Reservations over reservation

Reservation is a hot topic on campuses. Is it? It was, in the early 90s. Remember Rajiv Goswami of the anti-Mandal Commission stir? And now, the issue of reservation for Muslims.

Though the latest decision of the Andhra Pradesh Government to extend five per cent reservation to Muslims in Government jobs and educational institutions may not call for another Goswami, the move has not been one that has triggered many hot debates on campus canteens though the scenario outside colleges may be much different with all that dust kicked up by critics. And the issue is yet to come out of legal locks.

Still, there are discussions among students about the connotations, pros and cons of the reservation. Most of them agree that students from the minority community stand to gain. At the same time, there are fears about whether the reservation benefits will reach the targeted section safely without getting mired in red tape and favouritism.

Says Md. Shakeel, an MBA student, who dabbles his spare time working for an NGO: "I welcome the move because there are a lot of people who get a much-needed push." At the same time, Shakeel agrees that minority colleges will suffer if students start preferring bigger, better colleges.

Still, on the whole, the move is expected to bring benefits for those Muslim students who struggle to gain a foothold in places where education is quite costly for them.

Reservations over reservation

For Sabina Ahmed, an engineering student, the move is "very good," but will it reach the deserving Muslims is what she wants to know. "Already, there are a lot of reservations in our country. The point is whether all those are being utilised properly. It is true that a majority of Muslims, children in particular, need some sort of support without which they might find education a difficult proposition. But, with the latest reservation covering the entire community, without any clause of financial criteria, I'm not sure about whether it will do the intended good," she says.

"Reservation is good and will benefit the community. It, however, depends on the way it is utilised. There should be some provision to upgrade the infrastructure and teaching conditions of existing minority educational institutions as well so that students do not desert them while going for their reserved seats in other so-called popular schools and colleges," says Firdaus, who adds that she would have benefited if the move had come last year.

The reaction of those who do not benefit from the decision is a mixed bag.

Says Pratima Pillai: "The intentions behind the decision could be political, but the whole thing boils down to how it is going to help those for whom it is being, or will be, implemented. I doubt whether all those reservations that were there earlier have really helped the targeted sections. There should be some guidelines for whom the reservation should be given. The rich among Muslims do not need it, do they? I feel that instead it should have been a reservation strictly for financially backward people, let them be from any community."

Arundhati Gupta welcomes the reservation provided it is not a political drama. "Is there any guarantee that it will not be withdrawn if those who are opposing it now come to power?"

However, those who oppose the decision, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in particular, raise two valid questions. However, these have not been answered so far.

The ABVP, which has taken up cudgels against the Government's decision, are questioning the very decision, firstly on the count that the Constitution does not allow reservations based on religion, and secondly, on the one related to minority colleges, which they say, will lose their purpose with the five per cent reservation.

"The Government has helped set up minority colleges, mostly for Muslims. If the seats in other colleges too are set aside in the name of reservations, what purpose do minority colleges serve?" they ask. "If the Government is serious about extending better education to Muslims, it should first check the irregularities in minority colleges, which are functioning with the sole motive of making money instead of helping the community students."

On the other hand, minority student organisations wholeheartedly welcome the move.

"The decision would be welcomed by not just Muslims, but all those who believed in justice and fair play," says Abdul Hakeem, State president, Students Islamic Organisation. However, he feels that the Government ought to have done a proper study and taken all legal aspects into consideration before making the announcement.

Mohd Jaleel Pasha, Chairman, All-India Urdu Educational Committee, says provision of reservations to Muslims is a long-pending demand. Various surveys have shown that Muslims in the country are most backward, both educationally and economically. Therefore, it is only proper that they are given reservation. "The Chief Minister deserves to be congratulated for redeeming his poll promise," Mr. Pasha remarks.

S.M. Hyder Ali Hashmi, general secretary, Minorities Students' Organisation, says: "As per Article 15 (4), the Government is empowered to make special provisions for advancement of any socially and educationally backward class." He describes as "unfortunate" the charge that the Government is appeasing minorities. Reservations are being given as per the Constitutional provisions and there is no question of any appeasement or mercy. "Whatever the court verdict, the reservation bill should be passed in the Assembly," Mr. Hashmi says.

By Dennis Marcus Mathew and J.S. Ifthekhar

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