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"Revisit" and "reform" India's reservation policy, "provide" entitlements on the basis of vulnerability index

By Our Representative
A few senior Dalit activists, social workers and scholars, who gathered in for a workshop in Ahmedabad to discuss how to “annihilate” casteism from India a few days back, are learnt to have reached an atypical conclusion, which may not go down well with politicians: Drastically reform the present entitlement-based reservation policy, continuing in the country for decades. The activists agreed that while the reservation policy has helped create a new middle class among the Dalits, large sections of oppressed communities have remained outside overall development that has taken place in India.
Anchoring the meeting, Gagan Sethi -- heading Ahmedabad-based rights organisation Javnikas -- floated the idea of what he called “vulnerability index” in order to identify the most vulnerable individuals and sections suffering because of social and caste-based discrimination. “A poor Brahmin widow is definitely more vulnerable than a Dalit IAS bureaucrat”, Sethi asserted, adding, “As of today, the only category of Dalits whose life has not changed even little, and continues with its caste-based occupation, and suffers untouchability is the Valmiki community, involved in the despicable practice of manual scavenging.”
With decades of experience of working with Dalits and other oppressed sections, Sethi told Counterview that the idea of “vulnerability index” to identify the sections which need affirmative action is not new in the West, though it has not picked up in India. “It was discussed in the Planning Commission in February 2014 at a meeting on the need for setting up a viable Assessment and Monitoring Authority (AMA) for measuring the extent to which various schemes have helped the development of different socio-religious communities”, he said.
A high-level Government of India draft document, which provides details on on the subject, suggested the need to “generate data to mend the gap and also to recognize formerly unmapped vulnerable socio-religious communities (SRCs).” The document quotes Sethi as particularly stressing on the need to have what he called “multi-dimensional poverty index”, for which, he stressed, one should have a vulnerability-based approach.
Sethi, said the document, stressed that a national data bank (NDB), proposed for assessing the viability of all central programmes, should “begin work with the most vulnerable groups of Muslims, widows, manual scavengers, internally displaced persons, denotified tribes, persons living with HIV/AIDS, SC/ST and the destitute.”
The document said, “Such an assessment alone reveal whether universal schemes reach the more vulnerable groups in proportion to their populations and need. If not, in what ways can they be streamlined?” It added, this vulnerability index should be created not just for the most vulnerable areas, going right up to the block level, in the context of "for every government programme".
The Ahmedabad workshop, which saw exchange of ideas between Daniel Edwin, Gagan Sethi, Ghanshyam Shah, Manas Jena, Manjula Pradeep, Meenakshi Ganguly, Meera Velayudhan, Prasad Chacko, and Priyadarshi Telang, apart from several scholars with the Centre for Social Justice enrolled as fellows in the Lawyers for Change programme, reached the conclusion that it is clear to anyone that women manual scavengers, especially widows, are the most vulnerable section of Dalit society, yet it remains devoid of the "advantages" offered by reservation.
A well-known sociologist, Ghyanshyam Shah, particularly opined, “Only those who have received education up to 10th or 12th take advantage of reservation, as for the rest – who form 90 per cent of the population – are nowhere part of it.”
Shah stressed on the need to not just confine the Dalits' fight to overcome discrimination: "Unless the fight becomes part of the fight for liberty, equality and fraternity, for issues related with poverty and unemployment, things are unlikely to change." Others agreed that despite many decades, discrimination remains intact and has infected Dalit sub-castes, suggesting the need for an alternative strategy. 




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