The Advertiser ( Australia)
February 9, 2008
By SHARAT PRADHAN
THE head of India’s most populous state is tentatively extending lower-caste quotas into the private sector, a move that may have major political and economic repercussions.
India’s lower castes and indigenous tribes hold about half of government and public sector jobs, a scheme of affirmative action aimed at redressing the imbalance of Hinduism’s ancient caste system.
But Mayawati Kumari, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and champion of Dalits, or “untouchables”, is expanding this into any private projects undertaken with the state, a booming sector as India spends billions of dollars on infrastructure such as highways.
Most leading businesses have shunned the idea of quotas, worried it will worsen their competitiveness in a global market.
Ms Mayawati’s government put out a circular this week to ensure departments applied the quota system and took out full-page advertisements in prominent daily newspapers, with the title New Positive Reservation Initiatives.
“Because of the anti-reservation mentality of the ruling classes the full benefits of reservation is not reaching the people,” the ad said. It is the first prominent policy in India to include private business into the quota system, analysts say, and highlights the role caste politics will play in general elections next year.
“There is increasingly a competitive race politically over who is doing what with reservations,” said T.K. Bhaumik, chief economist of Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s largest business conglomerate. “There are elections ahead.”
Under the scheme, quotas will be introduced in public-private partnership enterprises, as well as in private companies doing outsourced government work.
Firms solely working in the private sector are not included.
“This quota system is a very important move because for the first time we are seeing it implemented in business rather than just talked about,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst.
Critics say the economy is still split on caste, with top managers mostly higher castes while Dalits, about 16 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion people, are relegated to menial jobs.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a 2006 speech, called on companies to take voluntary action to help lower castes get jobs. – Reuters
* The Indian caste system is the traditional system of social division.
* It is historically linked to Hinduism.
* The Indian Constitution has outlawed the system but it is still a major part of societal structure.
THE GROUPS ARE:
* Brahmins: teachers, scholars and priests.
* Kshatriyas: kings and warriors.
* Vaishyas: traders, landowners and some artisan groups.
* Shudras: agriculturalists and service providers.