Playing the ‘poor’ card to criticise caste-based reservations

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 6:00am IST Updated: Tuesday, 18 February 2014 - 11:02pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Janardan Dwivedi, a long time inner circle fixture in the Indira Congress, has expressed his opinion on reservations. Dwivedi has opined that the economic criterion and not the caste-based criterion should be the basis of reservations. It is clear that Dwivediji’s heart bleeds for all poor and not only for the lower-caste or tribal poor. This is an election year. Though the Congress fancies itself as everybody’s party, it is fast becoming anything but that. Cryptic winking to Savarnas’ ‘impromptu’ eating with Dalits, scaremongering at the minority ghetto, chartered aircraft travellers ‘mixing’ with rail-station coolies — all these are props that some hope will hold up the Congress tent at the elections. But let’s return to reservations.

Remember when Mayawati was building statues in UP a few years ago? A predictable class was disgusted with the crassness of Mayawati building her own statues, as if this megalomania was unprecedented.

The same class chooses to forget that ‘Emergency’ Indira Gandhi was awarded a Bharat Ratna during her own regime. To her credit, Mayawati did not suspend people’s right to life so that trains could run on time. Mayawati did not only build her own statues. These overnight empathisers of Dalits did not know and did not care about the identity of the other statues (Sant Narayan Guru who?). These critics of Mayawati tabulated the amount of good that the statue money could have done to Dalits. Health care, education, sanitation and more — UP has many needs. While this is true, these timeless needs get spotlighted only at specific times. The timing gives away the apathy that is dressed up as empathy at opportune moments. This was true about statues. This was true about the brainstorming and ‘out-of-box’ thinking about expansion and deepening of primary education that highborn thinkers did during their Youth For Equality protests.

Ingenious recipes of making the pie sweeter were proposed to stall a fairer sharing of the pie. Well-timed love can couch much hate. Serial abusers know this well. When someone talks about reservations on economic grounds, he is saying that poverty in itself, irrespective of caste, is an impediment to the equality of opportunity. That is undeniable. What wrong did the poor Vaishya boy do for which he is denied certain opportunities so that a not-so-poor Dalit girl may get the quotas as they exist? On the face of it, this goes against the principal of natural justice. But that is true only if the existing society is considered a unified one. It is not. Reservations do not create societal divisions. The divisions are pre-existing realities. The demand for reservations is a demand for rightful share of opportunities given such realities. Savarnas and Ashrafs should be thankful that the ‘low-born’ are not demanding compensation or a separate electorate, yet.

Given these pre-existing divisions, the empathy for the poor Kshatriya or Saiyyad and his lack of opportunities also has a solution. That part of the pie that is at present ‘unreserved’ (‘general category’ as the lingo goes) and is openly competitive has to be modified to reflect economic reality. Rather than ending caste-based reservations, the ‘general category’ pie ought to have reservations solely on the basis of economic criterion. The proportion of economic reservations in this category’ must reflect the economic inequity in the population. The question is not whether reservations should be based on income-level or caste. It ought to be for the poor and the lower castes, separately.

The author is a brain scientist at MIT @gargac

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