Protests mounts over caste quotas

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
NEW DELHI: Desperate patients went to the makeshift treatment centres today as protests by thousands of medical students and doctors continued against a government plan to raise college quotas for lower castes.
Amid the protests, TV channels showed a woman writhing on the floor in distress in a hospital compound in the central city of Bhopal as her worried husband looked for medical aid, underlining how poor patients were suffering.
The government said it would push ahead with the controversial move that will see nearly half the seats in the state’s top higher educational institutes, including medical colleges, reserved for lower castes and tribes.
But it tried to mollify critics by saying it could consider increasing the size of the institutions to preserve seat allocations for non-quota students competing on merit.
“We are looking at the issue with an open mind and heart and whatever suggestions come, like increasing the number of seats, we will take into account and take a decision,” Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh, seen as the architect of the latest quota move, told parliament.
A similar move in 1990 to reserve more government jobs for lower castes caused many upper caste students to immolate themselves, increasing overall caste tension.
In Kolkata, thousands of junior doctors and medical students, many in white gowns with stethoscopes around their necks, marched in the eastern city, shouting “Down with reservations” and “Consider merit only.” Classes in medical colleges were shut.

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