"Toofer" is popular slang in America for "two-in-one", the sort of phrase one sees in ice-cream parlours or shopping malls, advertising two scoops of ice-cream or two pairs of socks for the price of one.
But in the backrooms of corporate America "toofer" has a more insidious meaning: it means hiring two minorities for the price of one. So if you hire a woman who's also black, it's a "toofer".
You appease the feminist lobby that demands gender parity in jobs and also practice affirmative action by employing blacks. In short, you get two minorities for the price of one.
It is one of the curious by-products of enforcing a policy of affirmative action through peer pressure. Economic surveys show skewed results, with unexpected new forms of discrimination emerging - many more black males, for instance, tend to be less educated, and therefore unemployed and dependent on social security, than black females.
Should there be job quotas in the private sector?
The search for equal opportunity in education and jobs by the underclass is by no means exclusive to India; it engulfs the most affluent societies and welfare states, including Japan, where 3 million Dalits known as burakumin, having benefited from the fruits of economic integration, continue to battle against centuries of social exclusion and injustice. Why should our settlements be placed outside village or city limits, they ask. Why should our community halls and museums be segregated from the mainstream?
Even in the early 21st century, discrimination against Japan's Dalits is akin to the ostracism of Indian Dalits, who continue to be denied access to the village well and village temple and often to the local school and jobs.
It is just as well that the debate for reserving jobs for the underprivileged in the private sector has just got going. The political demand is backed by fact: as employment in government and the public sector slows down, the pressure on the private sector for job quotas is bound to grow.
Even with built-in reservation, the Indian government sector, contrary to popular perception, is actually a poor employer of the total workforce: only about 10 per cent as opposed to 37 per cent in France, or 24 per cent in the US. There are few equal opportunity regulations in place, as in richer economies, that can ensure that the underprivileged can put up an equal fight.
What is surprising therefore is the vehemence with which India's captains of industry have reacted against the Prime Minister's proposal, several arguing that there is no room for reservations in companies that compete globally.
Others, adopting measured tones, have said that job quotas should be voluntary, not mandatory. High-powered business associations such as the CII have fallen back on the promise of appointing committees, which is the time-honoured ploy for deferment and delay.
Now that the cat is out among the pigeons, it will be edifying to see how the debate will be played out and what kind of consensus emerges. Because if educated, rich and powerful employers can't come up with good enough ideas to guarantee quality education and jobs, why blame the state, which has already tried for nearly six decades and appears defeated by the task?
Of course, some of the best-intentioned ideas can end up warped, like the pernicious American system of "toofers". What good would it be for Indian corporations to come up with purposeless headcounts of the number of SC/ST candidates they employed as peons or sweepers if it was only a matter of filling up mandatory quotas? Or for politicians to force their constituents into private sector jobs, as they used to (and still do) in bloated public sector enterprises?
In a recent survey carried out by a news weekly, several SC/ST professionals interviewed admitted that the jobs they held would have been unthinkable without compulsory reservations in schools and colleges, which enabled them to acquire higher education.
If reservation in education has helped to some degree, so can reservation of jobs in the private sector. It is an idea whose time has come.
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