OPINION

Reservation Politics: The Summer of 2006

May 17, 2006
Anouradha Bakshi

The Summer of 2006 will go down as one of disturbed and angry students, greedy politicians, brutal policemen and bewildered citizens...

All is not well on planet India. The hydra-headed monster of reservation has been resurrected for reasons that only God or a few know!

Reservation was instituted by our erstwhile policy makers as a short-term relief measure aiming at unifying and not dividing, at making up for past mistakes and at healing wrongs. When was its spirit hijacked and usurped by greed, I do not know but, today it looks like a hydra-headed monster that grows new heads each time one is severed, and far from uniting, divides with glee an already fragmented society.

A simple look at statistics would show how miserably this policy has failed: the reserved seats often lie vacant, the poor get poorer, the drop out rate increases in quantum leaps and no rocket scientist is needed to guess what segment of society those falling out of the net of learning belong to, and the number of reservations grow and new castes are created. Even when tiny voices of reason are heard begging for better primary education, solutions suggested reek of division: classes for 'them' after 'ours', prep schools for 'them' but not with 'ours'.

The dreaded privatisation of education lies waiting to pounce, a deat knell for many children, and making us think of the obvious hidden agenda: prime land!

Wait a minute, are we all not stating, albeit unknowingly, that in the ultimate analysis the contenders of reservation are getting a second grade education, admitting that the constitutional right of Indian children to recieve free education is being violated as they are getting an education that is not up to the mark: 33% pass percentage, schools without teachers and so on...

The question is who will have the courage to wring the neck of our hydra-headed monster. Severing heads only serves vested interests in all strata of society, the neck lies elsewhere, where no one is willing to look, in two little words that have proved their mettle: common school.

Why is no one talking of the common school, something that countries we seek to emulate have always had: schools run by the state where the admission factor is the area you live in. In Delhi there is a government or municipal school in every posh locality (3 are under 5 minutes away from where I sit): spruce it up, create a Indian Education Service on the model of the IAS and put an end to the proliferation of poor quality private schools that have emerged as clones to inaccessible public schools and cater to the desire of poor parents to give their kids the best they can!

I know it is a tall order, and sadly it is the upper end of society that will block it because of age old hang ups and social nonsense: How can my child sit on the same bench as my driver's kid! Therein lies the real neck of our monster, in our own attitudes, our own fears, our own minds. I was in a common school way back in 1958 in Rabat, Morrocco. My best buddy was Omar, the local butcher's son and what linked us and made us bond was that we were both top of the class in studies and mischief! Omar went on to become a film maker.

We need an MK Gandhi or a Patel-like politician to have the courage to do what is right for India. Children of India being hit by water canons and police sticks is not what many gave their lives for. Reservation was instituted to make all children of India equal citizens, not to sear them with life long labels.

How many more reservations will it need to finally seek the neck? Come to think of it, after higher education and private jobs someone will think of 49% reservation in the India cricket team!

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