Private Sector resists Affirmative actionsA Reply to "DEVOID OF MERIT: Reservations will Kill Indian Private Sector" by Rahul Bajaj Possibility of quota through affirmative action in Private sector becoming reality has created panic among the Indian Private Sector top Brass and it is increasing day by day. Seminars, discussions and meets have been arranged by the Indian Private sector firms to criticize the Central and Some state government's possible plans. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry FICCI has been in the forefront of this campaign and has been arguing that "Employability" of the SC/ST's should be increased and just allotting reservation will kill the competitiveness of the Private sector. Chairman and Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, Mr. Rahul Bajaj, who is apparently spearheading this campaign, and opposing this idea, wrote an article "Devoid of Merit: Reservations Will Kill Indian Private sector" in the Times of India on 10th September 2004.
His arguments however are based on frail age-old arguments of the anti-reservation campaign. Based on his article Mr Bajaj's arguments, nay allegations, against the quota can be summarized as:
1) Government sector and Public sector has lost its credibility due to SC/ST reservations since Independence.
2) Hiring SC/ST's based on their castes will be suicidal for Private sector
2) SC/ST's grossly misuse the atrocity act.
3) Only increasing employability of SC/ST's through vocational training and proper education can solve their job problem without the need to create quota.
Mr. Bajaj starts his article by agreeing that there is a need to "improve the economic status of the disadvantaged", as if economy is the crux of the problem; and he does not mention the social discrimination present in the cruelest form in Modern India. It was the atrocious social practice by the Upper caste Hindus sanctioned by their scriptures the prompted the constitution writers to provide quota for the SC/ST for the simple reason that given their positions in the social order, when exposed to mostly hostile upper caste Employer, they are more than likely to be neglected and there was a need to make it compulsory for the latter to have a fix percentage of the eligible people recruited from the such disadvantaged groups. What is the position of these groups after 50 years of independence?
In the Report of Ministry of Social Justice put before the Indian Parliament in July 2004, called "Annual Report on The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 For the Year 2002 (twenty second Annual Report), Ms. Meira Kumar, states " While the practice of Untouchability is unconstitutional and an offence in the eyes of the law, incidents of caste based violence and discrimination continue to occur. It should be realized that the ideas of dignity and inviolability of the individual could not materialize in the existing caste based Indian society. The society must, therefore, introspect and bring about an attitudinal change within itself for the law to be truly effective. For a democracy to be strong, it is necessary that all sections of the citizens feel that they are equal partners in a common enterprise. The very idea of higher castes and lower castes is repugnant to the basic principles of democracy. Caste is the most extreme form of institutionalized exploitation. I urge upon the elected representatives and our society at large to bring in a sense of equality and dignity among all and reject discrimination on the grounds of caste.". UNICEF's repot for 2003, The State of the World Report and the World Bank 2004 Report on South Asia reports that India has half of the world's child labour, about 115 million (equal to the population of all children in North America) and most of the Children are Dalits and Tribals. India also has 440 Million Destitutes and majority of them are Dalits and Tribals. There is, less than 20% population of Dalits and Tribals, educated and benefited by the reservation. Rests are still cleaning the latrines, and streets for the privileged life of High Castes Hindus or doing coolie work. The Industrialists of Free India are mostly Upper castes, and do not care about social problems and have popularized this notion of "Unfit" candidates from SC/ST.
The quota baiters presume that SC/St who will be inducted based on a fixed quota will not have any Merit. The "eligibility" criteria is not often the focus of the debate when anti-reservationists simply conclude that fixing a quota for a backward class is like "Forfeiting" Merit, skills and efficiency. Then how about selecting only those "Backward" candidates who are eligible? For e.g., a Software firm has the basic eligibility that only a Bachelor of Engineer with a certain aggregate marks can appear for screening written test just like the entrance test for IIT and IIM. Mr. Bajaj who is the chairman of the board of directors of IIT Bombay should have known this simple fact. Only those eligible who clear the first screening test like GATE are selected under IIT SC/ST quota. SC/ST's who do not clear GATE and do not pass graduate exam that year are not selected. The Dalits and Adivasis basically want the same from the private sector. A quota for their "eligible" candidates. Needless to say even after few decades of quota, IIT and IIM have not lost any credibility contrary to Mr. Bajaj's argument No 1 above. And just like the top Educational Institutes, the Public sector units continue to do well. A recent comprehensive survey by FICCI has reported that the profits of the PSU banks are up by 60% than the previous years and that of the Indian private sector Banks and Foreign banks are lagging much behind. So, public sector Banks are much ahead in the race for supremacy even though private sector banks have potential to be number one. How come SBI, who has been employing reserved category people, keeps topping the list? Why ONGC another public sector giant is still the biggest fortune 500 India Company with more than 2000 crore turnover? The same can be said of other public sector companies like LIC, IOCL etc. who recruit backward class people and still fare better than their private counterparts who claim have only "Meritorious" people. Of course, there are public sector units that are doing badly but then the same is true of Private sector companies. Recent turmoil in Global Trust Bank (GTB) is the best example of it. If this is the case then why are the SC/ST's labeled as "Unfits"? Mr Bajaj claims that 34% of his workforce in Baja Auto is from SC/ST/OBC community. Now there is a contradiction in what Bajaj says. If Bajaj recruited people without seeing their caste then how does he know that he has 34% SC/STs/OBC's in his company? It means that even though those people have been doing as well as any other people, someone has made an attempt to find out their caste Background? How else can he know how many SC/ST people he employs? Why did they even attempt to find out their caste? If we take the same case in contrary - if Bajaj had recruited the same 34% people as part of the "Affirmative action" then would he have said that they are no good?
Mr Bajaj's third highly abhorrent allegation that SC/ST misuse the Atrocity (prevention) act is itself an indication of how the mentality of the Employer is biased against the disadvantaged. He takes help of an example in NITIE to show how SC/ST people can possibly misuse the atrocity act and can possibly make life miserable for private sectors management. What actually happened in NITIE on July 22? Why the director of such top institute was arrested on the complaint filed by a Dalit Computer programmer, B. J. Nitnaware? The Indian Express has stated "NITIE Director Dr. Bagchi abused Nitnaware, by his caste for about an hour and ordered removal of Nitnawre's desk from the computer room. Nitnaware, supported by some local SC/ST associations, finally made courage to file complaint in police station 22 days after the incident under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the police arrested Bagchi, who was later released after paying a cash bond at the City Civil and Sessions Court." (The Indian Express, 11 September). Has Mr. Bajaj cared to see the police complaint or listened to the other side of the story before putting the blame on the Dalit programmer? Or does he want Mr. Bagchi to get away with his casteism just like Air India Director-Operations Mr. Hathi who publicly abused aspiring airhostesses belonging to Dalit Community by their castes?
Human Rights watch, a NGO working for Human rights violation worldwide has reported "Over 100,000 cases of rape, murder, arson, and other atrocities against Dalits are reported in India each year. Given that Dalits are both reluctant and unable (for lack of police cooperation) to report crimes against themselves, the actual number of abuses is presumably much higher. India's own agencies have reported that these cases are typically related to attempts by Dalits to defy the social order, or demand minimum wages and their basic human rights. The police itself commit many of the atrocities. Even perpetrators of large-scale massacres have escaped prosecution." In reality "The Atrocity Act" is rarely applied due to caste bias
A responsible person like Rahul Bajaj should have been careful while making such allegations against the oppressed. To show that he is sympathetic to their cause, he claims that his forefathers had made open the first "Harijan" Hindu Temple. Dr. Ambedkar ridiculing the "Harijans'"Separate temple idea had reminded Mahatma Gandhi that when there was a separate compartment available for him (Blacks) to travel in Africa, why did he needed to join the whites in their compartment? Was it not the idea of separate "Harijan" temples awful? Ironically, whole issue of quota has been approached and projected wrongly. The word 'Reservation' has become so corrupt that those who do not get it just hate the very word! For politicians, it is business as usual. No one realizes that this is a serious issue for millions of people. The approach to this issue should be from 'affirmative action' angle rather than 'reservation'. Instead of saying 'reservation in private sector', what must be said is that "any private company seeking any Government subsidy, tax relief, special benefits in exports and imports etc, or tendering for any Govt. contracts, supplying any good to Govt. agencies etc. must demonstrate that they share the social responsibility and consciously employ certain percentage of people from different social backgrounds, based on merit". This is not 'reservation' but affirmative action on part of the private companies. While there are successful examples of Affirmative actions and representation around the globe, how long are we continue to cry foul over the Merit -or the lack of it -of India's marginalized? Leading world economy like US has been using affirmative actions and quota for minorities like Blacks, Latinos, and Asians in Private sector and still continues to be the world Superpower. US has shown that Diversity and not homogeny is the rule to success. Black people's increasing representation in Private sector has increased the consumer power of the companies increasing their profits. Wal-Mart a major chain retailer in America, for instance, increased its profit as soon as it started recruiting Blacks. Similarly, giving good white collar jobs to Eligible SC/STs Private companies can ensure that there is not only a right mix of people in work environment that will not only breed new ideas, but will be useful in understanding the customer needs more effectively because of their entirely different social backgrounds. And this can directly help in achieving social and economic equality. Imparting Vocational Training to SC/ST could be part of the larger affirmative action. But employing the current eligible and available SC/ST is the need of the hour and not finding out the ways to improve the employability for their next generation.
Increasing atrocities and the social unrest resulting out of unemployment among SC/STs combined with hostile Private sector could very well spell doom for the Indian Civil society. If this 25% of Indian population is not brought to mainstream by giving them basic Human rights and a better representation in jobs that they are unrepresented in, then one has to listen to the warning of the Artichitect of India's constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, gave to the constituent Assembly on 29th November 1949 during parliamentary debates where he warned that if we fail to bring the social equality at the earliest, people who suffer from social inequality might blow up the whole democratic set up that we have so carefully built.