The ongoing struggle against reservation is taking place in the context of the grim scenario of shrinking job opportunities and access to quality education in the country facing a large number of our aspiring youth.

Over the years the competition has been getting stiffer and stiffer particularly to get into good professional schools which are not completely beyond their financial means. This puts unbearable pressure right from an early age on students and youth, and of course on their families.

Just who and what is responsible for this situation? Without a doubt it is the economic and political system in this country which has never been able to provide a decent education and employment for the majority of the talented and hard working youth, even after nearly six decades have elapsed since independence. A great deal of money, resources and planning is put into policies and programs that benefit a small section of the highly privileged, while when it comes to the question of providing more and better schools, better health care and other facilities for the ordinary people, the excuse of ‘not enough money’ is put forward. The situation has got even worse since the early 1990s and the acceleration of the program of privatisation and liberalisation. Government funds for higher education and medical care – so crucial in a country like ours – have been even less forthcoming than before, and the frustration and despair of the people has intensified.

Within this context, the plight of the huge proportion of socially underprivileged youth and people is even greater. By and large, they continue to face the most abysmal conditions and immense hurdles at every step of the way to getting education and jobs. Despite the great deal of effort that has gone into identifying and categorising them, in real terms nothing has been done to raise their educational and economic conditions to the level where they can cope with the demands and pressures of the modern world.

It is clear that the solution to this unacceptable situation as a whole is to fight for an altogether different system – one that puts the highest priority on meeting the needs of the masses of people for quality education and decent jobs; that allocates the funds, resources and personnel needed to achieve these goals. For a huge country like ours with abundant human and natural resources, this is by no means unachievable – it requires only a reordering of priorities and a mindset that is not there today at all levels of the state structure.

However what is happening is that the rulers of this country are using reservation as a tool to split and divert people from this fight. By advocating reservation, all the political parties that have played a part in running this system for the last so many decades are trying to appear as champions of the underprivileged and of “social justice”, while the truth is that collectively they are all guilty of not using the opportunity they have had to ensure that the deprived and downtrodden people receive any recognisable measure of social justice. Nor do they have any intention of actually uplifting these sections of society even now. At the same time, they use lathis and tear gas to attack students and others who legitimately protest the further reduction of educational opportunities open to them and who point out that the rulers are playing politics with the reservation system.

We the people of this country would be making a grave mistake if we allow ourselves to be polarised along the lines of “pro-reservation” and “anti-reservation”, because this is not where the real fault lines in our society lie. We must use the energy arising from our anger and indignation, and draw on the consciousness arising from long years of experience with various kinds of diversionary and divisive politics, to fight unitedly for a new system which in real terms provides quality and affordable education for all, and justice for all.

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