India establishes job quotas for poor upper caste members

NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s Parliament on Wednesday approved a Bill providing a 10 per cent quota in government jobs for the poor members of upper castes who have been excluded from existing quotas for low-ranking castes.

The Congress party and other opposition parties supported the legislation, but criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for getting it approved just months before the national elections, in an effort the opposition claimed was aimed at winning votes.

The Modi government surprised the opposition by unexpectedly moving the Bill in the Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday and getting it approved.

The Upper House adopted it by sitting late into night on Wednesday during the final day of the current Parliamentary session. The Bill now only needs the approval of India’s president, a formality, to become law.

Discrimination under the caste system was outlawed soon after India’s independence from Britain in 1947. But the system’s influence remains strong and the government has sought to redress discrimination against those on the lower rungs by setting up quotas for government jobs and university spots.

Until now, 49.5 per cent of government jobs and places in state-funded educational institutions were allocated to the lower castes.

The economically poor among higher castes have been clamouring for a similar quota to improve the quality of their lives.