Welcome to the official website of Youth For Equality, Mumbai. We thank all those who have been supportive of our efforts to create a fair and equitable society.
This is a forum of equals to oppose the recent CHANGE in reservation policy proposed by the Government of India. We are a non-political, non-violent and united group of individuals.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Three and Half Cheers!

The Supreme Court deserves a full three and a half cheers for its judgment that effectively blocks reservations for the OBC "creamy layer". The first cheer is for bringing in the issue of class when any policy is recommended for the OBCs. If one goes back to the Constitution, this is exactly what the doctors had ordered on this matter.

The second cheer is for retaining the authority to judicially review any government definition of who constitutes the "creamy layer". The third cheer is because the court clearly spelt out that when seeking admission to colleges and universities the difference in marks between OBCs and the rest should be no more than 10%. The remaining half cheer is for insisting that OBC reservations be reviewed every five years. This last decree cannot be dodged as easily as political statements of intentions can. After all, this is a Supreme Court decision.

Still waters may run deep, but still milk sits at the top. If there is a creamy layer among OBCs it only shows that the fortunes of those at the bottom have not been stirred for a very long time. It is not as if one can easily ask the question: If you are so rich how come you are not an OBC? It is often difficult to separate the majority of OBCs from the scheduled castes because their lives have so much in common. This is why poverty strikes before death as the great leveller.

The OBC elite has so far not cared to stir ambitions at the bottom. They instinctively know that should this ever happen it would dilute their political and economic pre-eminence within their communities. OBC elites have run governments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for several terms but the conditions of poor "backwards", let alone those of the scheduled castes, have generally remained unchanged. What progress has occurred among these people is not because of state effort, but in spite of it.

In large tracts where OBCs have ruled for decades one only sees remnants of roads once built. Government schools are dysfunctional in every conceivable way. But when drop-out rates get alarmingly high, teachers in these institutions fill in student attendance sheets so that their salary scales are not disturbed. In Aurai district in Bihar, we actually saw a school where the headmaster was basking in the winter sun with not a student in sight.

The OBC creamy layer has done little over these years to improve basic livelihood conditions of the poor on whose shoulders their political fortunes ride. Though OBC leaders ran Bihar and UP governments for several terms these states are still underdeveloped.

The OBC elite has, however, consistently kept up the pressure for seats in IITs, IIMs and in high-end private sector jobs. Things have come to such a pass that well-to-do OBCs now openly advocate that their elite status be further secured by government patronage. It matters little to them that the majority continues to sulk at the bottom.

Tamil Nadu is often used as a legitimising model by OBC activists. What we need to keep in mind is that as far back as the 1930s Travancore state had a literacy rate that Bihar struggles to attain even today. The Tamil Nadu model becomes more farcical when we notice that the line that separates OBC students from non-OBC ones is neither firm nor deep.

For instance, as Shiv Chaudhary has shown, in Tamil Nadu’s 2005 MBBS entrance tests, the difference in the cut-off marks between the general and the reserved categories was as low as 0.08 per cent. Naturally, with such a negligible percentage variation, the OBCs crowd the general category over and above occupying those seats that are reserved for them. Consequently, the rest of the non-OBC population is seriously unrepresented in these colleges.

This graphically demonstrates that Tamil Nadu OBCs have always had an entrenched elite stratum. OBC leaders among Gounders, Vanniyars, Thevars and Marawas were, and continue to be, powerful on every social axis. Therefore, when their educational profile is as good as, if not better than, the general category, it obviously means that they never did, and do not now, deserve reservations. True, these so-called backwards are not Brahmins, but if they can kick the priests in the teeth what good is it to have a mouthful of Sanskrit?

The Tamil Nadu backwards played on the textbook image of the rapacious Brahmin though in every province, with the slight exception of Thanjavur, the once-priestly class enjoys no dominance. Power was always in the hands of OBC elite who did well in the past and continue to do well even today. If one is to believe human development figures then the status of Tamil Nadu Dalits has remained unchanged over all these years of OBC rule. Is this why Tamil Nadu has so far failed to produce a Mayawati as its chief minister?

True to form, Mayawati has again stolen a march over her competitors. Reading between the lines of the judgment she has staked a claim that reservations also be based on poverty levels. She knows full well that this would naturally include her traditional supporters, for both the scheduled castes and the OBCs are almost always wretchedly poor. In fact, during the time it takes the OBC elites to rub the stars from their eyes she might add a few more to her electoral kitty.

Dipankar Gupta(In TOI Dated:15/04/08)
(The writer is professor of sociology at JNU.)