This refers to the article “Constitution for inclusive policies,” (Sept. 29). As argued, there cannot be any constitutional bar on reservations for the minorities, especially when we consider the aim of our constitutional fathers to create a plural, inclusive society. When the Rajinder Sachar Committee has brought to light the social backwardness of Muslims, indicated by the daily income of 86 per cent of Muslims not exceeding Rs.20, and the Ranganath Mishra Commission has endorsed the necessity for reservation of 10 per cent, it is imperative for any sensitive government to implement this provision without any loss of time. At the same time, it needs to be emphasised that a provision for excluding the creamy layer has to be necessarily incorporated in the absence of which, the economically powerful in the Muslim community will exploit the same to corner most of the benefits, thus depriving the weaker sections of the same. A provision for creating reservation on economic criteria is essential for those among the higher castes.
The Constitution baulks at all kinds of discrimination. Exclusion from the fruits of development is a form of discrimination. Therefore, targeting Muslim beneficiaries under special social and economic packages is a legitimate tool of empowerment. But an across the board reservation regime without means-testing militates against natural justice as prosperous sections of the community do not need any doles from the government.
Affirmative action is not a panacea for tackling backwardness as the existing dispensation has clearly demonstrated. It has benefited only a minority of the targeted communities. Reservation is inherently divisive, creates dependency on the government and stifles self-reliance. When entitlements acquire the nature of de facto fundamental rights, the beneficiaries come to be perceived as a favoured class, triggering an unintended form of reverse discrimination.
The author is right in saying that the Constitution lists religion as one of the bases on which nobody should be discriminated against. However, I am at a loss to understand how religion can be the rationale for protective discrimination or even targeted public programmes. What we need is a policy to help the socially, economically and the educationally backward, irrespective of caste or religion. Poverty and deprivation are secular concepts and have no religious bearing. If somebody is discriminated against or not allowed to partake of the benefits of development in a society because he belongs to a particular religion then it should be treated as a legal problem, not as a religious one. Making religion as the ground for targeted interventions will go against the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution.
Sarath S. Pillai,
Keywords: reservation for minorities