From email@example.com Sat Sep 9 13:44:36 2000
Globalisation Snatching Jobs From Low Castes
By Ranjit Devraj, IPS, 6 aug 2000
NEW DELHI, Aug 6 (IPS) - Aided by job quotas in government employment for decades, India's socially discriminated low caste people are worried that these will be snatched away by the forces of globalisation.
Leaders of the 'Dalits', who constitute the lower most rung of the hierarchical Hindu caste system, are demanding a new form of affirmative state action to enable the more than 100 million Dalits to take advantage of the process of economic liberalisation.
They fear that the country's globalisation drive will take away the few jobs in government and state enterprises, which are earmarked for them by the Indian Constitution.
"At a time when Dalits are fighting to get even the 15 percent quota in jobs filled, privatisation of the major public enterprises and rolling back of the state poses a further threat," said P. L. Mimroth, General Secretary of the Society of Depressed People for Social Justice.
Indian Parliament was told last month that only eight percent of the 15 percent government and public sector enterprise jobs, which are constitutionally reserved for the Scheduled Castes -- the official name for Dalits -- could be filled by eligible candidates.
Dalit leaders blame this on poverty and the lack of enough opportunities for the low castes in higher education institutions.
"Reservations have given Dalits some mobility and empowerment though not as much as desired," Mimroth said. He pointed out that the law courts have intervened to ensure that jobs constitutionally earmarked for Dalits, were not cornered by upper castes.
Government jobs, though not as high paying as private sector employment, continue to be much sought because of the still pervading influence of the state.
But India's nine-year-old economic reforms are rapidly changing the nature of employment in the country. Highly paid corporate jobs are increasingly attracting the best students from the country's higher educational institutions.
Dalit leaders like Mimroth see in the changes, an upper caste plot to maintain its power by monopolising the emerging market economy in India.
Human development indicators support this argument. Dalits, who make up more than a tenth of India's one billion people, are still not fully equipped to take advantage of the processes set in motion by economic liberalisation and the information technology (IT) revolution.
More than half a century after independence from British colonial rule, slightly more than a third of India's 160 million Dalits, can read and write. This compares with a national literacy average of over 50 percent.
According to the 'Indian Human Development Report', which was unveiled last year by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, a government think-tank, the average annual income of a Dalit household does not exceed 450 U.S. dollars.
"With that kind of income levels, Dalits cannot consider getting themselves even a basic education, let alone find a place in the knowledge-based society that the government says it plans to build," said Dalit leader Mimroth.
"What we need is not just a bigger share of state resources, which are shrinking anyway, but a chance to participate in the new market economy," he said.
The government should help Dalits who want to join India's mushrooming, privately-run IT training institutes, he said. Dalit entrepreneurs could also benefit from state-sponsored low-interest loans, Mimroth said.
The Dalit leader advised the government to use the 2.5 billion dollars it expects to raise by shedding part of its stake in state-run airlines, banks and heavy industry, for helping train the Dalits for new jobs.
According to political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the country would gain by ensuring greater participation by the Dalits in the market economy.
Mehta faulted India's economic reforms for not reaching out to the weaker sections of society. The reforms were begun by the main opposition Congress party when it was in office in July 1991.
Political analysts have attributed the decline of the Congress, which ruled India for most of the years since independence, to the loss of its traditional support among the poor, who saw the reforms as pro- rich.
Even sections of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has launched the second phase of the reforms, are unhappy with the continuing push to the forces of globalisation.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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