ON 8 March, more than 1,000 tribal students demonstrated at the Capital’s Jantar Mantar, claiming that Scheduled Tribe reservation in services/post and educational institutions that has been in practice all over India since 1955, was their “right” and should be continued undisturbed in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The demonstration came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Civil Appeal No. 5092 of 2009 (Subhash Chandra & Others Vs Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board & Others) declaring that the dicta in Pushpa (Case Appeal Civil No. 6-7 of 1998, S Pushpa & Others Vs Siva Chanmugavelu & Others) was an arbiter and did not lay down any binding ratio.
Though there was no legal notice or official intimation to “stop” Scheduled Tribe reservation, for the past two or three years several instances and experiences of tribal/Adivasi youths residing in the NCT of Delhi indicated that such move by the Delhi government was inevitable. A student demonstrator and leader of the Zomi Sangnaupang Pawlpi, Khaibiaklian, had reportedly said that candidates (from North-east India) for the post of “nurse” in the medical department under the Delhi government were told that there was no such ST reservation. That some of them were even asked to pay bribes.
Another student from Manipur, Lunching, who applied for a librarian’s post in the Delhi Service Selection Board and was among the successful ST candidate in the preliminary examination, 2009, said that the result of the final main examination did not include a ST list. Surprisingly, the result list showed that in the unreserved category there were only 23 successful candidates, whereas the advertisement in 2007 called for a total of 48 for UR and 40 ST. These are but a few of the cases wherein hundreds of tribals/Adivasis have been provoked to demand that the Centre directs the Delhi administration to follow the reservation policy as per the office memorandum issued by the Union home affairs ministry in 1955. Students also urged the Centre to issue a constitutional order under Article 342 (I) that all Schedule Tribes, as notified in the Constitution, be deemed to belong to the “schedule tribe” in relation to the NCT of Delhi as well.
According to the demonstrating tribal students, their “right to reservation” was enshrined in the Constitution. Also, the Union home affairs ministry’s office memorandum dated 14 October 1955 had prescribed that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe reservation in Class III and IV services/post would be based on the proportion of the population on a roster of 40, which was seven per cent. It also prescribed that irrespective of the proportion, SC/ST candidates should be given a minimum reservation of five per cent. In paragraph 1, it said that in Delhi the percentage of reservation would follow the all-India basis (as in Union Public Service Commission).
A large number of tribal students from North-east India and Adivasis (as they called themselves) from other parts of the country study in different educational institutions in Delhi and seek employment in the private and public sectors after their education. Every year, more than 500 students apply for admission to Delhi University from Manipur alone. A study by the Delhi-based North-east Helpline reveals that there are approximately 300,000 North-east people seeking jobs in Delhi.
One of the major issues that India face today is unemployment, which obviously is a reason for unrest among the youth of today. According to a 1999-2000 estimate by the Director General of Employment, as many as 9.05 million people were unemployed in India at a time when the country’s population stood at one billion.
The Schedule Tribe population comprises only eight per cent in India and this small percentage are inhabitants of India’s geographical periphery where development is still conspicuous by its absence even after 60 years of independence. This small population, categorised as “culturally and politically” different from the mainstream, is further isolated because they are placed behind more advanced society and subsequently identified or rather notified as “scheduled tribes”. Unemployment has impinged on their progress and upward mobility.
Reservation is, basically, an attempt by the government to correct some of its historical wrongs — the caste system that is old as India itself. And the ills it has spawned have long overflowed the pages of history.
Indeed, the reservation debate was at a high after the “upper caste” students of top educational institutions such as the AIIMS, IIT and IIMS in 2006 held several protests across Indian metros, some of which even turned violent – like the protest by AIIMS students in Delhi in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission proposal to increase OBC seats to 27 per cent.
Anti-reservation slogans question the “creamy layer, merit and equality”. Like a student from Arunachal Pradesh said during the demonstration at Jantar Mantar on 8 March, “We are called uncivilised, uncultured and termed ‘tribals’, but when we talk of job reservations we are called civilised, modern and equal with them.” As a matter of fact , the impact of the reservation policy saw several tribal youths venture out of their “place of origin” to avail of the “benefit” elsewhere in the country, one major destination being Delhi, the national capital. Many tribal/Adivasi youths have also made it to “collar” jobs through the ST quota. But now Delhi has indirectly told these same people that the national capital, whose “historical” population does not comprise “tribals”, neither welcomes them nor their move for ST reservation. So whose “capital” is it, anyway?
The writer is a freelance contributor
The Statesman , March 14, 2011