Editorial: Caught in Quotas

Inspire ambitions for bigger, not nooks and corners

It is never out of season to talk about the near obsessive ambition of communities across the board to get included in some reserved category or the other. We have, in our country, quite a wide range of categories to choose from – there is the ST list, the SC recognition, the OBC, now even MBC, Bihar introduced us to the EBC grouping as well – and one can rest assured that more such segregations will be dreamed up in the coming years. Communities vie to fit in somewhere, speculate to move across to reservation-enjoying groups and seek out more quotas in newer avenues. Why these categorizations and why this keenness for reservations? Given the history that India emerged from in 1947, where caste alienation was extreme and jan-jatis genuinely underprivileged, a policy was required to overcome this legacy of injustice and to provide all in this country with a broad measure of equal opportunities. Since equal opportunities would not have been willingly granted and communities with centuries of oppression behind them could not be expected to benefit from an equal footing standpoint, reservations were eked out. Over the years, reservations were extended to include more communities and even women. The idea was to provide these communities/ genders with the first stepping stone to equality – access. Access to education, to jobs, to positions of power and wider exposure. This target has been met relatively well and as far as access is concerned, a wide swathe has been covered. That said, new elites have emerged within the reserved groups, from those who benefitted first from the ‘quota’ and thus became the more privileged among the disadvantaged. The obvious next step would have been to pull communities which have benefited “enough” out of the reserved categories and make space for those which still lag behind. If not that, at least consider extending the creamy layer segregation to reserved categories which currently have no such differentiation. This, obviously, is easier said than done. For one, there is no easily quantifiable way to decide when a community has developed enough to make it on its own steam sans reservation, and for the other, there is the vote-bank politics in which saner decisions in genuine public good would be political hara-kiri. So, the nation is left with an ever overflowing bouquet of reserved sections and shrinking opportunities. This is where the whole policy has failed. Instead of making people competitive with improved access, it has made them lazier with increased quotas. Little wonder then that more and more communities want to fit into some reserved category or the other. In fact, in the present times, when jobs are rare and competition even for education is tough, it would be foolish of community leaders not to work for a quota for their people. And so the demands keep pouring in. This is not to belittle the aspirations of any community to find a new grouping for itself, but just a suggestion that maybe it is time the country and Sikkim paused to re-read the principles why reservations and special categories were first created, whether its expressed aims are being met, and also whether the people who genuinely require reservations are receiving it or not.