Students and doctors protest reservation/affirmative-action system in India, 2006-2008

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Timing
Time Period:  
April
2006
to
May
2008
Location and Goals
Country: 
India
Location City/State/Province: 
Most major cities in India
Location Description: 
Streets and public places
Goals: 
Stop expanding the reservation system (drop legislation mandating it) and improve the education system.
 

India has maintained much of its traditional caste system, which separates communities based on the socioeconomic status of the communities’ forefathers. Early 20th century constitutional reforms prevented the kind of medieval discrimination that used to make some castes literally ‘untouchable’. The untouchables were replaced by what are referred to as ‘scheduled tribes’ (STs), ‘scheduled castes’ (SCs) and ‘other backward castes’ (OBCs) that collectively refer to India’s socioeconomically disadvantaged people. Combined, they represent about 85% of India’s population.

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a civil rights champion and author of India’s 1949 constitution, incorporated into it a kind of affirmative action program for the scheduled castes and tribes. This program, called “reservation” required that a certain percentage of posts be reserved for the SCs and STs in government operations, including civil services and schools. This was expanded to the OBCs in 1951 and reservation has been expanding ever since. In 2006, the Indian government promised to implement a 27% reservation for OBCs, which would decrease the General (non-reserved) pool from 77.5% to 50.5% (to which reserved applicants can also apply). This was in response to the 93rd constitutional amendment, which allowed the government to advance the situations of the socioeconomically “backward”.

Students and professionals felt that this decision was unjust because it did not create a level playing field for everyone, was a misinterpretation of the law, and was disrespectful to “backward” people. In late April 2006, shortly after the 27% announcement, around 1,000 medical students walked out of classes and began protesting in the capital. The rally, which drew Delhi University and regular school students, included waving banners with statements like ‘Believe in Intelligence, Don’t dilute excellence’. At Jantar Mantar, pro-reservation (the All India Minorities Front) and anti-reservation rallies met peacefully.

On 13 May, Police beat twenty-eight medical students with lathis (batons) as the students attempted to enter the Raj Bhavan (Government House) in Mumbai. Immediately, students and resident doctors began to protest. On 14 May, 100 students and doctors pledged to not work and to hunger strike indefinitely. Even as the government mandated that doctors return to their posts, the protesters refused to operate hospitals or schools. A group called Youth for Equality, created by the anti-reservation movement, began to petition for a reversal of the reservation policy. They also called for a reevaluation of the whole system and for the ultimate removal of the caste system. Their 2,500-person signature petition at IIT Roorkee (a technical university) failed to generate any political response. Meanwhile, the hunger strike expanded to 150 people as it was continued as relay strike that lasted about a month.

Other forms of protest included a candlelight march on 18 May in Chandiarh, IIT Delhi students forming a human chain on 20 May, a Youth for Equality march on 23 May, individual hunger strikes, boycotting of schools, and protests in front of government buildings in Chennai. Traders in Delhi threatened to shut down their shops to show their solidarity with the anti-reservation movement. On 25 May, the AIIMS Faculty Association went on a mass strike providing only essential medical services, and on 27 May, nearly 100,000 people attended a rally in Delhi.

In response to the protests, the government created an Oversight Committee to reevaluate the implementation of the 27% mandate. On 13 August, the Committee issued a report stating that the government would not go back on this initiative. Doctors returned to hospitals under pressure from the Supreme Court and due to the poor conditions of many patients.

The protests still continued, however, in sporadic events led primarily by Youth for Equality, which expanded its goals into a more political realm, demanding education for all, more transparency in government, and a casteless society. Their strikes included a hunger strike supported by engineers on 24 December 2006, a large protest at Connaught Place, New Delhi on 6 May 2008, a hunger strike and candle march at MAMC, Delhi on 23 May 2008, and another candle march on the 25th at BHU, Varanadi. During these protests there was noticeably more police violence than there was in 2006, including the use of batons and water cannons.

The support for the protests dropped significantly when the Supreme Court upheld the expansion of reservation on 10 April 2008. Their decision was a result of a public litigation case (Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India) that challenged the 93rd constitutional amendment and the Reservation in Admission Bill (2006). Their opinion included a recommendation to exclude the “creamy layer” (the socially or economically advantaged citizens who would otherwise qualify for reservations) from the reservations process and that Parliament should make a deadline for free and mandatory education for all Indian children. A 2010 report shows that reservation is not in full effect as only 7% of OBCs are in their reserved spots in government sponsored positions, meaning that 20% of the spots are vacant or used by other groups.

Research Notes
Sources: 
"17 Yrs after Mandal, 7% OBCs in Govt Jobs." The Times Of India. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-08-31/india/28276612_1_obcs-mandal-commission-total-posts>.

"Agenda." Web log post. Youth for Equality. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youthforequality.com/our-agenda/default.aspx>.

"Archives." Http://www.hindustantimes.com/. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.hindustantimes.com/news-feed/nm15/no-going-back-on-obcs-quota-moily/article1-137430.aspx>.

"Cops Get Clean Chit for Caning." The Times Of India. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2006-05-26/mumbai/27811158_1_clean-chit-lathicharge-inquiry-report>.

"Dalit Perspectives." : ANTI- RESERVATION PROTESTS: AN ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://dalitperspectivejnu.blogspot.com/2006/11/anti-reservation-protests-assault-on.html>.

"GMC Students Protest against Reservation Quotas Lastupdate:- Wed, 17 May 2006 18:30:00 GMT GreaterKashmir.com." GMC Students Protest against Reservation Quotas Lastupdate:- Wed, 17 May 2006 18:30:00 GMT GreaterKashmir.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2006/May/17/gmc-students-protest-against-reservation-quotas-36.asp>.

Laskar, Mehbubul H. "RETHINKING RESERVATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN INDIA." ILI Law Review (2010): 25-53. Print.

"Latest India News India Breaking News." Anti-quota Protests Spread. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/may/14quota.htm>.

N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://indiacode.nic.in/coiweb/amend/amend93.htm>.

"Protests Erupt in Chennai’s Streets." Protests Erupt in Chennai’s Streets. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_protests-erupt-in-chennais-streets_1031349>.

"The Struggle for Equality in India." Global. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/23433/myron-weiner/the-struggle-for-equality-in-india>.

"United against Quota: Students Hold Countrywide Protests." The Times Of India. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2006-05-02/india/27792230_1_pro-reservation-boycott-classes-reservation-proposal>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Christopher Capron, 25/11/2012