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Social justice and reservation scheme May 17, 2006

Posted by chella in Reservation.
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 IN HER article "Reservations about reservation" (The Hindu, August 16), Neera Chandhoke finds fault with the manner in which reservation has been conceptualised and implemented by the Indian state. It is pointed out that it is not proper to demand reservation as a compensation for historical wrongs. It is said that it provokes animosity and resentment, and that it does not help to develop a sense of self-respect among the beneficiaries of reservation. So it is suggested that those who have not been allotted their rightful share in the common resources should look at the issue from an egalitarian world view. Then they could approach the government not as victims and petitioners, but as the bearers of rights demanding their share by right.

The writer fails to understand the demand for reservation in a proper perspective. It is wrongly presumed that the demand is not made from the egalitarian world view. Actually it is the egalitarian principle that inspires the historically disadvantaged sections of people to demand reservation as their legitimate right. It is not essentially asking for compensation for past sins. It is to get rid of social injustice that reservation is demanded. The injustice is imposed by varna-jaathi (caste) system. This system and the disabilities imposed by it originated in India several centuries ago. The socio-religious system and the disabilities arising out of it still continue. Under the system of varna-jaathi, the Brahminical upper castes have undue, unearned and unjust privileges, whereas the Sudra and Panchama castes suffer from suppression, neglect and discrimination. Because of the graded inequality practised based on the mere incident of birth of a person in a caste group, the lower castes were denied educational opportunities and a share in the administration by the priestly and the ruling classes. The system and its effects still continue to make them socially and educationally backward.

The socio-cultural (educational) disabilities perpetuate inequalities and injustice. How could there be free, fair and equal competition among unequals? Reservation is demanded as a right to set right the wrongs and disabilities arising out of the unequal caste structure. The wrongs and the consequent disabilities are historical because they originated in the past, but they are not things of the past, but are realities even today! The Brahminical upper castes are even now a privileged lot socially, religiously and culturally. So they are placed in an advantageous position in economic, political, administrative and other spheres as well. The Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (castes) are a traditionally deprived lot denied of equal rights and opportunities. Now having become aware of the prevalence of injustice, they want to undo it and move towards an egalitarian social order. So they demand the implementation of policies based on the principle of social justice to eradicate the continuing social injustice.

The article wrongly interprets the word compensation as a benefit (or charity) bestowed on those sinned against in the past. Actually it is an arrangement to make up for the handicap or disability from which the lower classes suffer due to the caste system. Reservation in education and job opportunities is one of the various means that could act as a corrective to the historical disadvantages. No one treats reservation as a substitute for social justice. The former is an arrangement, an aspect of policy, whereas the latter is a basic principle that lays emphasis on equality of opportunity and welfare of all by dispensing with inequity.

Neera Chandhoke writes about wider measures like land reform, income generation policies, redress of inequality, and securing the well being of the disprivileged that are needed to promote social justice. Actually we have been demanding these measures and much more as recommended by the Mandal Commission to make the operation of the principle of social justice comprehensive.

But it is not correct to say that reservation offers only minimal sops to the deprived. On the other hand, it is a vital device that enables them to retrieve the opportunities denied. Opportunities were denied to them on the ground that they belonged to the groups dubbed as lower castes, and so it is but natural that the same opportunities are claimed on the basis of caste disabilities that caused the socio-cultural backwardness.

Criticism not valid

It is mentioned that those who stand for reservation stress the inequalities among the groups (castes), but not among the individuals (within a caste). This criticism ignores the social reality wherein people enjoy privileges and suffer deprivations on the basis of caste. The privilege of studying in Veda Patasalas and becoming priests in Agamic temples belongs only to those born in the highest varna, namely Brahmins. But the Panchamas (dalits) could not function as presidents of village panchayats even after they are elected to that post. They are even murdered if they venture to function in that capacity. In this way, a few enjoy privileges and many undergo travails not as individuals but as members of a particular group (caste).

Do they who get education and jobs by reservation fail to develop or lose self-respect, as suggested by the article, just because of that policy? This is an argument that sounds far-fetched. Dalits have been suffering from indignities, and Sudras from disabilities for about two thousand years. As a matter of fact, the Brahminical upper castes who have reserved for themselves (on the basis of scriptures and religious practices) the benefits of education, wielding authority and owning vast resources, experience high social status and deny equal respect and human dignity to other castes. The under-privileged sections are able to assert gradually their self-respect only after getting education and jobs by reservation.


President, Dravidar Kazhagam