Synopsis

Division continues to plague society as urban dwellers decry discrimination while rural students see it as affirmative action

An unfair system?
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LAHORE: The quota system has remained a contentious issue and a politically divisive factor in Pakistan since its inception. The urban community has been decrying it as discriminatory whereas people of rural areas consider it as affirmative action.

Allocating special quotas in education, scholarships and job opportunities for any marginalised groups is not an alien concept in Pakistan. However, reverse discrimination against dominant groups in favour of marginalised groups is also a reality of our country.

It’s a trap, a death trap for general category students and the intelligent ones of course, claimed Waqas, an applicant for a job offered by a United Nations agency. Waqas was rejected by the interview panel as the job vacancy was open to the residents of ‘backward areas.’

The misuse of quota system by the influential people of the underdeveloped areas who have been settled in posh areas of main cities of the country has resulted in sheer violation of merit. This reportedly deprives the deserving candidates of metropolitan cities of admissions in educational institutions and government jobs.

Scholarships are truly a game-changer in terms of making education financially accessible. “I could not make it to the list of shortlisted candidates because I belong to Lahore. The scholarship was only meant to assist deserving students from backward areas. Strangely, one of the shortlisted candidates from a backward area was the niece of an MPA,” revealed Asma whose application for a United States-based application was rejected on grounds that she was privileged enough to live in a provincial capital.

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“My father works at a factory and I teach in a coaching centre. My father works overtime to make both ends meet. I bear an excellent academic background and was quite sure to bag the scholarship. However, reverse discrimination led me nowhere,” complained Asma.

It is a grave issue faced by the youth of metropolitan cities which requires utmost attention from the federal government. The quota system introduced by the government was aimed at facilitating the youth of backward areas to assist them in availing opportunities of quality education and getting adequate share in jobs according to their level of competence and to prevent any kind of sense of deprivation in them.

Undeserving cases?

In many cases, families holding the domicile of rural areas have settled in big cities. Their children are born and bred in the posh areas of big cities like Lahore, study in expensive institutions, but they end up availing the quota reserved for the people of backward areas.

Ali, a CSS candidate said, “I cleared competitive exams in my first attempt. However, I was not allocated despite scoring remarkably good in the written exam and the interview although seats were still vacant due to the low number of successful candidates on the provincial quota system.”

CSS examinations should be conducted on open merit as the quota system leads to discrimination and division in society and that everyone should be provided equal employment opportunities, he reiterated.

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There should be no quota in Punjab to begin with. There are several competent candidates who can compete on merit. The same can be applied to Karachi and most areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Fatima complained that affirmative action has been controversial from the beginning because more students availing scholarships of other provinces in Lahore’s educational institutes usually means fewer opportunities left for the citizens of Punjab’s chief city.

“I was denied the need-based scholarship while my classmate from Gilgit-Baltistan received 50 per cent off on his tuition fee, who drives a 2,000cc car,” said Sidra, a student of a private university in Lahore.

One of the consequences of ‘reserved opportunities’ for marginalised groups has been that far from being empowered, those who use the quota system to enter the portals of higher education and corresponding employment, continue to suffer from low self-esteem.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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