this Article, the State could make "any special provision
for the advancement of socially and educationally backward
classes or citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes". These provisions form the basis of
reservation policy for admission in educational institutions
and recruitment in public sector.
the years, the political and social system have reached
a measure of equilibrium on this difficult issue of quotas.
The extention of such reservations to backward classes during
the early 90's did deepen divisions. But the parties and
governments acted with great restraint and good sense to
restore harmony and promote justice.
can keep on arguing about the merits and demerits of reservations.
But the fact remains that even today the fate of a vast
proportion of children is determined by the accident of
the caste or family they are born into, and not on their
natural endowments. That is why 45% of Dalits are in poverty,
whereas the national average is 25%. Most of the child workers,
abjectly poor persons, workers in undignified occupations,
those involved in back-breaking drudgery are from the Dalits
and occupational backward castes. Reservations may not alter
the reality; but it is a way of the society promoting diversity
and establishing the legitimacy of the system by a policy
of inclusion and accommodation.
that the role of government is being redefined as part of
economic reform process, private sector is growing rapidly.
True, this growth is not accompanied by significant employment
generation. But the fact is, much of future employment has
to be outside government. Out of the estimated 370 million
workers in India, only 28 million are in the organized,
monthly wage-earning sector with secure jobs. Of them, nearly
20 million, or over 70 percent, are in government and PSUs.
There is a lot of need and room for restructuring in government.
We have too many clerks, peons and drivers; and too few
teachers, health workers, judges and law enforcement workers.
But the government employment cannot expand. The recent
strife in Mumbai and Assam about employment in low-skilled
jobs in railways is a timely reminder of the shrinking job
market, and the passions public employment can arouse. On
an average, about 500 candidates applied for every job.
While the required qualification is 8th class education,
many with university degrees competed. And there were serious
acts of vandalism, murder and mayhem on grounds of partisanship
employment in private sector is under sharper focus now.
And opportunities for the Dalits in the economy is an important
issue that needs to be addressed.
entrepreneurs, economists and analysts are horrified at
the thought of affirmative action policies in private sector.
Some dismiss it as unconstitutional. Fierce arguments can
be advanced by both sides to support their contentions.
But this is not a polemical issue. We are dealing with the
lives of a quarter of our population denied the opportunities
for vertical mobility.
are several issues we need to address. We need affirmative
action policies backed by strong legal mechanisms to prevent
discrimination on grounds of caste, region, religion or
gender. In an increasingly globalized economy, the competitive
edge of the industry cannot be eroded. There must be greater
reliance on the market mechanisms for promoting diversity
and opportunity for all. Can we find such win-win solutions
acceptable to all? The experiences of South Africa and the
US along with India are instructive in this respect. Scholars
like Krishna Tummala of Kansas State University have done
important work in this field which can offer us valuable
lessons. There are three measures our society should consider
we need an Equal Opportunities Act similar to Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the US. Such a law, with
a strong mechanism to enforce it and swiftly penalize any
discriminatory practices will force industry to recognize
the diversity of our society, and recruit workers from Dalits
and other poorer sections. Second, the State and private
sector must provide training opportunities to Dalits and
other disadvantaged sections to enhance their skills and
productivity. Most jobs in industry require simple, reliable
skills, and the employer cannot have the excuse of unsuitability
once the worker is trained to suit the specific needs of
an industry. Actual recruitment can then reflect social
diversity, and the trained workers form the pool for recruitment
from Dalits and poorer sections. Finally, civil society
can play a proactive role with government support. Research
organizations should come up, and rate corporates on the
basis of recruitment practices. If a company makes no effort
to employ Dalits, it can be threatened by boycott of its
products in the market. No sane entrepreneur will lose market
share by discriminatory practices.
issue of equal opportunities and employment for Dalits in
private sector cannot be wished away. Neither short-sighted
political populism, nor ostrich-like neglect of our social
and economic realities will help. Growth is great, but it
is not sustainable only if all segments of population have
real stakes in it. Otherwise, the resultant discord and
strife will erode our competitiveness and undermine prosperity.
only good quality school education available to all children,
and universal access to reasonable standards of health care
are the best guarantors of opportunities for vertical mobility.
Only a comprehensive restructuring of our political and
governance process can accomplish these goals. Meanwhile,
we need to act decisively to enhance the stakes for all
human potential is not fulfilled, liberty becomes meaningless,
and democracy will be in danger. The political system and
the industrial class must honestly address this issue and
come up with creative responses.