A new joke doing the rounds on facebook goes like this:
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh: “The Indians are planning to set foot on the moon.”
President Obama: “How many?”
Dr. Singh: “A hundred – 35 OBC, 25 SC, 20 ST, 10 PH, 5 sports quota, 4 minority and if possible 1 astronaut.”
The numbers against the various categories roughly correlate with the percentages of reservations available to them in educational institutions. While the plight of a general category student, in today’s world of cut-throat competition is certainly understandable, popular tendency to blame the reservation system in this manner is undesirable.
Before I go any further, let me admit that I come from the SC/ dalit community. And that I have indeed been a beneficiary of the reservation system. That I have gotten a seat into an IIT scoring only half the marks my peers from the General category have got to get for the same. Do I feel I deserve to be there? I do not know. I have always felt lucky to have been in the company of these people. And I would happily say IIT Kharagpur has made me a much much better person than I would have ever hoped of becoming.
That aside, more than three-fourths of the Indian junta on Facebook are between the ages of 18 to 34. And something that would also be tacitly understood is the fact that most of these people belong to urban India. What is unfortunate is that, this urban, young India, of which I too am a part, is completely ignorant of, and blind to, the real, rural India.
We do not know what rural India looks like. We do not, until one Aamir Khan talks on the telly, know that manual scavenging is still prevalent across rural northern India. Nor do we know, that in some parts of southern India, people from the lower castes – are forced to eat faecal matter, are not allowed to have footwear, work in crematoriums, and this list is endless. It is well known, that girls who love boys from the lower castes are murdered in the name of ‘family honour‘. The text accompanying the aforementioned joke asserts in block letters that ‘caste or religion cannot be the reasons for poverty’. In a country where food prepared by a dalit woman is deemed ‘untouchable’, how on earth is upward economic mobility possible? I really do wonder, if I were born in rural India, I really would not have been doing what I am doing now.
Social inequalities like these are not just restricted to rural India, they permeate urban India too. Albeit, in a much much more subtle manner. ‘The Hindu‘, in a series of articles, notes how ‘housing aparthied’ flourishes across Indian metros and how this had led to a ghettoisation of sorts. The Muslims, a minority, and people from the lower castes, are subjected to complete humiliation in their search for a rented house. I, myself, as a child, when I visited friends’ homes, have been asked countless times as to which caste I belong to.
The recent death of a young woman gang-raped in a moving delhi bus, has brought large sections of the society to the fore demanding stricter laws, that would punish the culprits by hanging, or by castration. The justification behind asking such extreme punishments is that, while it could take a long time to change the minds of Indian men, and make them understand that a woman is a human being, just like they are, and not a toy for their sexual pleasures, in the mean time, these extreme punishments could deter atleast some men from committing those heinous crimes.
On a similar vein, while it is easy to blame the reservation system, it is quite difficult for the urban Indian to make a rational judgement based on the social injustices the minorities face. I urge my readers to understand that the reservation system is just a token of appreciation to those who brave all the social stigma and do manage to score those minuscule marks. To them, those marks mean a lot, and the reservation too.