The revelation that nearly half the teaching positions reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Central universities remain unfilled is a cause for serious concern for policymakers in government and academia. According to information obtained through the Right to Information, 48.5 per cent of posts for SCs and STs in 24 Central universities across the country were vacant during 2010-2011.
The reasons given for the dearth of “suitable candidates” to fill these vacancies are varied and, sometimes, contradictory. Many institutions of higher learning would rather leave reserved posts empty than fill them with the best among the available candidates. Surely, the academic costs of letting posts go unfilled are quite high for any institution. Even in the absence of objective criteria for evaluation, a loosely defined concept of merit is conveniently used to keep out eligible candidates.
Laws and rules are often undermined by systemic bias. Sometimes, the institutions also point to the absence of qualified applicants, arguing that the most talented among the weaker sections opt for a more lucrative career in the civil service rather than for academics. In effect, the argument is that candidates belonging to SC and ST categories are either too good or too poor for the university system.
While the RTI query that brought out the backlog in filling vacancies in the SC/ST categories was specific to Central universities, the situation is unlikely to be very different in other educational institutions anywhere in the country. Even the adoption of a system of recruitment through roster registers in cases where the vacancies are few and far between (as in universities) has not produced very encouraging results. Without conscious, radical interventions from policymakers and administrators, the situation will not improve for Dalit and Adivasi candidates seeking employment in institutions of learning.
Even if one were to accept for a moment that there are not enough qualified applicants, the fault for this surely lies with the Central and State governments which have done little to provide equality of opportunity for SCs and STs at the primary and secondary educational levels. A recent illustration of just how hostile the system can be towards Dalits and Adivasis was provided by the report this week that students of a school in Tamil Nadu were prevented by their caste Hindu parents from attending classes following the appointment of two Dalit women as cook and helper at the noon meal centre. Quite shockingly, the Block Development Officer agreed to transfer the employees as the parents belonging to the Caste Hindu community insisted their children would not eat food cooked by them.
Refer Article 16 of Indian Constitution.