Thousands of protestors gathered near New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Thursday to demand the restoration of the “200-point roster system” for recruiting college and university teachers. The new “13-point roster system”, they argued, will drastically cut the number of such posts reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes.

In the 200-point system, teaching positions were reserved by treating the university as one unit. The new system will see reservation applied by department. Since most departments have few posts, reservation may not apply at all, as explained early this week. The system was altered by a 2016 ruling of the Allahabad High Court which was upheld by the Supreme Court on January 22.

The protestors demanded that the Union government enact a law to overturn the ruling.

“This is like replacing the Constitution with Manusmriti,” said Anil Kumar Bahujan, a protestor who has a PhD from the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University in Wardha, Maharashtra. He was referring to an ancient text of Hindu laws whose harsh caste strictures have made it a target for Ambedkarites. “Dalits have been tortured for 5,000 years,” Bahujan added. “Only after were we given these rights by the Constituent Assembly. They cannot be taken away so suddenly.”

Anil Kumar Bahujan carries a picture of Chaudhary Charan Singh, a Jat leader from Uttar Pradesh who served as India's 5th prime minister. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal

The protest was organised by Dalit groups such as the Bhim Army and volunteers from political parties representing backward castes such as the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party.

Rohit Gautam, a volunteer with the Ambedkarite organisation Bhim Army, at the protest. The Bhim Army is based in Western Uttar Pradesh. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is in prison, tweeted about the new system, describing it as a “casteist policy” to eliminate the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes from higher education. It is an indication the issue could feature in the upcoming general election campaign.

Sudhakar Puskar, a PhD scholar at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, expressed anger at the Modi government for not contesting the Allahabad High Court’s order well enough. “They have been anti-Dalit constantly for the past five years,” he alleged. “Lack of reservation is holding the country back. We are the people who do the work. We till fields, grow food, build your towns. How can we not get a chance to study in college? How will the country develop otherwise?”

Sudhakar Puskar demands the restoration of the 200-point roster system. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal

Suresh Prakash from Delhi was the first from his family to finish high school. “Today my daughter is studying for her MA. If this system is implemented, will she ever get a job?” he asked.

Pointing to his shoe and tugging at a half-detached sole, he said. “We are in a bad shape but we are agitating to give a better life to our children.”

Suresh Prakash holds up a placard reading, 'Remove the janeu roster.' Janeu is a thread worn by upper caste Hindus to signify their caste. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal

Ajinkya Sonawane from Pune who is studying for an MPhil in Sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He said the 200-point roster system was changed in an unfair way. “The people affected were not involved in the legal process in any way,” he explained. “None of this happened publicly. And we suddenly came to know this new system has been implemented which cuts quotas.”

'We suddenly came to know this new system has been implemented which cuts quotas,' says Ajinkya Sonawane. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal

The gathering was addressed by Dharmendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bhim Army leader Chandrashekar.

“Reservation is not a scheme to improve incomes, it is a policy to provide representation to backward castes,” said Tejashwi Yadav. He demanded a caste census and reservation for backward communities in proportion to their populations.

A protestors shoots a Facebook live video of Tejashwi Yadav's speech at the rally. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
A protestor named Suryapratap Guatam holds up a poster of the dacoit Phoolan Devi, who is seen as a backward caste hero in Uttar Pradesh. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal