Daipayan Halder

“Reservations are an absolute necessity”

Posted in Uncategorized by daipayanhalder on December 17, 2008

Published in DNA, Mumbai, on April 9, 2006

When the Indian Supreme Court upheld 27 per cent reservations for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in all central educational institutions last year, it led to a wave of protests from bourgeoisie students and the corporate world. The media, in a thoroughly misguided gesture, labelled it the “Rang De Basanti” effect, an allusion to the radical film and played up the middle class ideological fears of fall in professional standards. In an interview, Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah argues against the merit bogey.

Do you support reservations?

I do. The Constitution has already been amended for the purpose. The opposition to the decision only exposes the casteist and racist mindset of those who are opposing it. Today or tomorrow, the government had to introduce reservation because that is what the Constitution says.

The IITs and IIMs are successful brands and have gained international recognition. If Mandal replaces merit, wouldn’t their brand equity suffer?

We should close down the IITs and the IIMs as they pander to the upper-caste economy of the country. Those who pass out from these institutes use their technical and managerial skills to earn dollars abroad. Are they using their skill sets to the benefit of the agro-based economy of the country? Tell me, with rising incomes of our B-school graduates are farmer suicide rates coming down? So what is the use of such education if it cannot be put to any use within the country or for the uplift of the majority of the population who live in villages?

But can this not lead to reverse discrimination? There is a lot of resentment for the quota candidates for what is often perceived as an unfair advantage that they have over others?

In the book, The Shape of the River, William G Bowen and Derek Curtis Bok argue for more racial diversity in the US’ student population. Today, because of affirmative action in the US, the entry of coloured people in the education, employment and political systems are being increasingly ensured and has benefited their society. There is no reverse discrimination there. In India, on the other hand, there is no democratic space for the SC, ST and OBCs. This move was long overdue.

But even the US policymakers are not in support of reservation. Can there not be any other form of affirmative action than caste-based reservations in jobs and educational institutions?

Reservation is absolutely essential. But there should also be other forms of affirmative action. Successive governments have failed to implement the constitutional promise of introducing free and compulsory education after independence. There should be mass English language primary schools for Dalits. There should also be reservation in the private sector. We will soon take to the streets to ensure that.

Finally, would the move benefit the OBC students themselves? There are examples galore of quota students dropping out of such schools of excellence as they cannot cope up with the pressure.

This is incorrect. When you say backward caste students are not good enough, you display a casteist bias. When I was the head of the political science department of Osmania University, a Dalit student had secured the highest marks.

Backward caste students are generally discriminated against in these premier institutes. Instead of providing them a leg-up, they are made to feel unwanted. Given a favourable condition and a fair chance, they can do as well as the others.

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