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  Quota: Inequity between haves and haves-not  


By: Tara Dhakal
May 05, 2006
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


Has quota system really achieved its purpose in Sikkim? Or was it just another vote bank for politicians? Let’s talk about this quota system in Sikkim and how the government strategy to address the issue of marginalization of certain communities has reinforced its perpetuation leading to conflict and disturbing communal harmony accompanied with the shift in oppression among rich and the poor.

In an Indian society, “the rigid caste -based hierarchal structure, with ascending order of privileges and descending order of disabilities” (Dholakia, n.d.) led to some sections of the society as socially, economically, politically and educationally backward. The dominant groups, the privileged, are the ones who are in the upper hierarchy of the society and the subordinate groups, the underprivileged, occupy the lowest hierarchy of the society. The oppression of those at the lowest rung of the ladder is based on their position of hierarchy and the magnitude of oppression is different for all these groups. The dominant or the privileged group is divided within itself into a main group and sub groups, just as the underprivileged or subordinate group is also subdivided. The dominant groups have access to all kinds of resources and restrict the subordinate group from gaining access to these resources, which made them become a marginalized section of the society. This as an oppression that involves hierarchy. The quota system reserves a certain percentage of seats in educational institutions, government employment and political arena to include SC, ST and OBC so that they can gain access to education, employment and politics which otherwise would not have been possible because of their oppression by the dominant group. In addition to this, the constitution also made a special provision that allowed any state to include socially and educationally backward populations to the category of STs, SCs and OBCs to uplift them (Dholakia, n.d.).

In Sikkim, there are three communities, the Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese. The majority are the Nepalese who constitute 75% of the total population. The Bhutias and Lepchas were included in the scheduled tribe (ST) s of the 1980s and Magars, Murmis, Tamangs, Gurungs, Rais, Limbus who are the other backward classes (OBC). The status as SCs was given along with STs but as OBCs and NBCs (Privileged) five years back only (Sikkim Human Development Report, 2001). Taking advantage of the Indian constitution provision of state to include backward sections of the society for their betterment through this quota, the present government of Sikkim with Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, an OBC now segregated the Nepalese community by categorizing a few groups who were from his ethnicity and included them in the OBCs categories. This categorization was not based on the economic status of those communities but was to defy the some privileged communities and to reverse discrimination from the general class. The vested interest of such politicians disturbed the communal harmony between three communities in Sikkim and aroused suspicion, conflict and discrimination amongst these groups. In my view, the main aim of the quota was to reduce oppression, but even after fifty years after its implementation, the oppression has not been reduced but has taken different forms. The reserved seats in many areas could be accessed by the main group of the subordinate group and as well by those from better socio economic status/upper class of the subordinate group

In Sikkim, this has reinforced discrimination among the subordinate groups itself because of the economic class differences. The benefit of this reservation has not reached the ones who deserve it the most. Some individuals from the subordinate group who gained access through this reservation benefited. They gained power, economic status, and occupied high posts in employment. They migrated to urban areas where the basic infrastructure was good. They could afford to send their children to public schools; their children got good facilities and scored good grades. The quota system enabled their easy entry in educational institutions, employment etc. This cycle continues which leads to wide disparities of rich and poor even in the subordinate groups. The poor person from that subordinate group with low socio economic status had to send his child in the village school with no quality education and facilities. Thus, the child gets very low grades that hinder him from competing with the public educated child of the same subordinate group. In STs that include the Bhutias and the Lephas, the Lepcha populations was left behind and are still at the margins of development because the Bhutia’s who were better off than them and took advantage of the quota. This is a clear example to show how some groups overcome oppression and others do not. This led to the birth of another form of oppression by forming the lower socio economic class in the subordinate groups who are oppressed the most. This has increased the magnitude of oppression of those poor people even within the subordinate group.

While observing such process in Sikkim, I feel, after the quota system was introduced, especially of OBC categories, I wondered on what basis they were included. When I passed high school, I wanted to be a doctor and was waiting for a medical quota to come to my state for people in Sikkim because our state did not have any medical college at that time. I had higher grades than my best friend who was an ST but since she had the privilege of quota, she got admissions into medical school but I did not. She was from a higher socioeconomic status, but I was from lower middle class with the caste as my privilege, but my privilege had nothing to do with my socio economic status. Even though I was from the “so called “ privilege caste, I struggled a lot to complete my education, I have faced competition in all spheres of life and my commitment to win and achieve success is my own effort and it did not come to me by my caste. I have not shaped my career due to my privileged caste but it was my own effort. Sometimes it needs ones effort to overcome hurdles in life.

Tara Dhakal

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