The Bold Voice of J&K

A Step Forward or a Step Backward?

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Reservation System

Reservation System

Ikkz Ikbal and Mohd Younus Bhat

The concept of reservation in India stems prior to independence, with the introduction of reservation in education by the king of Kolhapur, Shahu Maharaj in 1902 for non-Brahmin and backward classes. Post independence, various milestones have shaped reservation policies, such as the introduction of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the Indian Constitution in 1950 and the implementation of the Mandal Commission report recommending 27% reservation for OBCs in 1990.
The reservation system serves as a vital tool for uplifting historically disadvantaged communities by promoting social equity and inclusivity. It aims to address the systemic oppression and marginalization faced by these groups by providing opportunities in education and employment. However, if not implemented carefully, it can undermine the principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity. Apprehensions arise that the system may prioritize mediocrity over excellence, potentially diminishing the competitive environment, and efficiency within institutions. Moreover, the reservation system perpetuates a cycle of dependency and fails to tackle the root causes of inequality, such as limited access to quality education and socio-economic disparities. The decision to increase the reservation quota to 70% in Jammu & Kashmir at the expense of open merit is a blatant disregard for meritocracy and fair opportunities. Some consider this move a step towards social justice, but it has also sparked heated opposition with critics decrying it as a death knell for open merit.
In February 2024, the Press Information Bureau website released a press note that Ministry of Home Affairs, Lok Sabha passes the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2024. Following which, the recent notification on 15th March 2024 by the Jammu and Kashmir administration approved a 10% quota for newly included tribal categories, raising the total reservation quota to 70% in the region. This decision includes a 10% reservation for four newly added tribes, increasing the total Scheduled Tribes (ST) reservation to 20%. Additionally, 15 new castes have been added to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) list, with the reservation percentage for OBCs enhanced to 8%. This move has sparked discussions on the core principles of fairness and equal opportunity within the region.
The controversy stemmed from the amendment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2005, driven by political motives. The key reason behind the amendment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2005, was to expand reservation benefits to socially and educationally backward classes in the region. The amendment aimed to address historical injustice and provide reservation opportunities to communities that were previously excluded. Now, the augmentation of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) quota by 10%, at the cost of open merit, has led to a sense of marginalization and disenfranchisement among the Open Merit (OM) candidates. With open merit now comprising only 30%, most of the population, constituting the remaining 70%, feels neglected, with their aspirations and ambitions being compromised.
For the tribals and the advocates of this current quota system, it is a beacon of hope, a ray of optimism. A lifeline for historically marginalized communities that believe they have been oppressed for millennia. This special quota system has provided them with access to the possibilities and opportunities that were previously the exclusive domain of the privileged few. The inclusion of new tribes including Pahari in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and 15 new castes in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) has complicated the issue, adding fuel to the already raging fire. The reservation was capped at 50%. While the advocates of the reservation claim that it is a long pending recognition of their distinct socio-economic status, detractors believe it will merely worsen current disparities and deepen societal tensions. They believe this move undermines the struggles of Open Merit (OM) candidates who have endured decades of challenges. “Amid the cacophony of opinions, numerous individuals advocate for a more nuanced strategy that seeks to tackle the fundamental reasons behind inequality while also maintaining meritocratic ideals.
An alternative approach to the current reservation system for socially and economically backward communities [excluding the especially abled persons] involves, investing in education and skill development, instead of direct job reservations offering free education and support to underprivileged individuals, and utilizing government resources to uplift marginalized groups. With the widespread availability of mobile phones and the internet, the government can harness these technologies to provide free coaching to underprivileged communities, enabling them to compete in various examinations. Government institutions like schools and colleges, along with their faculty, can play a crucial role in offering quality education to marginalized groups.
Providing discounts on essential goods and services to deserving candidates can be a more effective strategy. By optimizing government institutions, manpower, and infrastructure to assist those in need, future generations can be prevented from becoming overly reliant on the reservation system. This approach focuses on empowering individuals through education and support, promoting independence and self-sufficiency rather than perpetuating dependency on reservations.
Indeed, this reservation system is a double-edged sword, simultaneously a blessing for some and a curse for others. While it has helped in advancing the cause of social justice, it has also fostered a culture of entitlement and dependency. The challenge lies in striking the right balance, in ensuring that no one is left behind while also upholding the principles of merit and fair competition.
The road forward may have challenges and uncertainties. One thing is clear, the growing voices against 70% reservation cannot be silenced. Only time will tell if the quota system proves to be a boon or bane for the people of J&K.
Let us not be deceived by the allure of simple remedies and quick fixes. The quota system, in its current form, is merely a bandage for the deep wounds of inequity and injustice. It may seem to provide temporary relief to some, but it merely addresses the cause of socio-economic disparities.
In between all this chaos and confusion, a holistic solution to this problem is inevitable. Individuals must be allowed to shape their destinies. The education system and the skill development initiatives by the government must be enhanced and strengthened. Offering targeted assistance to underserved populations, and cultivating a culture of merit and excellence.
As citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, it is our collective responsibility to shape our future and establish a society that is inclusive and fair for everyone. We should unite to speak out against injustice, hold those in power accountable, and collaborate to construct a better future for the generations to come.

(The writers Ikkz Ikbal is an Administrator at Maryam Memorial Institute Qaziabad Kupwara and Mohd Younus Bhat is a PhD scholar at Pondicherry University).

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