Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reservation Road

It has been 12 years since Sonia Gandhi took over an ailing Congress. And what a turn around she has scripted in these 12 years. A decade is a long time no matter which way you see it. It is even longer in the political space where equations change too often. As she moves into her 13th year at the helm of Congress, she has geared up to push through another landmark judgement; the Women's Reservation Bill. It has already been passed by the Rajya Sabha and could be presented in the Lok Sabha any day now. The question as to whether we really need this reservation is something that should have been debated a lot more than the structure and provisions of the bill itself. However seeing as that point is out of scope of the political debate, I too would focus on an issue that's being raised by a number of leaders, namely reservation within reservation.

To assume that women from all strata of the society are on the same level would be a mistake. However to provide for a quota within a quota for women of these categories would be an even bigger mistake. Whose fault is it after all that the women from these communities are still socially backward, that their rights are still repressed? Is it not a creation of society itself? Or to be more precise, aren't the very men who are demanding this quota responsible for the current state of affairs?

Their demand does not emanate out of any concern for the women belonging to the supposedly backward communities. It is another ploy to deepen the already existing communal fault lines in the country. A female friend of mine recently spoke out against the institution of marriage. In particular her ire was directed against marriage as institutionalised in her religion; a religion whose women would be allegedy at a disadvantage following the Reservation Bill. Her piece was nothing if not an indictment of the men who have been running things in our country for a long time. What has been happening to these women is wrong, but providing for a quota withing the quota would be wrong too. And two wrongs don't make a right.

We are already suffering from the effects of reservation. Growing up, I wasn't aware of any distinction of caste of religion. Yet as I matured, I realized that we had been taken for a ride. The various reservations had failed to have the desired impact. The benefits didn't really reach to those who needed them the most. What it in fact had succeeded in doing was denying me and millions others like me our right; the right that emanated from meritocracy. Today, when we look at people who have taken adantage of the various reservations, we can not treat them as equal. It's not that we don't want to. It's just that the fact that resrevation has played a role in someone's accomplishments leads to a tinge of doubt and anger in our minds. While the women's reservation bill may be needed,and it is debatable min you, creating quotas within it would ensure that another generation or two would be destined to grow up feeling cheated and wronged. Do we really want that?

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