I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past – Thomas Jefferson
And that is why I want to meet you, Rajiv Goswami. It is you who I would resurrect from the pages of History because with you I want to dream of a better future, rather than think of a historical past that consumed you. A past that refuses to go away shows its face in the present and will in the future too.
Not just because you stood up for the idea of equal opportunity and fairness for millions of us others, no, not for that reason alone. I chose to speak to you and no other because the relevance of your ideas and your cause continues pertinent even today. I want to understand the courage behind the anger and the anger within the courage that made you immolate yourself while protesting against that 49.5%.
It wasn’t just a figure for you, was it? The Commission recommended certain castes needed to be uplifted for poverty to go. Social and educational backwardness were to be removed – both caste-based handicaps, they wrote. Seats were to be reserved and quotas gifted to redress discrimination (gifted to redress discrimination?), based on 11 indicators (just another figure?) to determine backwardness!
At the magnitude of anger burning within you, when Meritorious Right was a like a dead man walking. Or what was on your mind the second you lit that match and set yourself ablaze. You must have seen it coming. All of it, in a flash. Seen how much more every job application will ask of you, now more than ever. How, perhaps, your queue at opportunity’s door will always move slower and grow longer, just like the unpaid bills at home. For you and for your kind! Did you know the deeper problems of the Report? We who came to our senses later read about politically compromised census data and lack of empirical basis to the estimation logic. And to think for a Report based on mere ‘estimation’ you set fuel to fire!
You were a leader, a formidable one. Of a formidable movement called the Anti-Reservation Movement! And your painful act of setting yourself on fire was emulated across the country. How powerful the belief in the cause of fairness must have been, and how strong the allegiance to you and to what should rightfully be one’s own – of complete strangers, with nothing in common except the very ‘General’. And then you died. Just 3 decades of existence marred by deprivation, anger and fire.
But you live on.
Today, percentages are still being passed and debates raging after every vote. We stand further unequally divided – in opinion, in slices of opportunity and in shadow lines of caste, class and creed. A lot is being asked of us, we who were born into better socio-economic conditions, according to those ‘estimations’. Caste-based quotas are being used to do away with discrimination. I know you smile at the irony too, just like I do. Look close, the economically sound from lower sections are sitting in the reserved places, and economically unsound from the upper castes staring at closed windows and ‘no seats’. We learn about reserved seats lying vacant and we get angry. And then, of those chairs that got filled defying merit failing to deliver quality, and that adds to the anger. That word ‘Merit-based quota’ is stuff that dreams are made of – yours and mine and whoever we call ours! The real is all Anger.
If you were around, you would have seen your fire burning within us right this minute. A little bit of you in so many of us. A frustration! Perhaps you are in a better place, where equality and freedom of opportunity mean just that - equality and freedom of opportunity. And what else is needed to feel, to do, to believe and to be? What else to remind us every day that we Are?
And before you go, tell us if you know – for how long will the Future have to pay for the Past?
[This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda]