The Recent Suicide Of A Woman Doctor Shows Why Reservations Are Essential For True Equality

Posted: May 26, 2019

The caste system has oppressed for centuries, and still does, as in the case of a recent suicide by a lady doctor in which casteist harassment has been alleged as a cause.

This week, a lady doctor who was doing post graduation in gynecology committed suicide by hanging in her hostel room in the civic run BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai.

It is alleged by the victim’s parents that she was harassed over her origins as she belonged to a scheduled tribe. That the victim had verbally complained to the unit head and the department head about the casteist remarks and harassment, and no action had been taken.

The victim was allegedly not allowed to have meals by her seniors, and she was not allowed to meet her mother who was undergoing cancer treatment. The victim was also allegedly taunted on a WhatsApp group for doctors by her seniors.

A case has been filed against three senior women doctors who allegedly harassed the victim. The case is for abetment of suicide, and under sections of the SC/ ST Atrocities act, Anti Ragging act, et al.

Reminiscent of the Rohith Vemula case

This case seems like a repeat of what happened to Rohith Vemula, a PhD student at the University of Hyderabad. He committed suicide after facing extreme harassment, following which there were many protests, and an inquiry was launched to determine Rohit Vemula’s caste. It was revealed that Rohit belonged to ‘backward caste’ and was not a Dalit, and so, the matter ended there.

It makes no difference to the powers that be that a youth commits suicide. Because, what is of utmost importance is the caste! This is what has remained unchanged, since our society started harping on the caste system from ancient times.

Why is affirmative action necessary?

And that’s why the concept of reservation was introduced in the Indian Constitution. This was done to bring oppressed communities, namely, the scheduled castes and tribes, to a level that they can be equated to some extent with the non oppressed, higher castes. This is because under Article 14 which is a Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution states ” The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. ”

And reservation is an affirmative action, that is positive action through policies which give the disadvantaged communities easier access to education and employment. This is so because Article 15, another Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution states that the State can make special provisions for classes of people who are socially and educationally backward, or the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. And  towards this end, the State has reserved some seats in educational institutes and in government jobs.

This affirmative action was thought to be initially sufficient for a short period.

The need to continue reservations

Indian society has yet to accept the backward classes as an equal partner. And hence, the State has to continue affirmative action year after year, through the years. The higher castes feel discriminated against by the 70 year old reservations, but the higher castes seem to forget that the scheduled castes and tribes have been oppressed and suppressed for millions of years since the time of Vedas, and the repression continues .

Even today, there are news reports of honour killings wherein the couple’s parents and relatives, and sometimes entire villages have ensured that the couples are killed because the boy and girl ‘dared’ to marry outside their caste.

And in educational institutes, when the members of disadvantaged classes take admissions, they are treated with scorn and hate. They are made to recall their roots as lower in the social cadre. This affects their confidence levels, and many of them are unable to complete their education. This seems to have happened in the case of Rohith Vemula as also in the aforesaid case of the lady doctor, who committed suicide by hanging.

Similar cases happen at the workplaces wherein members of suppressed classes get jobs. They are ridiculed, treated with contempt by others, and mocked repeatedly. All such instances point to our ghetto mentality. We are biased to the core and it’s going to be a long winding path before our mindsets change.

Does the ‘creamy layer’ concept really work?

Our political leaders have wreaked havoc with reservations by introducing them to communities other than scheduled castes and tribes, as this is an excellent source to get votes without doing much! Though the courts have stepped in and sought to limit the reservations for backward classes (other than for scheduled castes and tribes) by introducing the concept of creamy layer.

By way of the 124th Constitutional Amendment bill, 2019, the government made a 10% reservation for economically weaker students among the unreserved category of students.

The eligibility condition for 10% reservation is that annual income must be less than 8 lakhs or those who own less than five acres of land. Ajit Ranade, eminent Indian economist says that the Government’s own data by the National Sample Survey states that almost 99% of households will be eligible for the 10% reservation. As per an analysis by Business Today magazine, this 10% reservation will cover almost 100% of the Indian population as per income criteria. This is already being challenged in courts for obvious reasons. Moreover, the concept of  ‘economically challenged’ does not exist under the Indian Constitution, and economic status keeps changing, unlike social criteria suffered by SCs & STs since generations.

The link between ‘merit’ and efficiency

Those who say that merit should get precedence have no idea what constitutes merit.

Author and law professor Marc Galanter states that three types of resources are needed to get that competitive advantage which is called merit.

  • One, economic resources (education, training, materials et al),
  • Two, social and cultural resources (social contacts, guidance, advice, et al)
  • Three, intrinsic ability and hard work.

And obviously, the disadvantaged neither have the economic, nor the social and cultural resources to win the competition only based on their hard work. This idea of merit by Marc Galanter was quoted by the SC while it upheld the Karnataka law in May, 2019.

The government’s own National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data shows that Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes are highly backward compared to other castes in terms of education. Even in top government posts, SCs & STs corner only 5% of the posts. Another study has shown that efficiency has not been compromised by reservations for SCs & STs in Indian Railways. In fact, diversity has led to increased efficiency.

And that’s why, the Supreme Court in May, 2019 upheld the Karnataka law which has made reservations for SCs & STs in promotions.

Let’s remember, just as we have to pay off the debts of our forefathers, so also, this reservation is an atonement for the wrongs wrecked on the SC & ST communities for centuries. As we march onwards, let’s make the SCs & STs our equal partners. And then, surely, reservations will be on their way out.

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I am a law graduate from Government Law College,Mumbai.I am a Fellow in

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