Let’s talk something else, Sarsanghchalak ji

Articles of Faith

Alok Prasanna Kumar argues that Harry Potter is science fiction and Star Wars is fantasy.

RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has put his foot in it once again -- he has issued his annual statement on his desire for the government to do away with reservations for SC, ST and OBCs, but couching it in terms of “talks” in a “harmonious atmosphere”. Of course, he wants the “talks” to happen in the absence of any “laws or rules”, because what’s a little anarchy between friends, eh?

It is stuff and nonsense -- there can be no “talks” in any sense of equality between the privileged and the underprivileged, the powerful and the powerless.

Not that his view doesn’t have adherents. The erudite and urbane couch their hatred of reservations in the constitutional language of “equality”. In their view, a weekend club cricketer and Virat Kohli have much the same chance of seeing through a Joffra Archer over unscathed because the laws are the same for all.

In times such as these, it’s necessary to state the obvious.

The need for reservations in jobs, education and in the legislature for Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities is “for parity, and not charity” as Justice O Chinappa Reddy of the Supreme Court famously said in KC Vasantha Kumar v State of Karnataka (1985). Much before him, HJ Khandekar, a Dalit member of the Constituent Assembly, articulated the basis for reservations in the Constitution:

“As a member of Scheduled Castes, I would like to submit that the reservation…is no favour to us. The members of the Scheduled Castes have, for thousands of years, suffered cruelties and oppression…Now reservation is being provided for us as a compensation…therefore I do not deem this provision as any great favour to us.”

There is a common misconception that reservations in general were meant to continue only for a period of 10 years. While the Constitution did place a limit on reservations for a period of 10 years in Article 334, that was only for reservation of seats in Parliament and Assemblies. There never was a time limit on reservations in jobs and education. Again, to quote Khandekar:

“...the condition of the Harijan cannot improve within the next 10 years. Continuously, from 1927 to the time of his death, Mahatma Gandhi made every effort physically, mentally and financially, for the uplift of the Harijan, but even within a period of 20 or 30 years, no appreciable improvement…could be brought about in their conditions. I am unable, therefore, to accept that within a period of 10 years for which reservation is being provided for them, a complete reform or change can be brought about in their condition.”

Can we say that things have changed so much for Dalits, Bahujans and Adivasis in the last 70 years to suggest that there is no need for reservation? There’s enough data to show how poorly these groups still fare on socio-economic criteria when compared to savarnas, but two recent incidents in this context are telling. Think of the Sonbhadra massacre, where 10 landless Adivasi labourers were shot dead for resisting a land-grab by the dominant castes of the area. Or, perhaps, the visuals of Dalits in a Vellore village being forced to lower a deceased’s body into the local crematorium from a bridge because they had been denied access to the road to the crematorium. 

The purpose of reservations is to help fulfil the constitutional promise of an equal society where there’s a level playing field for all. So long as that constitutional vision remains far from becoming reality, any demand for a dilution of reservations should be seen as an effort to push India further away from the goal of a truly equal society.  

 

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