Thursday, December 06, 2007

After Sixty Years of Reservations, Why This Poverty?

The city is full of people, here for Babasaheb Ambedkar's death anniversary. Looking at them, what strikes one is the abject poverty of my brothers and sisters from the villages outside Bombay. My heart goes out to the man who hesitates at the door of a restaurant, asks the waiter if he would be welcome, before he musters the courage to sit on a chair and order a Pepsi. So touching! I feel like telling him that he is an equal in this great democracy of ours and that he can enter any shop or restaurant and eat or haggle about the prices.

The number published in the papers put the estimated figure at around five-hundred thousand persons. There is an unending stream of them in every station, on the streets, marked by a silence; they only know the reason for. This blogger understands what pressure this would put on the city's services and hope the government has done enough to make the city's guests comfortable.

They trudge with bags on their heads, their sandals dirty, their clothes worn with dirt, gawking at the buildings and at the designer clothes in shops. What struck me immediately was that despite reserving around 49.5 per cent of jobs and seats in professional colleges for the disadvantaged caste in India, a huge percentage of them remain dirt poor.

Let’s go back a bit. The Mandal Commission in its report published in 1980 had estimated that 54 per cent of India’s total population or 3743 different castes and classes, were backward. Therefore, it recommended that the government give an additional reservation of 27 per cent of all governmental jobs, seats in educational institutions and posts in the administration to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes. Together with the existing 22.5 per cent reservations for SC and ST, respectively this would result in a total reservation of 49.5 per cent.

Despite this great concession, why haven’t they, my brothers and sisters, come forward and ended their poverty by aggressively educating themselves and grabbing what posts are available to them, as they have been rightfully given by the constitution? I think in this case their silence speaks. They have not yet been treated as equals by society. In that case, would the higher castes – who have been stung by the government’s policies – ever give them equal status?

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