SOCIAL discrimination is one of the basic divisions in Indian society since historical times. In India, there are a wide range of socially excluded groups, currently recognised by the state under the categories such as SCs, STs, Other Backward Classes and minorities, who experience discrimination and abuses in everyday life. Deprivation of people is a result of process whereby certain individuals are pushed to the edge of society and prevented from participating fully by virtue of their poverty, or lack of basic competencies and lifelong learning opportunities, or as a result of discrimination. They have little access to power and decision-making bodies and thus often feel powerless and unable to take control over the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives.
This process of social exclusion which had deprived sections of society is the result of monopoly where certain sections (upper caste) keep other sections (lower caste) out of the social functioning. In Indian society, the process of deprivation has been institutionalised by religious beliefs and the structure of caste system. Caste is a reality which has deprived majority of the masses from their basic rights. Deprived castes were economically and socially discriminated by the upper castes which own the means of production and resources. The upper castes have used religious sanctions to operate their oppression on the lower castes.
For improvement of the status of deprived castes and for social inclusion, it is important to address a combination of issues that include income inequality, education, skill levels, housing affordability, health inequalities and work–life balance and access to land. Equal opportunities in education and employment are most crucial for breaking the clause of caste oppression and bringing lower castes into the mainstream process of development. It is also conceived as a way to bring financial uplift (through employment) for those who are excluded and subsequently they can improve their social status. Though it is a fact that only economic upliftment alone cannot fight the caste, access to resources and employment opportunity still can break the hurdles in a big way.
Various researches show that the influence of caste, religion, sex and place of birth is high in range with regard to employment opportunities. Due to this reason, reservation in employment becomes even more important for deprived sections.
The reservation policy in employment was never implemented wholeheartedly as reflected by the existing backlogs in various departments especially for top posts, still we have to acknowledge the fact that reservation in employment has actually played a crucial role in the process of advancement of the dalits. Due to reservation, the share of dalits in various government and semi-government services have increased substantially in all the groups or classes during the last six decades.
But now under the regime of neoliberal economic policies the impact of reservation in public sector is reduced. The policy of liberalisation and privatisation has reduced the number of employment opportunities which in turn reduced the job opportunities for the underprivileged sections, especially dalits and tribals, in government services and public sector undertakings. The governments at the Centre and in the states have imposed restrictions on creation of new posts and new appointments for a long period. Moreover, the governments are now interested to make appointment on an ad-hoc or contract basis instead of regular basis. The question of reservation roster is not followed in this ad-hoc or contractual appointments, both in the higher and lower level of posts. Ad-hoc or contractual appointment will no doubt harshly affect the provisions of reservation and the interests of the dalits in respect of services. The situation becomes more complicated owing to the abolition of thousands of posts arbitrarily by the government.
To add to this miserly employment opportunity in public sector, many government industries and public sector enterprises have already been sold off through various forms of disinvestment and privatisation. There are more efforts by the present government to even surrender the high profit making infrastructural public sector undertakings which are called ‘Navaratnas’ to private agencies. It is already in the process to privatise the largest employer in India, Indian railways. Air India is on the platter for private houses.
Clearly, employment opportunities in the public sector are continuously shrinking, whereas it is increasing in private sector. This is another factor that the present private sector is also facing jobless growth. Private sector does not follow any kind of reservation policy for recruitment. In this condition, there is no meaning of reservation in public sector when no or very less job opportunities are there.
As far as private sector is concerned which is totally controlled by market forces, it is largely owned by the upper caste entrepreneurs. Caste and gender disparities are there in all enterprises of private sector. The share of SC-ST ownership has declined over the period, SC-ST enterprises tend to be smaller, more rural than urban, and have a greater share of owner-operated (single employee) units. Dalits and Tribals find it very difficult to get recruitment in private sector particularly in the higher posts as these private institutions owned by the upper classes are full of discrimination. Same is proved by various studies.
There is a wage gap despite having laws like equal pay for equal wages between higher castes and the scheduled castes/tribes in the regular salaried urban labour market. Paul Attwell and S Madheswaran have concluded in a study (2007) that discrimination causes 15 per cent lower wages for SC/STs as compared to equally qualified others.
Even this discrimination is more prevalent at the entry level. A study conducted by Thorat and Attewell (2007) claims that succeeding with Dalit and Muslim family names is quite difficult for being called for next stage in the selection process during the job application compared to Hindu names with same educational qualification and skills in modern private enterprises.
Job reservation is not binding on the new private owners of such enterprises. As a result, employment opportunities for the dalits have drastically gone down. In these conditions when private actors have active role in markets and withdrawal of the state from basic service provision in the due course of neoliberal economy, and the discriminatory practices in the private sector, it is basic need to implement reservation in the private sector institutions if we really care about the betterment of the deprived sections in present time. It is also very important to note that reservation in private sector does not mean reservation in floor work or manual work only; it means reservation at all levels in private institutions.
There are various types of counter claims against the reservation in private sectors campaigned by the private houses. Two important of these are; first the old debate of merit versus reservation which says that reservations also impact the work efficiency of the private institutions and the second one is that private houses will not be ready for reservation. Both the arguments are without logic.
Various studies especially the one by Ashwini Deshpande on Indian Railways has indicated that reservation has positive impact on work efficiency. The second argument of willingness of the private sector is also futile and it reflects the will of the ruling class. When private sector is enjoying various concessions by the government to enhance industrial growth, it is hard to understand why this sector should not implement the affirmative actions proposed by the Constitution. We know that private sector uses public resources and even capital from the public sector banks and financial institutions (keep in mind the huge amount of tax concessions and loan relaxation). Basically, all these are mere excuses by the ruling class of the country.
If we analyse the general policy of the government, we can understand hypocrisy of its policy. The government claims that it is committed to the development of the deprived sections but this stand of the government remains a puzzle as on the one hand, it embarks on the neoliberal policy framework and on the other, it talks about promotion of inclusive growth. These two concepts, however, leave a question whether the government really wants inclusive growth and care about the upliftment of the deprived sections.
Therefore, it is the need of the hour to raise the demand of reservation in private sector in India. Recent struggles by the deprived castes on various issues are also a reflection of the situation of joblessness among the youth from these sections. When our government is busy in a criminal conspiracy to divert the public attention from the real issues, it is the duty of the Left and progressive movement to mobilise people on the basic issues; and employment is the issue of the young India. And without the demand of reservation in private sector, the struggle for employment will be incomplete.
- Vikram Singh (General Secretary, SFI)