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It's high time corporate India lends a helping hand to disadvantaged

It's good that captains of Indian industry have assured that Agniveers will be given jobs by private companies once they leave the Army, but it's time corporate India offers job reservations for SCs/STs

It’s high time corporate India lends a helping hand to disadvantaged
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It’s high time corporate India lends a helping hand to disadvantaged 

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After the economic liberalisation, ample employment opportunities were generated in private sector. The number of jobs in the government sector had dwindled owing to outsourcing and disinvestment policies. It is the right time for Dalit organisations to launch a peaceful struggle for introduction of reservation for the employment opportunities in private sector

Defending the Agnipath scheme of government, captains of corporate India, including Anand Mahindra, Harsh Goneka and Sajjan Jindal are of the view that the future of Agniveers is safe and they would be absorbed in various companies once they leave the Army. Well, that's okay and reassuring. But, it is high time that corporate India must come forward and implement reservation of jobs for SC and ST. How can they look the way when this issue is raised? Alas, they have so far remained evasive on this issue.

As the government jobs area shrinking thick and fast, it is very important that the nation introduce caste-based reservation for the employment opportunities in private sector sooner rather than later.

After the economic liberalisation, ample employment opportunities were generated in private sector. The number of jobs in the government sector had dwindled owing to outsourcing and disinvestment policies. It is the right time for Dalit organisations to launch a peaceful struggle for introduction of reservation for the employment opportunities in private sector. We cann't afford violent movements. That is not acceptable at any cost.

Well, if we look after the pages of recent history, we find that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) set up a committee for 'affirmative action for SC/ST' communities in 2006 – in order to improve the representation of marginalised sections in the private sector. Subsequently, the heads of industry chambers - Ficci, CII and Assocham - took measures to address the issue. So far, around 10 meetings of Coordination Committee have been held. In the first Coordination Committee meeting, it was stated that the best course for achieving progress on the issue of affirmative action is through voluntary action by the industry itself.

Accordingly, the apex industry associations have prepared Voluntary Code of Conduct (VCC) for their member companies centered on education, employability, entrepreneurship and employment to achieve inclusion. Measures undertaken by the member of Industry associations, inter-alia, includes scholarships, vocation training, entrepreneurship programmes and coaching etc. But, that is not enough. They must implement reservation in jobs for SC/ST. That is the least the nation expects from them.

In the past, several Dalit politicians have stressed the need for reservations in the private sector. Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale, among others, said there should be reservations in the private sector. Late Ram Vilas Paswan used to speak on this matter very vociferously. In 2016, Paswan said his party feels that private companies, who have been availing benefits from the government, should provide reservation to Dalits in employment.

Once in an interview,Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale has said that his ministry will take up the issue of introducing reservation in private sector jobs for the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes. "A major chunk of the jobs are being generated in the private sector. This has led to fewer employment opportunities in government jobs and therefore reservation in government jobs alone is not benefiting Dalits. It is necessary to ensure that jobs are reserved in the private sector too. We could start by at least ensuring that reservations are implemented in the public sector utilities that are being privatised."

According to noted writer, Milind Kamble, "Countries around the world have affirmative action and supplier diversity programmes. In the US, there are well-instituted policies for this. There is no compulsion for their corporations, but people do it. If you Google "Affirmative Action in the USA", or "supplier diversity in the USA", you'll see the ways in which companies out there are working for social and financial inclusion of minorities. They call it minorities, while here we say scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. If they can do it, then why are we not doing anything here in India?"

Affirmative action is in thing across the world. For an example, according to the rules implemented by Cricket South Africa, at least six players of non-white background have to be included in the playing eleven of any cricket team which is administered by the board. Out of these six non-white players, the teams have to compulsorily select two black players in the team. The supporters of the quota system argue that South Africa has been an inherently racist country against blacks. From 1994 to January 2020, as many as 85 players had played test cricket for South Africa. Out of those 85, the participation rate of white ethnic players comprises nearly 2/3rd of them, i.e. 57 in total. The supporters of the quota system point out this disparity as proof of anti-black racism in the country.

However, the people opposing the quota system point out that merit should be the central tenet of any sport and not a quota. They point to the exodus of white players from the country as proof. Kevin Pietersen, the maverick English cricketer had left the country at the age of 19, to seek opportunity in England. Similarly, world-class players like Jacques Rudolf, Kyle Abott, Morne Morkel, and others have rescinded the country in the hopes of better opportunities abroad.

Meanwhile,a voluntary code of conduct for affirmative action binds private companies. However, an RTI reply revealed that only about 19 per cent of nearly 20,000 companies had affirmative action policies in place. A report entitled 'State of Working India,' published by Azim Premji University, also found that low-paying jobs over represent SC/ST communities while high-paying jobs under represent them. In this regard, public sector jobs have improved the situation for these communities. It is already late that we have not reserved jobs for underprivileged classes in our private sector. The likes of Ratan Tata, N. Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji, who we all consider the conscious keepers of corporate India, must take some steps so that others can follow them. Corporate India is duty bound to giving helping hand to those who have suffered in the past.

(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)

Vivek Shukla
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