Interview with YFE Representative
Presently, Youth For Equality is an all India organization encompassing men and women from all walks of life irrespective of caste, creed, class, religion and region. It draws its strength from its large support base mainly the youth and the students of India who are the future leaders of our country. Since 2006, this organization has been involved in numerous protests against the 27% reservation quota for the OBCs. Saroj Rath is one of the core members of the YFE. He along with his team, been handling the legal battles and were actively involved in all the court proceedings. Here, he shares the truth behind the reservation which reveals some shocking truths about the entire reservation issue and misdemeanor of our Government.
VP : You recently filed an RTI asking the government to reveal what all the provisions they have made regarding the reservation quota imposed in various colleges and, the government’s response shows that they have not done anything as yet. What is your opinion of their reaction?
Saroj: It is a small thing, just the tip of the iceberg. It clearly shows the hypocrisy of the government. The government doesn’t know anything and their basis is the 1931 census. Look at the caste numbers. In 1954, the caste numbers were 2200, then the Mandal Commission put them at 3700. In 2005, the National Commission tagged the number a 5500. So clearly, there is no basis to it.
We have filed so many RTIs, and they reveal that they have developed nothing. They have no money. In the budget itself, Arjun Singh had asked for a whopping Rs. 866 crores, and it was rejected. Even currently in your college, you must be having rickety furniture and full classes. What will happen when more people come in? Where will the teachers come from? In JNU right now, the ratio is 10: 1. After implementation of quota, the ratio will be 20:1.What will happen to the standard of education? Now we have filed more RTIs in different colleges and universities.
VP : Are you against reservations or just caste-based reservations?
Saroj : We are for Affirmative Action. There are people left behind in societal development, for several reasons. A person may be from high caste and he would still have no place in the society because he is poor. Our point is that 26 % of India’s population is below the poverty line. Give benefit to them, irrespective of their caste. Because, a lot of lower caste people are economically empowered and they can buy education. We are saying this current policy of reservation based on caste is not only divisive; it is also a false one.
Take the case of K. R. Narayanan. His daughter got through quota and she became an IAS officer. Sons and daughters of MPs are enjoying all the benefits. Take the Yadavs for example. They are such a powerful caste, they are the landowner caste. And still they are able to get benefits of reservation. This is clearly not the state sponsored benefit which is benefiting the real backward people. The benefit is being taken by a bunch of people, and in doing so, the meritorious and the really backward people are suffering. What we are saying is that don’t identify on basis of caste. Pinpoint who really deserves the benefit and implement Affirmative Action for them.
VP : Should there also be a time limit for reservation?
Saroj: Yes, once you become a professor, a lecturer, work for an MNC or become a politician, then your progeny will be in a better position. If you have taken benefit once, rest of your people can take care of themselves.
Even in SC itself, there is a Valmiki Community. Now they are arming up. They want the benefit to come to them as well, not just the two-three sections. This way there is no end to it. .
One more point is that, if discrimination is at the mochi level then address that issue. Suppose I’m a mochi holding a very high IAS position. You are still not going to touch me. Even if you do, it’ll be because of compulsion. The societal behavior is still going to remain the same. It is not being addressed at all. This is not the way. Let us try to get hold of the root of the problem.
VP : Anything we can do even now to ensure that the quota is not implemented?
Saroj : Yes, that is what we are doing. We are 5-6 people handling the issue at the Supreme Court level. We have gathered information and are presenting it to the Indian judiciary. We have a lot of faith in them because they have given us a stay order, thus raising our hopes. The entire political class had consented to this policy but the Supreme Court gave us a stay on March 29, 2007.
VP : So you have been getting support from the lawyer community in general?
Saroj : Well, we had top lawyers like Fali S. Nariman, Harish Salve, Rajeev Dhawan, defending our case. They’ve offered crores of rupees of service to us, free of cost; because they thought we are fighting a genuine battle. But even after that, the Supreme Court judgment has not been very clear. They are saying something, doing something else, writing something.
VP : What kind of agitation are you looking at? A mass movement, dharnas ?
Saroj : Yes, dharnas . For what we did at the Supreme Court (stormed the court), we have been noticed. Our people in Bombay were beaten black and blue. In one of our rallies, boys and girls were moving towards the Rashtrapati Bhawan, and we were stopped by these water cannons.
This is one thing, but out of agitation, you get nothing. Either you have to become political, or be able to influence their vote, and then they can hear you.
It also depends on what is more convenient for us. We are students, we don’t have money. You need crores of rupees to fight an election, or to influence anybody. Yet we have fought elections – BMC (Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation) elections, Delhi University, JNU also, and in Delhi Municipal Corporation. This is one way, but a lengthy one. It takes decades to establish yourself and to make entry into any party
VP : What about the option of court battle?
Saroj : The court has the power to stop the policy in the best interests of the country. However, from court, you can get temporary relief. All the amendments made by the government have been defeated by the Supreme Court. But, they again make amendments in the Constitution. They are not bothered about the best interests of the country. Court can reverse their tactics, but all of us as well have to say something and then we can do something. This way the politicians will think twice when they draft policies.
VP : Have you faced any opposition from the student community? Have students opposed your views, or have they been united?
Saroj : There has been opposition from those who are getting the benefit. You know, these people are saying we have been oppressed for centuries. Well let me talk about the 5th Century, the Mauryas, Guptas, Vardhanas, were ruling. All these are so-called OBCs. Coming to the 8th Century till the 14th Century, there was the Sultanate period. From the 14th to the 18th Century, Mughals, and other dynasties came. How come then, there was luxury for the upper caste?
VP : But it still can’t be denied that,, many lower castes have been suppressed?…
Saroj : Agreed. You have raised a valid question. But have they been oppressed for centuries? In the Hindu tradition, the parameter of being a Vaishya, Kshatriya, Shudra is your vocation. Only if you practice the profession of the priestly class, do you become a Brahmin. Irrespective of your birth, you become a Brahmin, or a Kshatriya. Caste based discrimination is a recent phenomena. If you read the religious scriptures, there was no concept of any atrocity; there is no mention of untouchability. For instance, in the Manusmriti, there has been no mention of any atrocity. I have read the Manusmriti.
Yet, I agree that there are certain sections of people who have been discriminated against. One must give benefits to them, if at all it is required.
VP : What do you think becomes the consequences of caste based reservation?
Saroj : Let us take this hypothetical case. Till class XII, you don’t know what my caste is. And then in class XII, you get 70 % while I get 96 %. But, you get admission because of your caste certificate while I don’t. And that is when you discover the caste differences. One will develop hatred, one will not like to compete, one will not like to share anything with that individual. So there is a mental barrier that is created. Reservation is propagating discrimination.
VP: If reservation is not the solution, then what is?
Saroj: See, make primary education fundamental. Look at Japan, it also used to be a caste based society. Till class XII, there is compulsory education. Let the same be here, make primary education compulsory till class XII. Then provide vocational education to students. Once they are provided with education, then they will know what they want to do.
VP : Ok, tell us, how far has the Internet helped you?
Saroj : Well, you can say that it is out trump card. Had the internet been popular in 1991, then we would have won this case. Now, we are able to meet important people through the internet. For example, because of the Internet we were able to meet this person from Mandal Commission. There is greater communication.
VP: Do you think you can also mobilize the youth through the net?
Saroj : There are two sides to it. One is good and one is bad. The thing is that because of Internet, the young generation is taking great interest in the issue. But, societal awareness cannot be reached through Internet alone. It is a vital element but not the only one. You have to come to the ground. Even a lot of educated people don’t have net access. So, you can have certain help, but beyond a limit the internet cannot help you.
VP : How does someone join your organization?
Saroj : One way is through our website. Another way is by coming to our programs. We organize cultural programs, any one can attend them. We organize debates, national celebrations. We are running schools also, in DU, IIT Kanpur. We are also running hospitals. In Uttaranchal with collaboration, we will teach 500 students vocational courses. So there are a lot of ways of helping us. If you are smart in dance or drama; if you are interested in the political scenario,, mobilize their opinion. The major thing is that whenever we organize a dharna , please do join us.
VP : Thank you for taking out time with us.
Compiled By: Shravya Jain and Devika Menon