Quota for backwards: Struggle for Social Justice

By Ram Puniyani

After Supreme Court Bench had expressed unhappiness about the ways in which the Muslim sub Quota was created last December, the Government has been trying to submit the necessary data. Supreme Court wanted Centre to explain the basis of the move to reserve this 4.5% for the Muslims. With due support from relevant studies and documents Govt is trying to put forward the justification for its move. This Supreme Court verdict was in the backdrop of Andhra High Court decision to quash the minority sub quota. (June 2012) Andhra High Court had raised the point that the reservation on the basis of religion is unconstitutional. It is a strange reading of the constitution. The spirit of the constitution is that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or class. However, if certain communities suffer social discrimination and deprivation, the Constitution provides reservation as an instrument to neutralize the prevalent social disparities.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as per its anti minority and anti reservation stance welcomed the Supreme Court's refusal to stay Andhra Pradesh High Court's decision quashing the minority sub-quota. Its spokesperson also charged the Congress-led government with having a communal agenda and going in for "vote-bank politics". The implications of this understanding mean that the prevalent disparities should continue. BJP’s goal is not a society based on equity and justice as it is guided by ‘religion based nationalism’. Some others pointed out that the ruling party Congress, as such does not want the quota for Muslims in the real sense. This perception comes because Congress party does show a lack of will power in the direction of affirmative action for weaker sections of society as a whole and about Minorities in particular.

As such Constitution does allow quota to educationally and economically backward classes. Today Muslims are educationally and economically very backward community in India. Its educational backwardness has been repeatedly pointed out by HRD ministry and Home Ministry in their reports for a long time. And the economic condition has been highlighted by Sachar Committee (2006) and Rangnath Misra Commission (2007). In this light how can the sound legal case be made to actualize the social and political need of our society to get economic justice to minorities, is a challenge for the Government.

Congress Government started taking this issue seriously and overtly from the time of UP assembly elections 2012. It promised for this 4.5% reservation for Muslims. As this promise came in the wake of the forthcoming assembly election, it sounded like one more election gimmick. As such we are riddled in a society where the affirmative action for the weaker sections of society is a must. Already we have the reservation for SC, ST and OBC. The reservation policy was all through opposed by BJP saying that reservation undermines merit. We are living in a society where merit has been successfully bypassed by the power of money. Capitation fees, buying seat in professional colleges with money is a big business. This has bypassed the ‘merit’ in a very direct way. Merit is also influenced by the social-economic inequalities, which is the major cause of backwardness of some sections of society. There have been agitations time and again which have tried to oppose the reservation for the weaker sections of society.

There are many issues involved here. The major issue is the principle that that the reservation should not be based on the grounds of religion. This point is well taken and here the issue is that this section of Muslims, which is backward economically and socially, is being considered for its backwardness not for its religion. To put it the other way around, can a religious community deprived of the constitutional provision of reservation just because it belongs to a particular religion? That will become a discrimination of grossest variety. All Muslims are not being considered for this provision, only OBC Muslims are being thought of. There was a time when section of Muslim Ulema claimed that this reservation is invalid as Islam does not permit caste system, it does not have caste system. Very true, theologically Islam does not have caste system, but caste system amongst the Muslim community is a social reality, confirmed time and over again and recognized by different commissions. The technical point that this quota should be approved by Commission for Other Backward caste is valid and Government has to go through this procedure.

The Supreme Court query about the ground for justification for this quota needs to be answered. Already Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra Commission have done a meticulous job and we need to stick to those findings and Government needs to argue the case on that basis. It has to judiciously use the data of these two reports to make the case for reservation. Why 4.5% is being asked for? Mishra Commission recommends 8.4%. These matters are related to proportions and the quota is necessarily in proportion to the population and the quota meant for it. For 52% of OBC, 27% of Quota was fixed. So now it is within this segment that the sub quota is to be created.

Other matching action which is needed is in the electoral arena. We have been seeing that the representation of Muslims is constantly declining in our Parliament and assemblies. Before independence the separate electorate had created havoc and was also the foundation of divisiveness and the tragic partition of the country. That is ruled out lock stock and barrel. The appeal to the political parties to give more number of seats to minorities is dodgy and has not worked. We can think of reserved constituencies for minorities. We cannot have lop-sided representation system. We have to create a future where we rise above these considerations, but at the moment such actions have to be part of our policy making. Needless to say ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ has no substitute and we must intensify our efforts in that direction not only for Minorities but also for other disadvantaged sections of society.

The biggest hurdle to these policies related to quotas is the opposition to these policies from communal parties. The communal parties interpret and propagate about affirmative action in a twisted way. They keep on harping that these actions tantamount either appeasement of minorities or it is a way of practicing communalism. This is like putting the reality upside down. Desire for equality also needs to consider the causes of inequality and to overcome them through all means. These measures must be interim in nature, with a resolve to build the nation where religion and caste are not the factors retarding the growth of the community. The attempt of to polarize communities along religious lines, on these issues needs to be countered and the path of a just society laid down through social initiatives and administration support of the democratic Government.

[Writer can be reached on puniyani.ram@gmail.com]


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