Monday, March 23, 2009

Reservations on reservation

On April 2006 an idea was proposed by the government of India to pass a law which would provide for 27% reservation for OBCs in educational institutes. That then led to the awakening of a generation to champion the cause of social justice. Before this, so committed were they to live up to the notion of merit that not once did they allow the numerous opportunities to rebel against injustice to distract them. But that wouldn’t do any more. How else were they to do justice to their merit then?
Protests were organised and sloganeering was the in thing to do. The Rang De Basanti generation was here. After all how could they tolerate the discriminatory petty class politics of our politicians? Agreed that the motivation factor was provided by the vote banks .But like Yogendra Yadav puts it “Even the politicians who led the Indian Nationalist struggle were not always motivated by lofty ideals”. The law independent of who proposed it and why, does contribute to the larger collective good. Historically, the OBCs have been denied space in educational as well as professional areas. The National Sample Survey supports this argument with statistics that show that among every 1000 upper caste Hindus every 253 were graduates. Among the OBCs this figure is 86 per 1000.
Classes were cancelled and armed with colourful posters the revolutionaries took to the streets. The proposed law was disrespectful to the sanctity of merit. It was claimed that merit was a form of purity above all caste and class lines. What they fail to understand is that merit is dictated by ones social and economical environment. Considering the kind of marginalisation the OBCs have faced on these fronts it is obvious that the kind of resources they have access to in terms of education and otherwise has been substandard to say the least. How is merit then a measurement of equality?
Refusing to accept caste discrimination the determined braved the water cannons to make their voices heard. After all it’s a democracy. Why can’t reservations be made on an economical basis? Well, because reservations are not meant to be a poverty alleviation programme. They are meant to address issues of double discrimination of caste and class. Caste is considered to be an indicator of not only social and economic hierarchy but also of educational disadvantages due to their close interlinks. The poor are likely to be lower caste and the rich the upper caste. Caste is measured to be the single best predictor of educational opportunities if the other factors of social and economical conditions are kept in mind.
Effigies of Mr.Arjun Singh were swallowed by a fire fanned by millions across the country. Him and others supporting his stand were constantly asked “Would you get yourself treated from a doctor who got her/ his degree because of the accident of her/his birth and not merit”? Simple enough. Reservations allow people to have access to seats in educational institutes. However, every student regardless of her/his caste has to qualify in the same examination to obtain the degree.
Reservation and nation building are not antithetical to each other. But nor can reservation alone be the solution to the layered educational problems faced by India. Quotas are a mechanism of attending to the problem at one level. However, they need to be backed by strong infrastructural support and remedial classes to enable the reserved category students to draw level with the rest of the class. This will help in preventing dropouts and come closest to providing them with a fair platform on level with the rest of their class. Reservations are not an end in themselves. The gaps will be bridged only if this move is complimented by the strengthening of access and quality of primary education.


  1. Yogendra Yadav has no moral right to comment on the sanctity of the intentions of today's politicians by comparing their ideals to the ones of the pre-independence era. The setting was completely different and in those days people did care about the country.

    The crux of your argument is based on historical injustice. Since they faced a lot of problems back then let us grant them some privileges without any safe guards. This happens to be the fundamental flaw of communism as well but I shall leave that debate for another time. Getting back to this, the schedule caste and the OBC's hold the right to move a special court known as the Harijan court which takes in any of their claims of racial discriminations without investigation. They are thus empowered to threaten their educators and are knoen to give ultimatums to them if they were failed. This is how they get their degrees and then go out into the market as doctors and engineers? Is this safe?

    The notion of OBC's stretches beyond normal boundaries. The colleges are not permitted to let the general category student in even if some schedule caste seats are lying vacant. There are instances where people have to simply attend a common entrance exam in order to obtain seats and they do get it with a score of 0% because the colleges need to fill their seats.

    If the government was so keen on elevating the socio-economic positions of the discriminated classes the they should provide them with quality subsidised primary education and the means to go about achieving it. You cant expect someone to sit for an engineering degree without knowing how to spell mathematics - a point that you diplomatically mentioned in half a sentence at the end of your argument.

    Racial politics and racism is another issue that I would like to bring up. I would not be aware of half the castes and classes had it not been for these reservations. I now look down upon them with vengence as I believe that they have, for no fault of their own, wrongly occupied a commodity that I should have had equal access to. Reservations simple reassure the tendency to discriminate in most people. This is a fact regardless of how efficiently people deny it.

    But you must be right. The rang de basanti generation is under the misconception that protests are cool and things should just be handed out. I wonder if in the years to come my child would get a walk-through admission because that was a privilege that I did not have now.

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