There is hardly any debate about the state of social and economic inequality in Indian society, which has historical roots in the caste system. In modern India, the typical caste system, for example ‘Jajmani System’ may not exist but caste itself is a big force and operates in the mind of masses. The impact of caste can be felt in every walk of life. After a long debate, India has adopted affirmative actions for the upliftment of deprived sections including reservation.
Despite the constitutional and legal bindings, reservation is not implemented in letter and spirit. This trend itself is the result of the strong impact of caste. Our educational institutions are no exception to this. The recent notification of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) for the Ph.D. program in Management, 2020, is a typical case where there is no provision to implement reservations for historically marginalised social groups. In the official notification, it had no provisions for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) quota. This is in violation of the reservation mandated by the Constitution of India that makes it obligatory for all central educational institutions to reserve seats for each course and branch of study. It was further emphasised in the Indian Institute of Management Act, 2017, which gave unprecedented autonomy to the IIMs and enabled them to grant the Ph.D. degree in the first place. This Act also makes it clear that they must comply with the provisions of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006.
The lame argument continuously given by the administration of IIM-A holds no ground. The administration argues that since numbers of the vacancies are not fixed for Ph.D., it is considered as a super-speciality course where reservation should not be implemented. This is nothing but an effort to exclude students from deprived background whereas in other IIMs reservation is implemented for Ph.D. courses. Similar exclusive mindset is operating in the recruitment of the faculty in IIMs. A study released in September 2017 by Joshi and Malghan, who have been continuously struggling against the policy of exclusion of IIM A, reveals that out of the 512 IIM faculty members where data was available, only two belonged to SC category, and not a single faculty from ST category. These two scholars, who have raising their voice against these policies of the administration, are being victimised by the administration instead of considering their concrete suggestions.
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In fact, this is the not the case of only IIMs but the situation of most of the central universities, where a large number of reserved posts are lying vacant. It is difficult to understand how these central institutions are finding candidates for faculty posts from the general category but fail to recruit from reserved category. Overall the percentage of faculty from deprived sections is very less in higher education. The percentage of faculty from Scheduled Caste is only 8.6% and Scheduled Tribes is only 2.3% of the total, which is far less compared to their percentage in the population.
The current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is trying to move one step further and efforts are on to change the reservation policy. On various occasions, BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders have asked to review the reservation policy. Recently, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has asked to initiate a discussion on the reservation. They are not only speaking against reservation from the public platforms but in recent times, concrete efforts are being made to further dilute this reservation policy.
One such effort to dilute the reservation in the recruitment of faculty in higher education was through a notification of UGC to change the unit of 200 point system of reservation for faculty recruitment and making the department as the unit of reservation which directly reduced the opportunities for the aspirants from reserved category. In fact, under this policy, there were hardly any recruitments and not a single candidate was recruited from SC and ST background. The central government pushed for this reservation policy but the same government was forced to file a review petition in the Supreme Court under pressure of the teachers’ movement. The submission of the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry in Court tells about the possible adverse effects of this policy. The submission conveyed to the court that the total SC/ST/OBC representation was expected to come down by more than half, from 2,663 seats to 1,241 in a year if the new faculty quota system is implemented.
A similar effort was made through another UGC Gazette Notification 2016, for Ph.D. admission that seriously affected research. It was clearly an effort to exclude students from deprived sections from research as it framed rules like 100% viva voice and a qualifying criterion of 50% in written examination for students irrespective of categories. Additionally, it also reduced the number of seats in MPhil and Ph.D., following which there was a visible decrease in the number of students admitted to the MPhil and Ph.D. This notification was partially turned down by the Court.
Also read: Teachers Unhappy With SC’s Decision on Reservation in Appointments
There are some indirect but decisive processes that are rendering the concept of reservation meaningless. The overall system is being reoriented due to the neo-economic policies where such provisions do not have any meaning. The massive privatisation of all sectors including education, which is the result of the same neoliberal economic policies, is further reducing the relevance of reservation, as there is no reservation in the private sector. Presently, more than 78% of the colleges are owned by the private sector and the number of private universities has also increased rapidly from 153 to 262 (the year 2013 to 2017). As far as the private sector is concerned which is totally controlled by market forces, it is largely owned by the upper caste entrepreneurs. Caste and gender disparities are there in all enterprises of the private sector. Dalits and tribals find it very difficult to get recruitment in the private sector particularly in the higher posts, as these private institutions owned by the upper class are full of discrimination.
This is the result of the overall political environment and policy direction of the central government under the BJP regime. It does not mean that earlier governments were too keen on implementing reservation and other such affirmative action policies, but, the present regime is reversing such policies of social justice. There are various examples which have exposed the real character of the regime. It is not surprising that the followers of the ideology of Manu are naturally against the deprived sections and against any effort to bring equality in society. The increased violence against dalits, tribals, and minorities during the previous Modi regime is a testimony to this fact.
The dual character of the central government is further exposed when it comes to the reservation of Economically Weaker Sections. The MHRD forced all educational institutions including IIMs to implement this before elections, but when it comes to SC, ST and OBC reservations, there are no serious efforts by the same ministry. Suddenly, autonomy becomes an obstacle for the ministry’s intervention.
There is always an element of resistance from administrations of educational institutions to implement the reservation policy and the governments have also not pushed this agenda sincerely. The real aim of reservation is being reduced to securing a particular vote bank. But the present regime has clarity about this concept. Historically, their ideology has always opposed reservations. Presently, there is a lethal combination of neo-liberal policies and Hindutva agenda that is guiding the policies of the central government. These ideologies – neo-liberal policies and ideology of Hindutva – are least concerned about the deprived sections. The aim of the former is to maximise profits, where all affirmative actions are considered hurdles in the process, while the latter wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra based on the varna system. Dalits and tribals are not even part of this varna system.
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Educational institutions, especially institutions for higher education are a reflection of the society and also serve as a role model for the society. IIM-A is the model of new India under the BJP regime where deprived sections have no place. This cannot be the India of our dreams, which is for a few elite but deprives the poor masses. We cannot afford to go backwards from the path of building a just India, therefore, the policies of exclusion by the Hindutva forces should be resisted.
Author is former General Secretary of the SFI. Views are personal.