Ze Salon #3 was a step change conversation in our community, and not just because of the controversial topic we chose. For the first time, we introduced our (now regular) one-topic-chosen-through-a-poll format. We had been rolling out polls on Facebook around many topics (one a week), and we gauged that "reservations" is one of the more contentious topics garnering the most number of votes, and the most number of divergent opinions at that. Also, for the first time, we had a participant joining in through Skype.
That Saturday evening, ten of us got together (one virtually over Skype), to discuss the what, why, how of reservation in the Indian context, specific to education. We were a motley mix of people for and against the topic, armed with strong opinions and facts, to put across our points as emphatically as we could.
On the anti-reservation side, one strong argument was around how reservation should strictly be based on economic inequalities and not social ones as, today, the social reservation system is really only used by second and third generation beneficiaries, whose parents and grand parents have already come up in life through reservation - the classic creamy layer case. The second overarching argument was about how the so-called forward castes have been marginalised and become minorities over the past 60+ years because of reservation favoring all other castes.
The for-reservation arguments were equally strong, if not stronger. "How do a few years of reservation make up for thousands of years of caste-based discrimination?" was a point that made us all halt and ponder. "Untouchability" is a key theme in many rural areas still, where there are water wells demarcated for upper castes and lower castes, where upper caste students sit on benches in class as the lower caste sit on the side on mats, or on bare ground. Caste-based killing is still rampant, and many many people categorized in the lower castes are yet to see the light of day as far as education is concerned. When basic rights such as equal opportunity to food, water and education are denied, we as a society are accountable to make this country a better place.
This isn't a topic where minds can get transformed over a couple of hours of discussion, because this is a deep rooted issue all of us have grown up with and faced one way or the other. However, the group was in agreement that our country is not in a position to do away with the concept itself, only that much better execution is required to ensure the benefits reach far and wide, those nooks and corners that are still denied by basic rights of equality and justice.
One of the group members put it very aptly - This discussion has not changed my perspective or opinion on reservation completely. However, the next time I do think about the subject, I will halt and weigh both sides before jumping to conclusion, because this is one contentious topic that has no clear blacks and whites, but greys all around.