Radical Solution Needed for India's Reservation Issues

Issue Date: May 1 to 15, 2006, Posted On: 5/11/2006

By Bal Ram Singh

About three years ago during one of my visits to India, the driver of my car traveling on Azamagarh-Sultanpur road in Uttar Pradesh was a distant family member some 20 generations ago. As he chatted furiously inquiring about life in the United States, Jamuna Singh, sighed heavily while saying there was no hope for a job for people like him in India belonging to the so called upper caste.

In his exasperation, he also had Melaram inkling (for those of you who have watched Swades movie) of a possibility of any assurance from me to provide him some help in getting to United States where he can perhaps drive a taxi or something.

The conversation went something like this:

Chacha (Hindi word for uncle), there is no possibility of job for Thakurs in this country. All the jobs are being reserved for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes, backward castes and Other Backward Castes.

  "There should be 100% job reservations, in my opinion," I stated, turning towards him in the front seat, next to that of the driver.

"What about us then?" he retorted anxiously. He was in a total disbelief to hear my statement on an issue he expected me to sympathize with him.

"You see, the job should be approached with the mindset of service. Actually, in India the English word used for job is service. And, according to Bhagvad Gita, the revered book of Hindus, service is the only trait of Shudras. Thus reserving 100% jobs for Shudra class will be perfectly in accordance with the ancient and the living traditions of India."

Jamuna was by then completely puzzled, perhaps lost, and definitely crestfallen. He collected himself to lament, "That will only leave more of the Brahmins and Thakurs (kshatriyas) unemployed."

"That does not have to be like that at all in providing 100% reservation of jobs for Shudras." I tried to assure him.

By then Jamuna was completely confused, but was gaining some ray of hope with my assurance. "How would I get job if 100% jobs are reserved for Shudras?" He asked.

"Through conversion," I said. "People should be given a choice to change their class to Shudra class. This way, people with need and desire for jobs will be able to belong to a group which will be treated with equality and fairness, and those with best inclination and qualities will be able to compete for all the jobs available."

I am not sure if I was able to satisfy Jamuna, and last time I visited my village in February 2006, I found Jamuna was quite entrenched in his family clan of Thakurs, as he was looking for a suitable match for his niece to marry off in a Thakur family.

However, with the current controversy of introducing additional quota of 27% for OBC in educational institutions, including coveted Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management and the proposal to amend the constitution to require job reservations for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes  in the private sector, my proposal seems to be more and more attractive.

There is massive opposition to this move even though it passed in the Parliament with a vote of 379 to 2. Opposition to the quota system in educational institutions by industrial stalwarts like Ratan Tata of Tata Group, Narayana Murthy of Infosys, and Azim Premji of Wipro, is not only to support meritocracy in education, an essential element of competitive global economics, but also to ward off the current government's louder-by-the-day insinuations to bring in legislation to introduce quota for SC/ST and OBC in private sector jobs.

While government moves are almost entirely motivated by vote bank politics, and given a tenuous United Progressive Alliance coalition, and communist demand of their pound of flesh at every turn, the perception of social injustice to 70% of Indian population provides a moral justification for such moves. And a 49.5% quota for 70% population does not sound unreasonable, either.

The question remains, however, whether a quota system created with ulterior motives of party politics is ever going to solve a long-term degradation in Indian society. History all over the world suggests that social engineering, be in the name of communism, eugenics, or religion, normally has opposite effects and divides societies.

Honesty, equality, and fairness, on the other hand, bring everyone together to work for the welfare of all. Dilapidation of the Indian society over past millennium has led to the current state of unfair treatment of its own population, and there is a clear recipe available within the Indian tradition to right the wrong of hundreds of years.

A reservation of 100% jobs for Shudras and a provision for the conversion of all those who seek jobs (including professors, doctors, and engineers) will remove social injustice, provide dignified economic opportunities to all, and promote meritocracy, all the while keeping corrupt politicians at bay. And, this is all within the subscription of Indian tradition, as outlined even in Manusmriti - shudro brahmagaataameti brahmanashchaiti shudrataam, meaning a shudra can become a brahman and vice versa, by action and qualities.

Bal Ram Singh, director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's Center for Indic Studies, may be reached at bsingh@umassd.edu.