Quotidian quotas

By: Shahzad Sharjeel
‘WE’ were fewer in number, yet a large swathe of the subcontinent came under us. Then came the British, yet fewer in number, to rule over both ‘us’ and ‘them’. By the time the British were sent off, the ballot and bullet had both gained currency. Strength in numbers determined who called the shots. We insisted that ‘them’ outnumbering ‘us’ was not acceptable and carved out a country from areas where we were in a majority.

The fear of being outnumbered transcends umbrella identities. There are minorities among the majority groupings based on language, race, sect, geography, etc. Division of the subcontinent resulted in the biggest migration in human history. The migrants to Pakistan naturally sought representation in the new polity. The host communities’ fears of becoming ‘Red Indians’ on their own soil were stoked. The quota system was born.

Debates of equality vs equity can be taken up in subsequent pieces as space restrictions allow us only to scratch the surface of issues as complex as inclusion, diversity, fairness and merit. The NFC awards and provincial shares in water resources can also be debated separately.

Provincial quotas for federal jobs were introduced in 1948, revised in 1949, and have been amended and extended through successive constitutions and presidential orders. However, the last such extension should have ended the quotas in 2013. Since then, bills for the constitutional amendment to decide the matter have been shuttling between the Upper and Lower Houses of parliament; throw in a few petitions to the courts of law and orders of the Supreme Court, and it is anybody’s guess on what basis the quotas persist.

A temporary arrangement has gained permanence.

According to the FPSC website Punjab has a 50 per cent share in federal jobs, Sindh has 19pc, KP 11.5pc, Balochistan 6pc, Northern Areas, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas [sic], 4pc, Azad Kashmir 2pc, and Merit 7.5pc. Ten per cent of the respective provincial quotas are reserved for women.

Sindh takes the cake in these reservations as no other province has a further rural-urban, ie, 60-40, subdivision of quotas within the province. Fight over resources is not about their finite nature; it stems from a trust deficit in the other’s intentions and fears that any recourse to remedial measures will favour those wielding force. Quotas may appear well-meaning and fairness-oriented initially, but they pose major problems.

First, to qualify for a reserved quota, all one needs is to belong to a certain geographical area, speak a language or belong to a race, religion, or some other identity marker. Quotas are dissimilar to non-discrimination laws, meaning a person otherwise qualified will not be discriminated against on any grounds. What is fundamentally wrong with the quota system is that it does not help anyone in the long run, least of all the intended beneficiaries of these ‘head start’ schemes as they have no graduation programmes. A few individuals belonging to the underserved community or region may benefit but the area or the community gain nothing in terms of competitiveness.

The crux of the matter is that a temporary arrangement meant to be phased out gained permanence and has created a debilitating dependence amongst its beneficiaries. Efficient governance and access to finance will help the stragglers to catch up with the rest of the caravan, not quotas.

The quality of education in rural Sindh has deteriorated over the decades. It is because the lollipop of quotas suppresses the demand side of education reforms in rural Sindh that commands a majority in the provincial legislature. The constituents have been lulled into a perpetual state of gratitude for government jobs and a few admissions to professional colleges. Before the urbanites of Sindh act smug, their insistence on institutionalising organised cheating in exams ostensibly to counter the double whammy of lax vigilance at examination centres in rural Sindh and its favourable share in quotas is akin to cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Enterprises like Pakistan Railways, Wapda and PIA are meant to provide the best services at the most competitive rates to the teeming millions in Pakistan — and not for the perks and privileges of their employees. Similarly, the civil services are meant to serve the masses and are not employment exchanges.

Professional colleges and universities are meant for producing the best doctors, engineers and artists. What does it matter to a patient if her doctor belongs to a certain area, race or religion? If a kidney is removed in what was meant to be a knee replacement, what solace can the aggrieved patient derive from any kinship with the malpractitioner? Fight elite capture, and ensure equitable progress, but not through quotas.

The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.

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