A step forward

Published : Nov 16, 2007 00:00 IST

Tamil Nadu enacts a law granting separate reservation for Muslims and Christians in the Backward Classes quota.

in ChennaiA Tamil Nadu

IN keeping with its tradition of using affirmative action as an instrument of maintaining the socio-economic equilibrium, the Tamil Nadu government recently enacted a law granting separate reservation for Muslims and Christians belonging to the Backward Classes (B.Cs) in education and employment. Under the law, unanimously adopted by the State Assembly on October 22, the two religious minority communities will get a share of 3.5 per cent each in government jobs and seats in educational institutions within the existing 30 per cent reservation for the B.Cs.

About 90 per cent of the Muslims and 75 per cent of the Christians in the State already figure in the Backward Classes list. Of Tamil Nadus 6.24 crore people, 3,470,647 are Muslims and 3,785,060 are Christians, according to Census 2001.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi hailed the support of the Opposition to the move on this revolutionary day in the history of social justice. The legislation replaces the Tamil Nadu Backward Class Christians and Backward Class Muslims (Reservation of seats in educational institutions, including private educational institutions and of appointments or posts in the services under the State) Ordinance 2007, which was promulgated on September 12. The new law is in response to consistent representations from the Christian and Muslim communities included in the list of Backward Classes for providing separate reservation for them in admissions to educational institutions and appointment to government service as they could not compete with other communities in the B.C. list to get their legitimate share. The principal purpose of making the 3.5 per cent share as a sub-quota in the reservation for Backward Classes is to ensure that the overall reservation does not exceed the existing 69 per cent. (The matter is already up for judicial scrutiny.) It would also make it clear that this model of reservation within reservation is not based on religion but on the educational and economic backwardness of the minority communities.

The Act is based on the recommendation of the State Backward Classes Commission headed by Justice M.S. Janardhanam. The recommendation itself rests on the report of the Second Backward Classes Commission headed by J.A. Ambasankar in the 1980s.

Reservation in Tamil Nadu has a long history (Frontline, April 20, 2007). Even in the early stages of colonial rule, the British Raj recognised the plight of Muslims and attempted corrective action. Muslims and Christians had their share in the early reservation system. In the much-talked-about Communal Government Order of 1921, Muslims and Christians were treated on a par with Brahmins and all three were allotted 16 per cent each of all government posts in the then Madras Presidency. This reservation order, which was implemented in 1927, was in force for a little more than 20 years.

After the Constitution came into force, the Madras High Court quashed the Communal G.O. on the grounds that it was violative of the Constitution. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment and Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar E.V. Ramasami spearheaded a struggle against the judgment. Later, through a Constitutional Amendment, Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) were introduced to empower the States to provide reservation for the educationally and socially backward classes also in educational institutions and government service. Subsequently, the Indian Union Muslim League and Christian organisations, with the support of other political parties in the State, fought for reservation for the two communities. As a result, social groups among the two communities were included in the list of Backward Classes on the basis of reports by the State Backward Classes Commissions.

Although almost all Christian caste stratifications based on their former Hindu backward caste groups have been included in the B.C. list, Dalit Christians are not included in the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) list on a par with Dalit Hindus. They are included only in the B.C. list.

The campaign for inclusion of these people in the S.C. list has gained momentum in recent years as most of them continue to be victims of prejudice. Many Christian organisations, which have taken up their cause, contend that the battle for social justice will be incomplete until Dalit Christians demand for S.C. status is achieved.

The new law is a solace to backward class Christians and Muslims in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, who, according to community leaders, are victims of the callous indifference of the ruling political class. The abject poverty among these sections has time and again been highlighted by study groups and government-nominated committees and commissions.

Muslims across the country are agitated about the Union governments silence over the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee revelations on the communitys poor performance in several social indicators and its recommendations for special governmental initiatives (Frontline, December 6, 2006). Christians, on their part, are disappointed that their pleas to include Dalit Christians in the S.C. list have remained unanswered for long.

Dalit Christians are deprived of the benefits of reservation that their Hindu, Jain and Buddhist counterparts enjoy. They are sore that there has been no follow-up from the Union government on the Ranganath Misra Commission report, which recommended S.C. status to all Dalits irrespective of their religion.

The latest Tamil Nadu reservation law has generated hope among people of both minority communities about early amelioration of their grievances. Leaders of these communities have appealed to Karunanidhi to use his good offices to persuade the Union government to implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and the Misra Commission.

There is, however, a strong perception that reservation alone cannot transform the lives of oppressed people unless it is followed by sincere and intensive efforts to clear the backlog in respect of education and poverty alleviation programmes and development initiatives. The Sachar Committee has recommended that a Sub Plan be created for the development of Muslims on the lines of the one for the Scheduled Tribes. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Muslim organisations and political parties have called for the implementation of this recommendation.

S. Peter Alphonse, Congress member of the State Assembly, lauded the State government for bringing out a foolproof law to provide separate reservation for Muslims and Christians within the 30 per cent reservation for Backward Classes. He said Dalit Christians lost out in respect of State assistance under poverty alleviation and development programmes meant for Scheduled Castes for the simple reason that they were not Hindu Dalits.

Noted Tamil poet Abdul Rahman, member of the State Urdu Akademi, said the acid test for democracy lies in the way the minorities are treated in a society. He said the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had all along taken interest in fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of the Muslim community. Large sections of Muslims have suffered poverty and backwardness for various reasons, and intensive state efforts are needed to improve their lot, he said.

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