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DALIT SOLIDARITY NEWS
 
Friday, June 02, 2006  
This 'RDB' protest has gone too far

Hindustan Times
Denzil FernandesNew Delhi, May 31, 2006


When Rang de Basanti hit the screens throughout the country, no one expected that it would touch a chord with the youth of the country and awaken the otherwise apathetic and cynical urban elite.

The introduction of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in higher educational institutions by Arjun Singh seemed to be the spark that triggered a wave of anti-reservation protests from students from a few urban centres led by the doctors of AIIMS.

With students wearing Rang de Basanti T-shirts and playing songs of the film it was obvious from where the inspiration for the protests were coming from.

The choice of India Gate as the venue of their protests, the use of the media to air their grievances, the use of modes of protest from the India's freedom struggle like hunger strike and Civil Disobedience movement, all point to the deep and profound impact that Rang de Basanti has had on the youth of the country today.

And so, one may wonder whether the urban youth of our country are gripped by the Rang de Basanti syndrome.
There have been a few positives from this Rang de Basanti style of anti-reservation stir led by the doctors.

First of all, it has shown that the youth are not going to be mute spectators in the drama that has been unfolding in Indian politics. The youth are ready to use their talent and resources to transform the nation and be involved in shaping the future of the country.

The students from higher educational institutions are also expressing their frustration at the vote-bank politics played by the politicians of every political party much to the detriment of the interests of the country as a whole.

The assurance given by the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers that the reservations will not reduce the number of merit-based seats and the number of seats in higher educational institutions will be increased is itself a big victory for the doctors and students.

Besides, these anti-reservation protests have postponed by a year the implementation of the Government proposal to hike reservation in higher educational institutions to 49.5 per cent.
These decisions have been taken as a direct fallout of the strong and determined action by the doctors and students throughout the country. And all citizens need to salute these effects of the new awakening among the student community of the country today.

Having said this, the continuance of the strike by the doctors of AIIMS as well as other hospitals in Delhi and other cities seem to be having a negative effect on their image.
The images of the suffering of the poor people who are left unattended due to the doctors' strike have given the impression that the doctors have little sympathy for the poor and consider their profession as a means to gain wealth and higher social status rather than a vocation to heal the sick and serve the suffering masses.

Besides, the adamant stand against any reservation in spite of being assured that the interests and the seats of the "meritorious" students will be protected, betrays a casteist or even a racist tinge to the whole agitation.

Everyone supports the contention that reservation must not be at the cost of merit and that the number of seats reserved should not be at the cost of the general seats which is given on merit.
However, the demand of the doctors, that seats should not be reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs in higher educational institutions, is only harming the image of the student community, the youth and the doctors, in particular.

On this issue, the students have been speaking in different voices. Some of the students who wear bands and paint their faces with "No to Reservations" seem to advocate their opposition to the very concept of reservation, especially in higher educational institutions.

Little do they realise that their demand is itself unconstitutional as the Article 15 of the Constitutions empowers the Government to "make any provision for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes or for the Scheduled Castes or for the Scheduled Tribes."

Yet another slogan of the protesting students has been "Reservation kills Merit". Such rhetoric betrays a very naïve understanding of merit as marks scored in a competitive examination.
They are probably influenced by the global market understanding of merit, which reduces it to "what is observable and measurable", thus implying a system of ranking. Such a concept of merit is designed for exclusion as it ignores the social weightage of merit.

The concept of merit is more complex than what the students believe in. Any concept of merit which does not take into account social and individual disadvantage will not be able to assess adequately the capability and potential capacity of a student.

Some of the students, who are aware that opposition to any reservation will not draw them any sympathy, seem to grudgingly accept reservation for SC/ST students, however, they are against to this new proposal of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs.

Such students accuse the Government of dividing the country on caste lines and claim that such reservations will be grabbed by those who do not deserve reservation and it excludes many other groups of people who may need reservations.

The criteria of caste as the basis of reservation is being questioned. Some academicians have supported this view and even suggested alternatives.

However, these suggestions emerge due to ignorance of the Indian social reality. Most sociologists admit that caste should be the criteria for deciding groups that are 'socially and educationally backward' since, with the exception of tribal areas, caste is the primordial and single most important identity of an Indian.

In fact, caste has always been the operating system of Varna system and it has been the most powerful mechanism to appropriate all the prestigious positions and force all types of manual labour on the lower castes.

Therefore, caste-based reservation is an antidote to caste-based discrimination. If the protesting students fail to admit the reality of caste identity in Indian society, one may wonder whether they are living in glass houses totally oblivious to the discrimination, humiliation and atrocities heaped on the lower castes in India.

The arguments put forth by the anti-reservationists, especially the contention that those who enter professional colleges through reservation are incompetent, reduce the standard of the institute and pose a risk to their clients, are totally unfounded and reflect their caste biases.
Even some modes of protest by doctors, such as carrying brooms and polishing shoes, mirror their attitude towards dignity of manual labour. Besides, the blatantly biased coverage of the television and print media in favour of the anti-reservationists only confirms how deep-rooted is caste bias in the Indian psyche.

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8:30 AM

 
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