Dalits are traditionally lower caste people who are regarded as “untouchable,” and are discriminated against socially, economically and politically. Dalits have been pushed around and dominated and exploited at every point in their life. Thus, their status needs to be uplifted. For this we need certain strict measures to uplift them through sanctions by law, which give them a chance to avail facilities like reservation in employment and education.
The paper draws attention to what extent the deprived communities in general and certain groups or individuals among them in particular taken advantage of the legal provisions and improved their condition and what are the consequences on the deprived communities, in regard to their unity and common identity. It also explains the present sociopolitical system in this deprived community.
Traditionally, India has always followed a strict caste system. The society was sub divided into four categories based on their occupation and function in the society. The functions of each caste determined the power and status they would enjoy in the society. The Brahmins formed the upper caste and were involved in all the religious activities, whereas the sudhras formed the lower caste people who constituted workers and slaves for the rich Brahmins. Below the sudhras, there were a set of people and community who were considered to be “Untouchables”. With the passage of time, India as a country developed in all aspect. However the social fabric of the country underwent little change and hence the caste system remained intact.
In pre independence era we had eminent personalities like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi who fought for the rights of these socially backward people. Post Independence, the Constitution of India abolished ‘untouchability’ and declared it illegal. This gave a new impetus to the existing movement for dalit empowerment and led to the mergence of two different approaches. The first approach was advocated by Gandhi who believed that the caste system should be preserved, however the social stigma and exploitation of the lower class shall not exist. The second approach advocated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar believed that caste system is the root cause for the pathetic state of the lower classes and the way to uplift these people is to put an end to the caste system. Ultimately, after much contemplation Gandhi’s approach was accepted. Hence steps were taken to empower the socially backward classes by giving them incentives in the form of reservations.
CONCEPT OF RESERVATION
Reservation as a concept was legally adopted in India by the Pune pact of 1934 which aimed at eradicating the historical socio-economic atrocities and empowers the socially backward classes. At that time Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar had agreed to provide reservations to the backward classes in jobs and educational institutions. The spirit of the pact was captured in the Indian Constitution and reservation was provided for the socially backward or so called Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and other backward classes(OBC).The reservation policy that was adopted after independence had three aspects i.e. reservation in legislatures, in educational institutions, in government jobs and public sector. This reservation would be in proportion to the percentage population of the various socially backward classes. Also, a National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was created to investigate, monitor, advice and evaluate the progress of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under the schemes aimed at the socio-economic development of these groups.
The reservation stance in India was revisited by the Mandal Commission which was set in 1979 under the Janata Dal government to study the relevance of reservation policy and to make the necessary changes for inclusive growth. It recommended to increase the reservation percentage from the existing 22.5% to 49.5 % to foster inclusive growth and social upliftment of the backward sections of the society. There was a massive hue and cry across the country regarding such high proportion of reservation. There was anger and outrage amongst the people for considering caste over merit. However, after much protest the quota limits were increased to 49.5 % in 1993 for government jobs to include the OBC quota (27%). In the year 2008, similar increase has taken place for the quota limits in the educational institutes.
In 1991, the Indian government adopted the New Economic Policy in wake of the new forces like globalization, liberalization and privatization. One of the features of this policy was to minimize the participation of government in matters of social security and economic development. The government’s role assumed a paradigm shift from implementation to facilitation. This resulted in the booming of the private sector. With the state assuming a less important role, the employment prospects of the dalits were adversely impacted because of less job creation in public sector and workforce rationalization to improve competitiveness. Creation of jobs in the public sector fell from 11.0 million in the preceding four years to 6.2 million in the succeeding four years of the reforms. In the Central Government there were 4.03 million jobs on 1st March 1991. This went up next year to 4.14 million the next year, but only to go down 3.97 million and 3.84 million respectively in the next two years.
Inspite of the dwindling jobs, some elite sections of the Dalit community were happy with this new policy as they felt that globalization is the only way to end the caste system. The felt that globalization would lead to the evolution of a truly merit based society. With the private sector growing in status and leading the way for job creation, the demand for reservations in the private sector was increasingly felt by the dalits. The idea of reservation in private sector was vehemently opposed by the industrial leaders who proposed meritocracy as the only guiding principle for hiring. The government thus promoted the concept of “Affirmative Action” on the similar lines as in foreign countries like U.S.A. As per this concept, the company voluntary hires qualified people from the backward sections of the society to maintain the cultural diversity, thereby, eliminating the need for legislation.
IMPACT OF RESERVATION POLICY
Owing to historical reason, government job in India has always been considered a very safe, lucrative and prestigious option and hence highly sought after. The public sector jobs are divided into four classes differentiated by income and selection criteria. These are as follows;
Class I (2.2 %) ( IAS, IPS, IRS , IFS etc)
Class II (3.3 %) ( State Civil Cadre Officers )
Class III (66.8 %) (Peons, teachers etc)
Class IV (27.2 %) ( Low skilled labor)
From above it is clear that approximately 94 % of the government jobs are Class III and Class IV jobs. There has been substantial increase in the number of SC people selected in government jobs. For instance, the SC representation in Class I have increased from 1.64 percent in 1965 to 11.9 percent in 2005. The Class II figures have increased from 2.82 percent in 1965 to 13.7 percent in 2005. The Class III and Class IV have however showed a slower rate of increase from 8.88% and 17.75% respectively in 1965 to 16.4 % and 18.3 % respectively in 2005. Even though these number look impressive, but it is noteworthy that the percentage is still short of their reservation quota of 15 % in case of Class I and Class II government jobs even after 50 years of pursuing the reservation policy.
Primarily three reasons are responsible for this trend. Firstly, the reservations are applicable only to the current recruitments and hence lack of representation in the past cannot be adjusted. This results in mismatch between the quota percent and the actual occupancy percent. Though recently the government has started conducting recruitment drives to fill in the reserved seats but due to lack of any suitable candidates, these seats lay vacant. Secondly, there are certain posts where the reservation policy is not exercised. Reservations do not apply to cases of transfer or deputation; cases of promotion in grades or services in which the element of direct recruitment exceeds 75%; temporary appointments of less than 45 days; work-charged posts required for emergencies (such as relief work in cases of natural disaster); certain scientific and technical posts; single post cadre; up- gradation of posts due to cadre restructuring (total or partial); and ad hoc appointments arising out of stop gap arrangements. Thirdly, the prevalence of fake SC/ST certificates is responsible for inadequate representation. Since SC/ST candidates get certain relaxation in the selection criteria, some time non SC/ST candidates project themselves as SC/ST candidates to get selected relatively easily.
Education has always been identified as one of the key enablers in empowering the backward classes. The Indian government currently allows reservation upto 15% for SC in various undergraduate and graduate courses of general, technical, medical and 44 other professional educations. Meanwhile the state governments can increase the limits based on the SC population percent in their respective states. Along with this the government has initiated various plans like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, providing financial incentives/assistance, books, mid day meal schemes and free tuitions. In addition to this, SC candidates get relaxations in the selection procedure of various state colleges and universities.
As a result of all these initiatives, the literacy rates among SC have increased from a paltry 10.27 % in 1961 to 54.69 % in 2001. Also the disparity between male and female literacy seems to have decreased which is quite healthy. Despite these positive trends, the literacy level remains low with huge regional disparity in literacy levels. For example, the literacy level among the rural SC women in Uttar Pradesh is just 7% in comparison with the corresponding figure of 73% for Kerala. Incase of higher education the representation of SC has increased from 7.08 % in 1979 to 11.32% in 2003. Inspite of the evident improvement, lot more needs to be done for students in terms of financial assistance and other facilities like counseling, tuitions etc. In most cases, it is the affluent that avail the financial incentives and other facilities available for the SC. Hence the poor section of the SC is not able to avail the facilities; the government offers.
The numbers of students enrolled at primary, higher primary and secondary school level amongst SC have increased 6, 15 and 22 times respectively between the periods 1951 to 2003. The total number of teachers in primary schools increased from 5.38 lakh in 1951 to 19.13 lakh in 2001. Total number of teachers in higher primary and secondary schools increased from 0.86 lakh in 1951 to 15.81 lakh in 2001 and 0.13 lakh in 1951 to 6.45 lakh in 2001 respectively. Again even though the growth in number terms looks very encouraging, but the result of this growth has been the steep reduction in quality standards.
The Constitution provides for reservation of seats for SCs, in proportion to their numbers, in the Lower House of the Lok Sabha and in the Vidhan Sabhas in the stat es, but not in the upper house at the centre or in the states. Seats are reserved in the legislatures in proportion to the population of each state. Further with the 73rd amendment, quotas have been introduced for the SC at the panchayat level also. An empirical study of the previous Lok Sabha members profile show that the number reserved for the SC has been filled. For example, in the 13th Lok Sabha, 79 seats were reserved for the SC candidates but they were occupying 81 seats. While the total number of seats was filled, however the portfolios and role played by SC in the government was not very significant. Important ministries like Finance, Defense, Commerce, External Affairs and Power are never given to SC candidates. For example, out of 40 Lok Sabha Committee in the 13th Lok Sabha, only 5 were headed by the SC candidates. Normally they are given departments like SC/ST welfare, Social justice and Empowerment and Rural industries where traditionally the government does not have too much focus. Also the budgetary allocation to these ministries and the associated schemes is minimal. The main reason for lack of political influence can be attributed to the absence of a national dalit party.
SOCIO- ECONOMIC CONDITION
Even after five decades of independence, economic development seems to have bypassed the poor. All the initiatives and incentives provided by the government seem to be availed by the elite SC which results in vast disparity in the economic status of the SC. When it comes to basic amenities, SC is laggards which can be highlighted by the following figures:
30.91 % of SC households had electricity against 61.31 % in case of non SC.
9.84 % of SC households had access to sanitation against 26.76 % in case of non SC.
More than 20 percent SC population do not have access to clean drinking water.
As per the census of 2001, 22.08 % of SC are cultivators and 39.16% are agricultural laborers. Most of the people engaged in agricultural activities are landless laborers or have marginal land holdings. There is widespread poverty due to over exploitation and widespread unemployment. As per the census of 2001, around 37% of the SC population is below poverty line. So it is quite evident that these historically backward classes could not avail the resources, the government seemingly has allocated for them.
OBSTACLES IN THE RESERVATION POLICIES
The issue of Fake Certificates
The practice of issuing fake certificate is widespread but due to lackadaisical attitude of the government, the practice continues. Normally states have legislative powers to define specific communities in their states under SC or OBC. Many a times, the inclusion of a particular caste under SC or OBC is governed by vested political interest. Often there are positions reserved for SC/ST which do not get filled due to lack of suitable candidate. Under such circumstance, the employer if in need might recruit a general candidate by issuing a fake SC certificate.
Limited role of the watchdog
The National Commission for SC/ST was appointed in 1950 to safeguard the interest of these weaker sections and to oversee timely execution of the schemes meant for them. One of the major problems of the Commission is understaffing. Time data collection and validity from states and panchayat level is also an issue. Sometimes, there is a huge time lag between the submission of reports by the Commission and its review in the Parliament.
Vote Bank Politics
It is a common practice in India for political parties to lure particular sections of the society to vote for them by providing them assurance for reservations. This has constantly been the trend since the 1990’s and reservation today forms the part of the election manifesto of nearly all major political parties in India
Diversion of funds
Normally the allocation of money in the annual budget for SC/ST programs is not in proportion with the percentage of SC/ST population due to which there is a lack of adequate funds Because of the rampant corruption and lack of intent. This problem is further compounded because even the allocated money for such schemes is often diverted for other purposes.
Mass economic disparity amongst the weaker communities
Because of the massive economic disparity existing in these sections of the society, the empowered people avail all the available incentives to become more empowered. The poor section of the SC sometimes is not aware and at other occasions is not able to avail these incentives and hence continue to remain poor.
Absence of a National Dalit party
The absence of a truly nationwide Dalit party weakens the representation power of this section so as fight for their rights. Mostly there are regional parties which promote Dalit rights like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh
Intra group rivalry
Intra dalit rivalry hinders the formation of a strong dalit movement. Dalits also have some kind of caste hierarchy and exhibit caste based dominance. Such groups enjoy a large chunk of the benefits of the state reservation policy. The rivalry between the Mala and Madiga groups in Andhra Pradesh is a case in point.
We have seen that though significant improvement has happened in the social, economic and cultural aspect for the SC but still the dream of inclusive growth is far fledged. Moreover the bigger question to be asked is whether all this improvement is the result of reservations or the general development policies adopted by the government. No one really cares to find out. Reservations are here to stay and it is unlikely that any political party will take the risk of getting rid of it in the near future. Though reservations will continue to help, but their impact may be very marginal given the ever diminishing role of the government in today’s world.
The principle of “Affirmative Action” needs to be adopted by all the sections of the society to enable inclusive growth of the country. The National Commission for SC/ST should be given more powers. Strict punishments should be given in case of violation of any regulation related to SC/ST. Administrative processes for obtaining SC certificates should be made transparent and less cumbersome so that only genuine people can avail the benefits. More stress can be given to primary education to empower the SC community.
The role of politicians is of prime importance in all these reforms. The political parties should realize that reservations were meant to be temporary measures meant to uplift the weaker sections. These should not have a crippling effect for the society.
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