The apex court delivered a judgement on 20th January 2022 authored by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.S. Bopanna about extending reservation to OBCs in all-India quota (AIQ) of seats in admission to under-graduate and post-graduate medical and dental courses. The landmark judgement is perceived as a tool to demolish false narratives regarding reservation, especially the merit of marginalised students, i.e., SC, ST and OBCs.
Through this judgement, the Supreme Court has again addressed the issue of merit versus reservation. It is not the first time that Supreme Court has addressed the issue of merit vs reservation. In the previous judgements like promotion of SC/STs in jobs, Indira Sawhney and others vs Union of India, in which the Supreme Court opined that caste was an acceptable indicator of backwardness and mandated 27% reservation in central government jobs. However, the question is that after such progressive judgements by Supreme Court, myths associated with reservation vanish? The Sukhdeo Thorat Committee (2006) suggests that caste discrimination is part of our educational institutions. The Report of the Committee based on AIIMS, Delhi points out that 69 percent of SC/ST students do not receive adequate support from teachers, and 72 percent of students face discrimination in teaching sessions. 84 percent of students have said that their grades were affected due to their caste background. Mess halls, common rooms, places related to sports and participatory activities tend to remain the centre of social isolation and segregation. Ragging, bullying, and othering are segregation practices that marginal student face usually.
The case of Payal Tadvi (2019) tells that talent of marginal students are overlooked, and educational authorities ignored her verbal and written complaints about ragging. The miserable thing is that the false narratives about the so-called merits of marginal students exist on a larger extent. A study entitled “The steady Drumbeat of Institutional Casteism” by Mumbai based feminist organisation Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW) found out the reason behind institutional casteism in medical institutions. The findings point out that entry of marginal students in large numbers in educational institutions has become a sore point for dominant castes. The study termed the death of Payal Tadvi as institutional murder and highlights that the dominant castes have perceived affirmative actions like reservation as an anti-merit solution. It also highlights the experiences of Dalit doctors while treating and surveying patients. They often had to face questions about their caste, and after knowing their caste identity, many of the patients refused to answer the survey. Apart from reservation mandated by the constitution, no other proactive actions were taken against such discrimination. The study shows that the stereotypical attitude towards marginal merit is normalised in educational institutions. Despite the implementation of SC/ST and OBC reservation in educational institutions, the students from marginal sections are not treated equally to certain sections of students. The main aim of reservation was to bring socio-educational parity to marginalised sections, but this aim has been overlooked and students from backward communities have to face caste discrimination in educational institutions. The union government data on student death in government educational institutions in which 122 students committed suicide in the past seven years, among them the majority of the students belong to SC/ST, and OBCs which tells the level of caste discrimination of backward students.
When the Supreme court confirmed the reservation of OBCs in medical colleges, the quota rants can be seen on social media. Certain sections mocked Supreme Court’s judgment by making memes, cracking jokes on lower-castes doctors and trying to prove that low-caste doctors are ineligible doctors and are incapable of studying the so-called challenging medical course. In the 20th January,2022 judgement, Supreme Court stated that the impact of backwardness does not simply disappear because a candidate has a graduate qualification and does not create parity between advanced classes and backward classes. It is worrisome to see that even after the rejection of this argument by the Supreme Court, the anti-reservation people are not able to understand the importance of reservation.
Where the Problem Lies
First, the problem lies in the mentality of people that they perceive reservation as the murder of merit. Nicholas Dirks pointed out in his famous book “Castes of mind” that it is hard not to think of caste when thinking of India. Caste and ‘caste consciousness’ is deeply embedded in our psyche and way of thinking. The progressive judgement by supreme courts and the idea of the constitution has not translated in real terms. The narrow attitude towards reservation is adamantly present in our society. The caste discrimination is so dangerous that students like Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, Fatima Lateef, Devangan and many more have given their lives. So, the importance of reservation is must be understood by all that its biggest aim is to bring social justice, which we have failed to bring as a society.
Second, the proper implementation of reservation in all educational institutions. Despite various laws by Parliament, there is poor implementation of reservation in the educational institution. The minute details (09/09/2021) of the hearing by NCBC (National Commission of Backward Classes) on violation of OBC reservation in University of Hyderabad tells that many OBC posts of the unreserved category converted as Unreserved (UR). There was no OBC reservation in the University of Delhi hostels. When the NCBC asked the university authorities to provide OBC seats in Hostels, the issue came to light. In August 2021, The Education Ministry shared information with the Parliament that in Central universities, a total of 4251 posts were lying vacant of the 7815 reserved sanctioned posts.
Third, certain educational institutions have made the biggest myth and started a norm by limiting reserved candidates for the reserved seats only. It should not be spelt that the unreserved category belongs only to the upper caste category.
Fourth, the criteria of “Not Found Suitable” (NFS) mostly applied to the reserved category. The recent case of Vacant PhD seats in Department of History, DU and vacant OBC positions in Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institution of the University of Allahabad are perfect examples.
The verdict of the Supreme Court is a welcome step towards establishing equality in society. However, the government needs to be very active in the proper implementation of reservations in medical institutions.
On 26th January 2019, University Grant Commission issued a letter with the subject ‘Prevention of caste-based discrimination in Higher educational institutions’ where the commission directed the higher educational institution to develop a page and website for the complaints of SC/ST students. The letter shows the positive impact, and many institutions developed such pages, but it needs scrutiny for its effectiveness. The Role of UGC is central in this direction, and an effective instrument is required to ensure the reservation. Along with making guidelines for implementing reservations, the UGC must give due dates for its implementation. Despite the provision of SC/ST and OBC reservation in the educational institution for many years, many institutions have failed to implement it.
After the death of Payal Tadvi, the NCST, Maharashtra state committee, Indian Medical Association, National Commission for Women appointed committees and enquired the casteist discrimination. For the past few years, NCBC, NCSC, NCST commissions have been active and constantly asking the authorities regarding caste issues and non-implementation of reservation, which must be continued for the welfare of the marginal sections. These steps are crucial in checking the accountability of educational institutions in caste-discrimination issues.
The Education Minister, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, assured a student organisation, All India Other Backward Student Association (AIOBCSA), in a meeting (25/08/2021) that there will be a ‘Social Justice Cell’ in all educational institutions which will address the issues of reservation and caste discrimination of marginal students. This noble idea must be brought into real terms.
The most important is the promotion of diversity through various programs to combat ill-mentality and myths associated with the merit of backward students. Psychological support and counselling should be provided to the aggrieved students. An effective anti-ragging committee and social justice cell should work in all educational institutions. Lastly, if B.R. Ambedkar’s idea of ‘annihilation of caste’ becomes a reality, the inequality will automatically disappear from society.
Ritu,Research Scholar, University of Delhi