Panel seeks quotas in armed forces
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
EW DELHI: The day Dalit activists gathered in Durban for the opening of the world conference on racism, a parliamentary committee happened to present a report here saying the Indian armed forces were being unfair to the Scheduled Castes.
The committee on the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes recommends there should be an SC\ST quota for recruitment in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Going by what the defence ministry told the committee, the government is unlikely to agree. The ministry says tinkering with the system will blunt the military's efficiency. The armed forces were open to everyone as long as they made the grade, it says.
But the committee, headed by Karia Munda, now the new Union minister for rural industries, is dismissive of similar arguments given now and in the past. Its report called it the "government's parrot-like refrain."
The government argument that system should not be disturbed, the report says, was an excuse for preserving the existence of a very strong vested interest in the current set-up.
The committee says that if there was constitutional provision for reservations in other government services, there was no reason not to have job quotas in the military.
Marshalling every argument it can, the committee argues that if the military can have a special entry scheme for women officers and a quota for National Cadet Corps (NCC) students, it should have one for the Dalits as well.
Adding up figures from Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) annual reports, the committee says only 186 SC and 110 ST candidates were taken in the Army as officer cadets from 1950-51 to 1997, out of a total of about 50,000.
The committee is unhappy that the defence ministry did not have reliable statistics of the SC/ST soldiers. But based on voluntary disclosures made by its men, the defence ministry calculates that the SCs form 7.21 per cent of the Army, and the STs another 2.38 percent.
A decade back, the SC percentage was 8.53 and the ST 2.34.
The ministry also reminds the committee the Army, particularly the Infantry, has regiments composed, by tradition, entirely or partly of SC/ST communities. Like the Bihar, Mahar, Sikh Li, Assam, Naga and Ladakh Scouts.
But the committee feels that these regiments only strengthen its case for reservations. If the Army can have units in which recruitment is limited to a particular community or region, the government's argument against reservation was "not really valid."
The report also goes into the "deliberate disarmament" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes before and after Independence even though most of them came from, what it calls, the warrior classes.
"Demilitarisation of the entire group of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been the basic cause of their downfall in all walks of life."