Freedom can be political, social or economic but in order to have the first two, one must have economic freedom. The reservation policy or what is called ‘affirmative action’ is all about assisting the marginalized sections of society in attaining economic freedom. The critics of this policy might say that economic status must be the criteria for reservation, which simply shows that they are not in touch with the reality of this country.
Caste is class in this nation and this has remained the truth of Indian society for nearly three thousand years. It was the caste factor that decided the economic status of an individual for all these years. So if caste became the basis of political, social and economic injustice, then caste and only caste can be made and remain the basis of political, social and economic justice. There is much to be done in this direction and one critical aspect of that is to take steps to ensure that existing policies work in actual practice.
India is a democratic “welfare state” but today, a sinister public opinion is being built up that projects cheap education as a privilege/ tax-payer’s handout and an expensive education as something very normal.. Now how can a substantial number of Dalit or Adivasi citizens “benefit” from the reservation system when basic education itself IS MADE inaccessible to them?
Unfortunately, India is witnessing a massive war on public education ironically by the State itself that includes slashing the education budget, demeaning government schools, calling off scholarship programs and branding schools as the breeding grounds of Naxal and Maoist movements. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they have started branding universities as anti-national and are actively garnering popular public opinion around that! This entire design works on one simple principle: you drain public offices of funds and make people angry and when people get angry you let private corporations do what the State should have done in the first place.
While it is fair to say that there are many poor people in this country across caste lines, poverty is different from social discrimination and alienation, something only the Dalits and Adivasis of this country have faced for centuries. An inclusive economy, if that indeed is the great Indian dream, can be achieved by declaring the rights to food, education and healthcare as the “fundamental rights” essential of each citizen.
When the State ‘misuses’ reservation and starts handing it out to all and sundry (the Jats are the most recent point in case), it means that not only has it failed to mobilize affirmative action to uplift the Dalits and Adivasis for whom the reservation system was first introduced, it has also failed to alleviate poverty by creating jobs for ALL.