The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday stayed reservation for Jats and members of five other communities provided by the Haryana government under a newly carved Backward Classes (C) category. The state government’s decision to implement reservations for the Jat community came after a series of protests earlier this year, which paralysed the State for 10 days. During the protests, one witnessed a complete abdication of administrative responsibility by the state government. Reports of inter-caste violence, arson, loot, extensive damage to both public and private property, murder and heinous rapes had filled news columns.
The situation turned so dire that the Indian Army had to be called in to stem the violence. In the past, this column has often discussed why the Jat demand for reservation is symbolic of a larger malaise afflicting the nation’s delicate socio-economic fabric. The agitation is down to a combination of the reservation policy’s failure to broaden the scope of social justice beyond caste, inadequate job creation under the current economic model in India and a poor higher education system, which creates millions of poorly skilled graduates. Last year, the Supreme Court had rejected the idea of reservations for Jats.
The court said that they are not socially and economically backward, based on the findings of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). The court also laid down new norms for identification of backward classes. It held that “social groups that would be most deserving must necessarily be a matter of continuous evolution”. It went on to argue that the principle of affirmative action under the Constitution obligated the state “to reach out to the most deserving” class, which in today’s context includes the transgender community. Moreover, in the Indra Sawhney versus Union of India– popularly known as the Mandal case –the court ruled in 1992 that reservations cannot exceed 50 percent. Unless the state government can convince the courts to change their position, it could find itself in a tight spot.
Beyond the question of caste-based reservations, it is down to a paucity of jobs and poor standards of education. Various reports indicate that India needs anywhere between 12-23 million jobs annually. But recent figures released by the Labour Bureau indicate that employment in labour-intensive sectors dropped the most in 2015 since 2008. Only 1.35 lakh jobs were created last year, as opposed to 4.9 lakh new jobs in 2014. What’s worse, the final quarter of 2015 also saw the loss of 20,000 jobs. In the last quarter, only the textile sector created jobs, while the IT/BPO sector recorded the sharpest losses in jobs.
At a time when millions join the labor force every year, experts are worried about the implications jobless growth could have on India’s social fabric. Overlooked by the reservation system, economically backward members of dominant caste communities are left behind. The manufacturing sector has been pegged as a savior for greater employment generation. But the Indian manufacturing sector today is highly automated. Thus, a booming manufacturing sector will contribute to higher growth, but not necessarily more jobs. Moreover, one has to be highly skilled to acquire a job in the manufacturing sector.
To acquire these jobs, good quality education is mandatory. But India’s education system has failed miserably in its bid to deliver quality education to India’s young populace. For example, an Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published by the non-profit Pratham Education Foundation in 2014 revealed that only one in four children in Class V could solve a three-digit by one-digit division problem. For those interested, the ASER report has detailed other such findings, painting a dismal picture of the state of education in India. Without the crutch of reservation, many are left behind. Even among those hired, companies often look to cheaper migrant labor.