Biting more than can chew

Quotas And Queues

By Poonam I Kaushish

Quotas and queues are back on the political platter amidst hectic electioneering in five States. But with a good and bad twist. In Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis in the garb of meting out social justice indulged in one-upmanship, populist bravado and reckless ad hocism by accepting the State Backward Class Commission’s report and decided to give 16% quota in jobs and educational institutes to the Maratha community. Albeit under a new category called ‘Socially and Educationally Backward Class’ (SEBC).
On the flip side, in a milieu whereby India boasts of a distorted female-male sex ratio of 914 girls for 1,000 boys, of 2000 girls being killed daily, neglect of a girl child and of 12 million girls born, one million not seeing their first birthdays, kudos to Odisha for unanimously passing a resolution seeking 33% reservation for women in Legislative Assemblies and Parliament last week.
Taken together, undoubtedly, the Government’s fundamental mission is to uplift the poor, have-nots and women educate and provide them equal opportunities and better quality of life. Yet, experience shows that no amount of legislation has bettered the lot of the poor if a few get jobs and admission in educational institutes or ended gender discrimination.
Reservations by themselves will not transform village society whose social structure is built on an edifice of illiteracy and ignorance which in turn perpetuates an iniquitous caste system. Whatever happens to merit and excellence? Are quotas the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric and harmony? Has anyone assessed whether those provided reservation have gained or continue to loose?
Nor will 33% quota for women wipe out the low female-male ration of 0.93, one of the lowest in the world. Or the preference for boys in fertility decision and the neglect and death of a girl child, gender gaps in literacy etc which has lead the deficit of women in a male-dominated society.
However, one can understand Fadnavis compulsions for granting reservations as the politically dominant Marathas constitute over 30% of the State’s population with minuscule representation in Government and semi-Government services and have been crying hoarse for a quota for a long time. Yet, this could have far reaching implications, not the least for the Other Backward Classes as it would further marginalise them and further strengthen the hold of Marathas in the State’s political landscape.
Besides, BJP detractors dismiss this as an electoral gimmick to divert people’s attention from misgovernance in handling the agrarian crisis, farmers’ demands, unemployment, water shortage etc in last four years as Parliamentary and Assembly elections are around the corner.
But Chief Minister Fadnavis remains unfazed defending the decision as “extra-ordinary and exceptional”, despite the additional 16% reservation taking quotas to 68%. Currently, SC, STs, de-notified tribes, nomadic tribes, special backward category and OBCs together get 52% quotas in the State.
Justifying it by asserting in Tamil Nadu reservation had crossed 50%, and its petition in the Supreme Court was pending. Notwithstanding, the erstwhile Congress-NCP Government’s 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims was stayed by Bombay High Court.
Pertinently, last year Telengana pledged 12% quota for minorities in Government jobs and educational institutions. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BSP’s Mayawati went one step further. Both pitched for Dalits and OBC job reservation in the private sector.
Earlier, Haryana’s BJP Sarkar provided 6% reservation for Jats and four other castes in Government jobs and educational institutions. And another 10% for the five castes in class 3 and 4 Government jobs and learning establishments. Happily, the Rajasthan High Court struck down a similar policy in the State.
Certainly, social justice is a desirable and laudable goal. But it cannot be at the cost of nurturing mediocrity. True, it will be suicidal not to take cognizance of the Marathas new found political aspirations. At the same time, it is equally dangerous to indulge in politics of brinkmanship and political power games based on caste considerations.
Pertinently, there is no place for double standards or Orwellian concept of ‘more equal than others’ in a democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Fundamental Rights provide for equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex. Let’s not fudge or forget this.
According to Odisha Chief Minister Patnaik he has all along hooted for eradicating gender discrimination and the Women’s Bill is the first tentative step towards equality. But one cannot be euphoric as over the years there have been umpteenth attempts to legislate on this and give women equal opportunities.
Remember, ‘her’ story was made when the historic Women Reservation Bill reserving 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies was passed in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010, due to Congress’s Sonia Gandhi stern “walking-her-talk-on-the-Bill. But trust our male chauvinists to play spoil sport all ensured it remained in cold storage. Shockingly, women account for less than 10 per cent of both Houses of Parliament today.
In fact, women participation in electoral politics has remained more or less stagnant in successive Lok Sabhas. It ranges between 19 and 47 MPs: The twelfth Lok Sabha had 43 woman MPs (7.6%), eleventh 40 (7.3%), the ninth 28 (5%), eighth 8% and the sixth had the lowest number of 19 women members, representing barely 3.4% of the House. Also, our record for sending women to Parliament is among the worst in the world. In a list of 135 countries, India stands at a grand 105th position.
Look at the sweet irony. The torch bearers of more and more reservation for OBCs and minorities, our “made in India” trio Mulayam, Laloo and Mayawati lead the anti-women brigade and revel in their crudest best to oppose all talk of reservation for the ‘fair sex’ till such time as their vote banks — OBCs and minorities — are given a quota within this quota. No matter, that their track record of women representation within the existing SC/ST quotas is zilch. And never mind that they are among the worst in gender indicators – maternal mortality, women’s literacy, etc in Bihar and UP.
In a country that ranks 114th among 134 in gender disparities, our leaders need to recognize that inequalities do exist and should be rectified. It is imperative that our leaders create a level-playing field as good governance is not caste or gender-specific. If we want to use our finest resource, we have to start taking our Stree Shakti seriously and treating them like worthwhile investments.
The big challenge now is to take Odisha’s move forward, give a push for empowerment and ensure that the benefits become a reality. On the whole, it is a good idea to have more women than less. But the danger is that gender politics at times leads to a ferocious brand of political Puritanism.
The crucial need is to undergo catharsis — a course in emotive cleansing and in cementing a cohesive society. Undoubtedly, India stands testimony to the fact that power in privilege stands further transformed through electoral competition into power in numbers. One hopes both Bills will not end up as an exercise in competitive, reckless populism at its worst. Our leaders need to recognize that inequalities do exist and should be rectified. In the final crunch: Call truce and provide equal opportunity to all and follow a ‘womb to tomb’ policy of keeping our Stree Dhan happy! —- INFA