desperate for a job in a media house. They prefer the security of a government job, over the roller-coaster ride in the media industry.
There is another anecdote worth sharing before we come back to analyse Nitish Kumar’s push. A group of students and teachers from Maharaja Agrasen College in the national Capital have undertaken a research project titled – Impact of Reservation Policy on Undergraduate Students since 1991 – A Case Study of Delhi University. The principal investigator of the project comes from a community which enjoys benefits of job quota though he made it to the faculty under General category. In their search for truth, these young researchers decided to check on two friendly faces from the neighbourhood entitled for a job quota – the presswala (laundry-man) and the roadside cobbler. In most of the cases, it was found that the benefit of quota has not accrued to them for past four generations despite the job reservation being in place all this while.
What is it that’s holding the Dalit community back from excelling and grabbing the opportunities which are brought their way? Addressing the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar had warned, “We are entering an era of political equality. But economically and socially we remain a deeply unequal society. Unless we resolve this contradiction, inequality will destroy our democracy.” Job quotas for certain have not been able to resolve this social and economic inequality.
There is a group of Dalit intellectuals and entrepreneurs, who advocate financial empowerment to overcome caste inequalities. Led by prominent writer Chandrabhan Prasad, they say, “Capitalism may have class-based problems but these are radically different from caste-based problems. A caste-based system is a system of humiliation. In capitalism, there is poverty of course but that is universal to everyone regardless of his birth. Anyone who is lazy, who doesn't want to compete, will face the problem of poverty but minus the humiliation.”
There is this Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) of industrialist Milind Kamble, which is working towards achieving the goal of having 100 Dalit billionaires in the country. “Dalit billionaires will lead the charge of emancipation. This would be the beginning of a new era for Dalits, in which with very little education, they can be driving a BMW. Otherwise, they will be doomed to compete for a few government jobs through reservations,” Prasad recently said in a newspaper interview.
This view is, however, countered by the Left of the Centre intellectuals like Professor Gopal Guru, who recently said, “Market reforms can touch the life of a few thousands of Dalits but it simply creates an island of prosperity amongst a sea of penury.” This gives rise to the larger question of why prosperity among Dalits reside on islands and penury is part of the larger land mass.
For leaders like Sanjay Paswan, former Union Minister, such unfortunate situation prevails because of lack of initiative among the Dalit elite to extend a helping hand to the lesser-endowed in their community. Paswan pushes the adage – No More Four. He says such Dalit families, which have availed the benefit of reservation for three generations, should on their own volition withdraw their claim to the provision in the favour of the poorer persons in their own community.
This sounds similar to the Give it Up initiative of the Ministry of Petroleum, which has helped the exchequer reduce expenditure on the subsidies for the LPG cylinders. In the year 2013-14, the subsidies on the LPG had risen to Rs 40000 crore. This has now come down substantially and is being transferred to the beneficiaries in the rural areas. So the need of the hour is not to keep extending the quota net but to create that self-esteem in Dalit elite to make them accommodate their poorer brethren.
(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal.)