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E-Pao! Opinions - No reservation Rhetoric please

No reservation Rhetoric please
By: Deepak Chabungbam*



Mr. Ranjan Yumnam, in an extremely well-written article, has passionately argued for demanding SC/ST status for Meiteis. He has given three justifications:
1. we are "chinkis" like our fellow ethnic groups and our "pride and ego" should not come into the picture
2. if Brahmins are demanding reservations, why can't Meiteis do the same?
3. if we can accept the tag OBC, why not the tag SC/ST?

My article seeks to present an alternative viewpoint while accepting the fact that "Reservation is like a general train compartment: those who are inside are always in conflict with those who want to get inside".

At the outset, I should emphasize that my arguments have nothing to do with any "pride and ego". Nor am I implying any kind of social hierarchy. Nor do I consider the tag SC/ST (or the tag OBC for that matter) derogatory in any sense of the word. My personal opinion is that Meiteis are as much as a tribe as any other ethnic group in Manipur or NE India is. And there is no doubt that our society is a highly egalitarian one-something I'm enormously proud of.

People from other parts of the country may refer to the Mongoloid stock collectively as "chinkis" but we also collectively call them "mayangs". This is, of course, an altogether different issue and has no relation whatsoever with a political issue. This adequately settles the first and the third points raised by Mr. Yumnam.

Which then brings me to the second point. First of all, I would like to place on record the fact that every democracy that is committed to equity and justice needs some form of affirmative action. Having said that, I note with regret that the policy of reservation in education and employment, as it is practiced today, kills merit and quality. It has unfortunately evolved into a policy that is steeped in shibboleths. Far from being a tool for achieving affirmative action, it has today become an anachronistic concept.

The recent moves by the BJP and the Congress to outdo each other in extending reservations to some upper castes, which have received a lot of flak from various sections of the society and the media, only confirms the fact that the policy of reservation has become a huge political enterprise.

What reduces this whole exercise to a huge mockery is the sharp drop in public sector employment. The latest data released by the National Sample Survey (NSS) shows that the rate of growth of employment in the public sector has declined from 1.52 % for 1983-94 to -0.03 % for 1994-2000. This is only expected in a liberalizing economy that is becoming increasingly market-determined.

Since the Civil Services seem to be the flavour of the day, lets see what is in store there: till the early 90s, the annual intake was around 800-1000 but the number has increasingly dwindled reaching an all-time low of 285 this year. Well, job quotas are fine but there are no actual jobs to be given.

Although originally intended to be a strategy of empowerment, reservations have degenerated to become a strategy of enslavement, of creating a widespread culture of social and political dependency.

Therefore, it is only pragmatic that instead of presenting ourselves as a commodity in the political market, we should focus our attention and channelise our energies into issues that are of more relevance in the context of the new economic order in which the market rather than the state is becoming the primary source of economic opportunities. Maybe, we could start with clarifying which textbooks our thousands of students should be studying and who should be prescribing them.

Secondly, it sounds very appealing to argue that reservation would get us jobs in good numbers. Yes, as things stand today, we might land up with good jobs for the next 5 or even 10 years. That is the short-term benefit. After the initial bonhomie, the party will be over sooner than later.

But have we ever wondered why we are in a position to exude so much self-confidence? Why can we make sweeping statements like "… with the added advantage of reservation allotted to us, we may eventually see a sea of Manipuri talent sweeping all public examinations in India." with so much conviction? The point I'm trying to make is that any benefit that might accrue to us will only be as a direct consequence of years of "living in the thick of action".

There are certain inherent advantages of growing up in a competitive environment: we have been extremely hardened and we have become sophisticated. Our fighting instincts have been put to the extreme tests and the competitive spirit in us has transformed us into an intellectually rich community. Needless to say, there are a number of achievers in a number of fields. We, as a community, are today way ahead of others in so many spheres primarily because we have been "pushed" into the vast sea of tough competition. We can discount this aspect only at our own risk.

The human intellect works in perfect synchronism with the environment in which it is placed. Change the environment and human productivity changes accordingly. Therefore, if we tell ourselves that we are being discriminated against and that we should seek reservations, then we've got our priorities seriously wrong. At a time when our society is doing a lot of active soul-searching, one cannot help drawing the obvious inference that getting into that frame of mind is not only misplaced but also would be counter-productive as it would only lead to further degeneration of our society propelled by a lax attitude towards our work and education. This is regressive and is totally unacceptable.

There is a myth propounded by us that reservation is the panacea to all our ills and that SC/ST status can emancipate our community. The truth is that reservation as a tool of affirmative action has been as effective as our population control methods. Reservation without qualifications won't emancipate us. It's not that the day we become SC/STs, most of us will land up in good jobs. And it's definitely not that people who get into, for example, the Civil Services through some quota are there "just because of the quota". That is where the "Lyngdoh argument" comes into the picture.

Ranjan passionately writes: "I would rather be a Lyngdoh instead of being a Meitei loser". Well, this is not the first time that I've heard such statements from many a Meitei student. This has indeed become extremely fashionable. The truth is that Lyngdoh was an extremely bright student and he made it to the IAS as a General category candidate at the age of 21. We have no right to downgrade the accomplishments of this achiever from the North-east by associating him with some "quota".

This, therefore, is a hollow argument. It is not reservations that will sustain us in an increasingly competitive atmosphere. The solution lies in changing our attitudes to work and career; and in cultivating discipline in our work-culture. We need to relight that fire of enthusiasm which will make us starve and strive for excellence. This is the need of the hour.

The idea of reservation was conceived as a means to an end. Years of being in the thick of intense competitive action have given us the means today. We have a number of achievers in a number of fields. And I can proudly proclaim that Meiteis have the intellectual wherewithal to overcome our economic backwardness.

Years ago, when we were given the offer, as Ranjan very aptly points out, our pride and ego rejected it. We boarded another train… that runs much faster. Today, we seem to be ruing our own decision. These are hard times indeed for all of us. And this is when we should collectively strive to rise to the occasion. This is the time when our determination should be steadfast and our latent energies should be brought to the fore. This is definitely not the time to meekly surrender and cry for concessions. Is not proper then that instead of jumping down from a running train and decelerating our social and intellectual progress by further reinforcing our laid-back attitude to life by advocating seeking concessions, we should be telling our children and students what we can achieve if we put our heart and soul into our individual endeavours?

Our "collective destiny" cannot depend upon some preferential treatment meted out to us by the state. We have to be the authors of our own destiny. We need to be highly realistic in our approach to such issues, which have the potential of transforming to highly emotional ones. We should cautiously guard against presenting ourselves as political fodder to unscrupulous elements. Reservation has become a farce today. It is at best a political tool. We should take the lead in emphasizing that the essence of affirmative action should be shifted from quota to market participation.

I cannot accept the sacrifice of our competitive spirit at the altar of reservation. We need to be far-sighted in our thinking and forward-looking in our attitude.

When the going gets tough, the tough in us should get going…for our own sake, let us not apply brakes.


* The writer is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service and readers are free to comment
on this article at dchabs@yahoo.com


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