Dalit outfits find job quota crippled by COVID-19, demand job guarantee legislation by Parliament

They have appealed to the Centre to enact a law in the upcoming session of Parliament to guarantee employment for educated youth or suitable compensation in accordance to their qualification

Parliament of India (File photo)
Parliament of India (File photo)
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Abid Shah

Even as millions of jobs are getting lost all over the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a bunch of Dalit and tribesmen’s organisations have come up with the demand for a legislation to guarantee gainful employment, or suitable allowance in case of its unavailability, for educated youth. This is in sharp contrast to these outfits’ usual insistence in the past for job reservations for their largely underprivileged followers.

The National Confederation for Dalit and Adivasi Organisations (NACDAOR) says in a recent statement, “The country has been facing a huge job deficit. This has now gone up manifold due to the Corona pandemic. It has led to severe distress, demoralisation and even depression in some cases among educated youth throughout the country. In view of this, NACDAOR appeals to the Central Government to enact a law in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament to guarantee employment for the educated youth and in case of its non-availability, a suitable compensation in accordance to their qualification should be extended to them.”

NACDAOR chairman and Dalit rights activist Ashok Bharti said that a blueprint of the legislation being suggested for the educated youths’ job guarantee on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 would soon be sent to both the Government higher ups and leaders of Opposition parties. NACDAOR could also write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a few days time in this regard, says Bharti.

The move being made by him and allied organisations like All India Ambedkar Mahasabha (AIAM) among others is significant since thus far, these organisations have only been highlighting the issue of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. They have been vocal only about what they saw as shortcomings, or inadequacies, in the quota system for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Asked how the Dalit organisations have moved from the issue of quotas to the demand for universal job guarantee for educated youth irrespective of their caste, Bharti shot back, “The fight against shortcomings in the quota system will go on but if there are no jobs, reservations will automatically vanish. The government has for quite long been hiding its inability to create enough jobs and has thus been using reservation as a tool to put one section against the other. The upper caste dominated bureaucracy has come to believe in the denial of the right to job for everyone so that it becomes easier for it to be selective. So now is the time to call out this bluff (by demanding a job guarantee for educated youth that includes SCs and STs too).”

No less than 14 crore jobs are feared to have been lost in recent months after the outbreak of COVID-19. Most of the job losses have been in the informal sector that is far bigger than the formal sector. This has hit daily wage earners hard, upsetting their workaday life. As for the salaried jobs where most educated people either get employed or hire others like domestic helps, or maidservants, on a monthly payment basis, an article published on September 8 in Business Standard estimated the loss of 21 million such jobs during the past five months or so. There were 86 million salaried jobs in the country in the year 2019-20 (upto March 2020) and, according to the BS article, this came down to 65 million in August 2020.

As per other reports, 10 to 11 crore employable people were already without work and looking for it when the pandemic and the lockdown brought by it started swelling their ranks. Both ended up not only in doubling the figure of the unemployed but have also added quite a bit more. The staggering numbers of job losses became palpable when hordes of migrant workers trouped out of their workplaces in metropolises to trudge along the highways on their way back home in far off villages.

The migrant workers often defied the strict lockdown. This in turn invited the wrath of the police that had orders to enforce the restrictions on public movement without making any exception. It is this grim backdrop, signifying sudden loss of livelihood for millions, that has been baffling not only NACDAOR but also most other sections of the society that are still trying to figure out as to how to beat it and move on.

“Today’s is an extraordinary situation created by a hitherto unknown pathogen. It demands immediate and extraordinary response which has thus far been lacking. The disease and its accompanying effects have hit everybody. It cuts through caste and class divide and it has been robbing people of their livelihood throughout the country. Thus, a job guarantee for educated and skilled youth is now greatly called for. It is not going to dilute or rob of reservation but supplement it in view of the critical situation brought by the lockdown and its resultant economic loss which runs down to an individual’s level,” says Rakesh Bahadur, executive president of AIAM.

Taken together, the views expressed by these organisations show that COVID-19 has turned the issue of job reservations tepidly insufficient. Thus, they are trying to find a way out at a time when unemployed youth have started taking to streets in places like Uttar Pradesh.

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