Reservations, Minorityism and the UID Threat

Do not expect the UID (Unique Identity) scheme to track absconders and the corrupt. It will see to it that the backward remain where they are with a mid-day meal and an occasional trip to the local Disneyland ensured.

Reservations, Minorityism and the UID Threat
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, March 17

Who is really exploiting the reservation policy? If this is the constant fear, then there is more going on than we know. If politicians back certain groups for electoral ends, then those groups are not to be blamed. It was indeed shocking to read the Times of India editorial pick on the Gujjar and Jat communities that have demanded reservations and pass a blanket verdict:

“Today, reservation has ended up creating ‘creamy layers’ in targeted sections. The Supreme Court’s 50% ceiling on quota has been breached as well, as in Tamil Nadu. Quotas were meant to facilitate upward mobility in terms of jobs, livelihoods or status.”

What about sectors where the real 50 per cent are not considered? This has not happened because of more reservations, but due to the nature of nepotism and promoting one’s own, and it starts at the lowest level of bureaucracy to the highest power centres. On what grounds can it be stated that quotas are about upward mobility when public visibility ensures that they are recognised as the downtrodden? How many top positions have been filled with this reservation policy? How many candidates standing for elections are given this opportunity, unless it is to woo the constituency, and this is done by all sections – the Brahmins, the Rajputs, the Muslims, the Christians in their respective majority areas?

The editorial goes on to say that “six decades ago, it was thought that ostracised and marginalised groups needed reservation only as a time-bound instrument of socio-economic levelling. India has come a long way since then”. If that were the case then there would be no need for other groups to downplay their status, not in a country where recognised as heirs and designated with labels is so very important. There was much media attention paid to an over-the-top wedding of the children of two Gujjar politicians in Haryana. It does not reveal prosperity of the community as a whole, although it does make the upper castes uncomfortable to see their ostentation mimicked. It therefore acts as a convenient stick to beat the issue with:

“Clearly, if we’re to have reservation, it must be based on the economic criterion. More important, quota-based positive discrimination must make way for affirmative action in the form of efficient services delivery to the poor across the social board.”

While economically-backward people from all communities must benefit in terms of opportunity, how will such action be carried out? In the unorganised sector where daily wage is the mode of earning, there is no talk of reservation. Those are among the poorest people irrespective of their caste. Where has this great economic leap reached them? The definition of welfare does not have to be relegated only to paper.

It is pathetic to see the media playing the role of government spokespersons. The UPA gets a pat on the back for its food, health and “need” based schemes:

“Whereas quotas create social friction by building coddled niches, welfare-for-all has unifying potential, and hence can help bridge caste divides. The midday meal scheme in schools – encouraging community eating at a young age – is a case in point.”

Why is there always a problem regarding coddled niches where the SC/ST groups are concerned and not when the fat cats are? How does school children sitting and eating together result in a feeling of community? How many schools do not discriminate in matters of admission and, more importantly, attitude? What mid-day meal schemes are there in the rural areas?

These are camouflages that only serve those in power and probably let the middle-men make some money on the food-packets. Also, eating in a Dalit house does not unify anyone when we know who is eating where.

The worst part of the debate is regarding “fasttracked” development. This will work at the level of lining the roads with potted plants when a foreign dignitary visits. There is a rather vile motive and that is to promote the government’s UID scheme.

“The underprivileged have a sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem precisely because they’ve been treated as a faceless collective to be swayed by political populism, rather than as individual citizens with distinct identities and entitlements. Here’s where UID and financial inclusion come in. By giving the poor identity, financial agency and provable claim to social benefits, such projects can do more good than quotas ever could.”

Okay, so now that they have a face and a card, instead of a broom trailing behind them to clear the path for the others, will they get equal benefits? Or will their identity, stamped and marked, exclude them from certain areas while keeping up the pretence of welfare in others? Won’t their recognised identities help even small politicians trace them and use them for populist reasons, all at the click of a button? Is it not possible that were the younger lot to progress on their own and seek positions they will be tracked and prevented because those wonderful opportunities have been reserved for years for the privileged? Will not such a government-sanctioned identity, where everything from their source of food to their birth control methods are on record, not in fact work as a process of elimination quietly in the background?

Do not expect the UID (Unique Identity) scheme to track absconders and the corrupt. It will see to it that the backward remain where they are with a mid-day meal and an occasional trip to the local Disneyland ensured. India’s economic policy is a showcase, not an internal buffering system. It is about Forbes not welfare.

In this fairytale version of progress, one of the sops that has been thrown in is to give a well-settled institution like the Jamia Millia Islamia minority status. One might well ask where all the talk of welfare is now. In an article Najeeb Jung, the vice-chancellor, mentions that when it became a central university in 1988 with all the relevant faculties working, it had about 50 per cent Muslim students. In 2011, it has the same number. Unfortunately, he sees the positive aspects in what is clearly negative demarcation.

“First, over the last 90 years Muslims have had a sense of ownership and a fierce attachment with Jamia. They believe it is an institution of higher learning set up by their forefathers, to further in essence the cause of Muslim education, and declaring it a minority institution makes them secure in this feeling. Two, with the introduction of reservations for OBCs, the level of reservations in the university would go beyond 50% and therefore over time Muslim numbers will decline.”

Jamia is seen as a secular institution and promoting it as a minority one defeats the purpose. Citing the example of Christian-run colleges does not quite work because most of them have a missionary background and yet a ‘convent’ education is considered prized. The Christian community did not feel any ownership and having studied in such institutes one can say that except for the occasional superficial religious dimension, it was the elite students who felt more of a sense of belonging irrespective of their caste or religion. What the government has done is to make Jamia work as a double OBC unit, in a way.

On the subject of women’s education, Jung writes:

“Today, one of the glorious achievements of the university is that within its campus one frequently sees groups where girls in hijab mix easily with all others.” 

He is playing into a stereotype. Delhi has Muslim students in other universities who go without the hijab. Why does he assume that Muslims do not mix otherwise? The criticism that this could well be a ghetto, as much as is the UID scheme, is valid. And it is proved when he declares:

“While this is a huge affirmative action on the part of the government that the Muslim community must accept with grace and gratitude, I believe the government has put an onus on the Muslims to prove that they can look beyond common perceptions of ghettoisation, fundamentalism and so on and understand that imbedded in this initiative is the challenge to be tested at the altar of competence, professionalism and, above all, commitment to fierce nationalism and secularism that has been the bedrock of Jamia for the past 90 years.”

Technically, the Jamia is anyway entitled to 50 per cent quota for Muslims, so giving it the minority tag is a trap and it is easy to fall into it. Why should there be an onus on one community to prove not only its capability to be professionally qualified but committed to fierce nationalism, which incidentally is at the core of contemporary disparities and communalism?

The devious double dhamaka of minority certified as minority is to push a group into the corner. It is not surprising that an established institution has been chosen for this ‘honour’. It will be used as an example to throw more crumbs at lesser people, be they minorities or the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, all in the name of welfare and unification. The fact is their every footprint is being marked to make certain that they can only walk thus far and no further.

(c) Farzana Versey


  1. UID is a hobby horse of Nandan Nilekani. When hammer is your solution, every problem looks like Thumb.

    As for reservations, if you don't have some mechanism of social justice and you try unbridled capitalism of the west, plural society like India can not hold together. It is as simple as that.

    I am in favor of proportional representation system of Germany to ensure adequate representation in face of all the horse-trading and other anti-democratic practices.

  2. UID is part of the elite solution envisaged by the govt. in power to tag people. Nilekani is the proper corporate face they got.

    Those who oppose reservations are the first to use it via other means - the baap ka maal or 'Don't you know who I am?' syndrome.

  3. Oh and Indians here or in any global forum for that matter, can't stop whining about racism.

    sand calling the snow whiter??;-)

  4. When we Indians can't discuss with honesty, there is always WikiLeaks ;-)



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