To reserve or not to reserve...

Valid grievances on both sides of the coin

To reserve or not to reserve...
Protests from both sides

Reservations and quotas are terms quite familiar to the Indian public. To those people who don't know what they are, let me give you a brief explanation.

In India, all government jobs and admissions to higher educational institutions under the purview of the government have reservations. A certain percentage of seats are reserved for the lower castes like Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC). This policy has been highly debated in the country. Both pro-reservation and anti-reservation groups vehemently argue for their point of view. The country has stood witness to innumerable debates, talk shows, protest marches and even police lathi charge on unruly mobs in this regard.

So, how did all this begin? Originally started by the British and later endorsed by our freedom fighters, most notably Gandhi and Ambedkar, it was meant to provide equal representation to all sections of the society. India has a very rigid caste system, and in the olden days, the lower castes were mistreated a lot. They were poor, deprived, and lived in abominable conditions. They were forbidden to mingle with the "upper castes" and were looked upon as sub-humans. They were made to do all menial jobs and were even forbidden to enter places of worship. Moreover, they were denied to even receive proper education. Hence, the reformers of the day opined that by providing reservations, these people will get equal representation and moreover, help society to change their impression about these people.

Post-independence, India's founding fathers decided to allot reservations for the SC and ST classes and also ruled that the situation should be reviewed every 10 years (it must be noted that the review was only for political reservations while educational reservations had no such deadline). Successive governments extended this provision every 5 years. Later, reservations were introduced even for the OBC section of the people. It might seem very fair and fine but there are many aspects which we should consider.

First of all, the real poor and deprived individuals who should benefit from this are not getting anything. As India developed through the years, the economic conditions changed and even a select group of people from the so-called "lower classes" have become rich and prosperous. However, these people continue to draw the advantages of this system and the real people for whom the system is meant remain in the same, pitiable state. Under the name of caste system, even incapable people make use of it and prosper. There is yet another important aspect to reservations. The reason why successive governments continued the system of reservation was that they started indulging in caste-based politics. Essentially, the population was divided into vote banks and political parties started to appeal to each caste separately. This was another reason apart from religion for the parties to indulge in divisive politics. The country was, and still is, engulfed by communal and caste-based politics. This is a sad state of affairs.

The protests which ensued when successive committees and commissions increased reservations echoed throughout the country. Castes were up in arms against each other. The "upper castes" said it was unfair. The "lower castes" accused the "upper castes" of taking all benefits. It was extremely ugly. Normal life was disrupted across the length and breadth of the nation.

The "lower castes" had merit in whatever they said. It was true to a certain extent that upper castes had a lot of benefits. However, before we draw conclusions, we need to look into yet another facet of the reservation drama. Over the past few decades after reservation started, it has so happened that the "lower castes" are actually making hay. For instance, the system of reservation exists in admission to institutes of learning. Essentially, for these people, the cut-offs are lowered so that they also have a fair chance of qualifying. Alright, everything seems very fair. But the problem started when these cut-offs became atrociously low and even incapable people started to have an unfair advantage. Another area where reservations are increasingly misused is government jobs. There are a certain portion of seats which are reserved. Now, I told you about the rich "lower castes", isn't it? These people started to use their money power to get these seats where the demand is comparatively lower than the general seats. Corruption is a rampant issue in India. And, then you have a deadly combination when corruption is combined with reservations. This is what angers the "upper castes" the most.

Reservation is a good system. I do not deny it. But the way it is implemented needs urgent review. The system was actually meant to benefit the poor people who also happened to belong to the lower castes. Nevertheless, times have changed, and the wrong people are benefiting now. How should we handle the situation? If we really want to give equal representation, we should change the system and instead, base it on economic status. Many people who belong to the "upper castes" and are poor do not get any benefit. We should implement a system based on economic status so that the people who are actually underprivileged can compete on an equal scale. I do realize that this is a double-edged sword and incomes can be faked. The onus is on policymakers to figure out how one can reduce the opportunity for fraud. Moreover, the government should undertake necessary steps to see that the economic inequality is minimized in the nation. And then, the system should be done away with once it is assessed that all are on an equal footing.

Also, another point to be looked into is where reservation is implemented and whether it is worthwhile and sensible to have reservations in that field. Take for example, the system of reservations in the higher education sector. First of all, we need a proper primary and high school educational system so that people have the basic education. It so happens that the level of primary and high school education in the public sector is very poor. If you don't have people who can pass even high school and junior college, will reservation in higher educational institutions do any good? This is an important question and needs to be addressed by the Centre.

These are my own personal views, and I don't intend to hurt anybody's personal feelings and sentiments. If anybody has been offended, please let me know. I am of course open to more opinions and perspectives to refine my perspective. So, in general, what do you think? Leave your comments below. Share with your friends by clicking on the various buttons below. Or even personally tell them 😉

Also, watch the YouTube video below which is an excerpt of the interview Tom Weisskopf gave to NDTV. It looks at reservations from a completely different angle.