Tag Archives | reservation

Rohith Vemula’s suicide—is it the Rajeev Goswami moment of NDA II?

The recent suicide by a Dalit scholar has all the makings of turning into a powder keg if not handled with seriousness by the government 

The suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula on at the University of Hyderabad may well turn out to be the Rajeev Goswami moment of present Modi government. To understand the issue, there is a need to go back to  an event under the National Front government of VP Singh in May of 1990. Rajeev Goswami was a student of Delhi University when he attempted self immolation as a protest against implementation of Mandal commission recommendations by the government. Though his attempt failed, it succeeded in galvanising a large part of the student community and other sections of the society to protest against affirmative action of the government. The reservation debate in India has been centred around this. The subsequent fall of VP Singh government can be said to have begun with the Goswami incident. To his credit, Rohith has not blamed anyone in his suicide note, but the signs are very obvious as to what led him to take this extreme step.

Modi, who was elected with a thumping majority in 2014 may finally have to do some reality check now. To dismiss this incident as something trivial and not attributable to the administration will be total naiveté. Rohith, along with four other students of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), had been expelled by the university for ‘anti-national’ actions. His fellowship grant had been stopped for the last six months. The trigger for action against him was a scuffle in the campus that he got into with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists on 3rd August, 2015. The reason for the scuffle was a protest by ABVP in Delhi against screening of the documentary film titled Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai. The documentary, which is critical of all the political parties, shows that the riots were engineered by the BJP. This incurred the wrath of ABVP which tried to stop the screenings in other cities by violent protests.

The time has come now even when most diehard optimists and supporters of the present central government will say that enough is enough. Dadri lynching, virulent comments on the social media against activists and civil society members, majoritarian discourse and now this. Unfortunately, each such incident is brushed off as a law and order problem. Reportedly, Bandaru Dattatreya,union minister for labour had asked the university to take action against the students. However, what merited such harsh disciplinary action of expulsion is not yet clear. If universities are autonomous bodies which run on central grants, the fact that a central minister should be so involved does need to be questioned. It is also not clear whether the inquiry that preceded the suspension of Rohith was an impartial one or not. The role of the Vice Chancellor is under a cloud.

By allowing a larger than life role for ABVP and not stopping it, the government is allowing the fringe elements become mainstream—an unintended consequence. Mere cosmetic action of filing of FIR against ministers and the vice-chancellor won’t do. The development narrative of the government is getting derailed by recent happenings. Will this become the trigger for a strong backlash by the Dalits? Will it become the rallying point for the opposition? It has all the makings of becoming one if not handled with seriousness and sensitivity that is required.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Picture credit:Blake Emrys No more hate, licensed from creativecommons.org 

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Constituent assembly debate on reservation

By Apoorva Tadepalli

The concept of reservation, which was discussed in great detail during the Constituent Assembly debates, is much older than the drafting of the Constitution. The Members of the Assembly, along with many of the minority groups that they represented, were wary of the implications of reserving seats in the Legislative Assembly, claiming that it would serve to exacerbate differences that people felt with one another and increase separatist tendencies. They also identified that promoting reservations, ironically, came with a certain degree of exclusion.

There was exclusion of religion. The motion originally did not apply to many Christian, Sikh or other non-Hindu groups. Lower or backward castes of different religions had to institutionalise themselves into the group “Scheduled Castes” just to be able to express that they had been oppressed and needed representation. There was exclusion of lower caste communities that were less populated than others and had less probability of representation. And finally, there was exclusion of poor people of upper castes.

With this, most Members of the Assembly expressed worry that reservation was not the ideal way of achieving true representation. Even Muslim and Sikh Members knew that it would create a series of sub-castes that would further worsen the relations between and within the existing communities, making it difficult to achieve adequate representation. Further, many believed that trusting the elected representatives, even if they were part of majority communities, was a part of democracy.

The Members of the Assembly also believed that a fundamental part of democracy was the changing nature of the public. This comes through in Vallabhai Patel’s certainty that social justice would be seen in democracy’s natural course, without the need for political intervention, which is apparent when he says, “What brought about the abolition of slavery? Was it safeguards granted to them by anyone? No, it was the awakened conscience of the various countries.” As with other social evils worldwide, he believed that caste discrimination would eventually become unacceptable in Indian society.

The Members talked about uplifting the backward classes. But the fact that identifying these people was a point of contention shows the ambiguity of the term. Mahavir Tyagi said, “The term Scheduled Castes is a fiction…there are some castes who are depressed, some castes who are poor, some who are untouchables…How is Dr Ambedkar a member of the Scheduled Castes? Is he illiterate? Is he an untouchable? Is he lacking in anything?…I do not believe in the minorities on community basis, but minorities must exist on economic basis.”

This identified the final goal of reservations, which was and is to provide equal opportunities and representation to everyone, irrespective of social status. As Brajeshwar Prasad said, the Scheduled Castes’ “downtrodden nature is not political, it is cultural and economic and educational.” Clearly this is an economic problem in our country, as shown by Tyagi’s further assertion: that it was not the scheduled castes that needed special provisions “but “cobblers, washermen, and similar classes,” along with farmers, who did not enjoy this very urban provision. Many identified it as an economic problem in our country, including Dr P S Deshmukh, who said, “there are millions of people in our country whose obstacles are in no way different from those of the Scheduled Castes; and I wish to leave room for such people.”

Reservations were finally agreed upon even by those who were uncomfortable with it, because it was initially only supposed to be in place for ten years, and because the reasons expressed for the need for them could not be disputed – it could not be denied that lower castes and minorities had faced appalling atrocities from other communities in their history, and needed justice. However, no distinction was made between social and economic backwardness in the drafting of the articles. It may have just been easier to distinguish the latter from the former because of the significant overlap. It is also important to note that the Poona Pact had already taken place by this point and that reservations in the Assembly had been acknowledged as preferable to separate electorates, which would have been even more dangerous for the notion of equality.

Interestingly, it was also brought up during the debates that the sense of justice with which Indians were judging caste discrimination, was a product of British rule, and that the myriad of communities and their relations had been reduced to the British-introduced majority-minority binary. This binary made the extent of discrimination all the more apparent.

The fact that reserving seats in the Legislature has not eradicated the social evil that is the caste system supports the contention that social evils and economic inequality cannot be solved with political changes. What the Members of the Assembly fundamentally wanted was to provide some form of equality. There are more appropriate ways to achieve the same goals as political representation without the use of political representation. This is particularly desirable in the current context, wherein placements in government enterprises are less valuable than they were fifty years ago. Identifying people on the basis of income level or standard of living, and providing them with education, land, employment or subsidies, as many contemporary programs do, offers more empowerment to individuals than does political representation. Providing backward castes with “functional capabilities”, as Amartya Sen defines them, brings about a more sustainable approach to real progress and equality.

Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution. 

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