Friday, December 15, 2006

Delhi doctors begin hunger strike over affirmative action in colleges

BBC News:

Doctors from India's most prestigious medical institute have begun a hunger strike in the capital Delhi.

They are protesting against the approval of a bill which reserves 27% of college places for low-caste people.

The lower house of parliament passed the bill on Thursday, but it will become law only after it is approved by the upper house and the president.

The move has been criticised by a wide cross-section of groups, but welcomed by millions of low-caste Hindus.

A spokesperson for the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) told a local television channel: "We are on a hunger strike. There will be a general body meeting in the evening and we will decide our future course of action then."

According to reports, 12 doctors have so far joined the hunger strike, but doctors say they will "continue to work normally in the interest of the patients".

Doctors and students at AIIMS have been at the forefront of the anti-reservation protests.

Currently, 22.5% of college places are reserved for tribals and those who are traditionally at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy.

Medical students, business leaders and teachers have all complained that increasing the quota would lead to a drop in standards.

Low-caste Hindus make up more than half the population.

Although the law officially bans caste discrimination, India's lower castes mostly remain at the bottom of society and are poorly represented in major professions.

In October, the country's supreme court upheld a move by the government to allocate quotas for promotions in government jobs for lower caste Indians.

But the court said the authorities would have to prove that these groups were poorly represented in government.

Such affirmative action plans for lower castes are a hugely controversial issue and have resulted in big protests.

A government job is highly coveted, with many seeing it as a ticket to economic security.

Indian parliament in caste move

Hundreds of low-caste Indians enter temple to protest their priest being denied entry

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