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India's quota system for Dalits, tribals in jeopardy

Economic status should not be the parameter to decide whether or not people can access reserved jobs and opportunities

India's quota system for Dalits, tribals in jeopardy

Members of the Dalit community protest for their rights in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state in this 2014 file photo. (Photo by AFP) 

A decision to allow 10 percent of government jobs and educational opportunities to be reserved for people from the upper caste in India will adversely affect quotas mandated by the Constitution for Dalit and tribal communities. 

The Supreme Court accepted the petition by the Gujarat government on Sept. 9 challenging the state court’s Aug. 4 decision to quash its order to reserve 10 percent of educational seats for upper caste people. But the Gujarat government claimed that it was merely looking out for poorer elements of the upper castes.

Christian leaders say the move defeats the purpose of the quota system in India — a form of positive discrimination where people from low caste groups are allowed access to official positions and university places.

They say that the quota system should only be for the betterment of marginalized sections of society such as the Dalits — formally known as "untouchables" — and tribal people.

"The quotas are given to the socially weaker sections of society but the poor in the upper castes are not social outcasts and enjoy a status in society," said Father Z. Devasagayaraj, Secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ Commission for Dalits and indigenous people.

He said that if the Supreme Court favors the Gujarat government’s plan to grant quotas to poor members of the upper castes it will lead to an imbalance in society. "Hundred percent development means not just the development of the upper caste but taking along all the backward and marginalized communities together," he said.

The priest said that the economic status of a person should not be the parameter to decide whether or not they can access reserved jobs and opportunities. "Money will come and go but if reservations are granted to those who are socially and economically backward it will help uplift their whole community," he said.

Due to the caste system in India, Dalits remain on the margins of the society and suffer poverty and unemployment. They are usually associated with odd jobs like domestic work, manual scavenging and as rural and urban daily wage earning labourers. Tribal communities live in the remotest parts of the country and they too are excluded from mainstream society.

Reserving positions for upper caste people depending on their financial standing is against the ethos of the quota system that is enshrined in the Indian constitution, according to Samuel Jaikumar of the National Council of Churches in India

The move will affect the whole development agenda of the country because "the upper castes will develop and leave others behind," he said.

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