A Critique on Reservation

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The viewpoints of the primary stakeholder on the need of the quota system.

The dominant view on reservation that we usually see is of an evil that takes away the seats from the deserving candidates in favour of the reserved ones, however it mostly comprises of the voices raised from the critical end of the spectrum. This end mostly consists of the general public, people who have not been subjected to various discriminatory acts in the past.

On the other hand, there exists a large section, which benefits from this scheme. This section has been subjected to various human rights violations, which has caused a scenario where they are mostly ignored and left undeveloped. Due to this lack of development, the reserved do not usually get the means to voice their opinion; those who do are mostly among the creamy layer who do not really require reservation.

Talking to the ones who actually struggle to achieve something, I realised how many of them are among the people not spoken for. These people maybe from the general category as well, but the probability of them being from a scheduled tribe or scheduled caste is astronomically higher. The following statistics taken from NSSO 1999-2000 indicate that almost half of the rural Scheduled Tribes spend below ₹327 per month per capita in rural areas, which in itself is an extremely low figure.

Caste and Community Profile of People below Poverty Line in India

Caste and Community Groups

Rural

Urban

Scheduled Tribes

45.8

35.6

Scheduled Castes

35.9

38.3

Other Backward Castes

27.0

29.5

Muslim Upper Castes

26.8

34.2

Hindu Upper Castes

11.7

09.9

Christian Upper Castes

09.6

05.4

Upper Sikh Castes

00.0

04.9

Other Upper Castes

16.0

02.7

All Groups

27.0

23.4

Statistics based on NSSO 1999-2000 report

It is quite apparent that there exists a huge disparity among the standards of living among different castes, which in itself is a major issue to begin with. One’s socioeconomic conditions should not depend upon the accident of being born in a backward caste.

Another way to look at it is the issue of unawareness among these people. While these people do have certain special privileges, they don’t know where to exercise them. Talking to students at the institute, I realised there was a huge issue forming the base of the problem of exploitation of reservation. Most of the students with reservation and financially unstable backgrounds only got to know about the existence of AIIMS, IITs and NITs at the end of their high school years. While these students did get to know about these institutes, many such people have no resources or means to get to know about them or other facilities that might help develop their futures. If these families do have hope of a brighter future, most of it comes from reservation.

With our coaching centres and tuitions, we were able to clear JEE and reach where we are, but the students from a financially weak, unaware society, they weren’t able to receive coaching for the same. Does being from a poor background means that you have less of an opportunity to improve your situation? I sure hope not. This equality of opportunity is provided in the form of reservation, and while it has a drawback of being exploited, the opportunity that has been provided to the poorer sections of the society does mean we might be levelling the playing field.

We can observe that about twenty to thirty percent of the students belong to the financially weaker section of the society. Statistics indicate that most of them came in using reservation. I believe that uplifting this community is a lot more important than focusing on the minute section that consists of financially privileged people from the large scheduled castes and tribes’ society, mostly due to the idea that reducing poverty and caste based disparity is more important than the idea of minimising exploitation of certain special privileges by an already privileged group which is no longer the target of reservation system.

But arguments of reservation based on other criteria exist, one such criteria being the financial status of the benefactor. There are reasons why most of these ideas are flawed beyond the caste based one. For example, in the case of financial status, the primary fault according to me is of foul play, which, in this system, would have huge impacts on the economy. Consider that tax evasion is a reason big enough for people to not showcase their actual incomes to the concerned authorities. Add to that the fact that you’ll be gaining significant advantages for not reporting the same and you get yourself an economy that is rapidly diminishing in the size as now the actual income is no longer being reported by the people.

Then there exists an idea of merging the two criteria together: providing reservation only to those who earn below a set limit, which is a good way to deal with the issue of creamy layer, especially considering that it has mostly been effective in the OBC reservation system. Another issue which is highly persistent is vote bank development using reservation as an incentive, and it is something that needs to be taken care of. These issues that have now stemmed from this policy have caused quite a stir, and are something that can be solved as their presence is not necessary to the ideology behind this system. But the fact that today’s India necessitates reservation more than it villainises it is a testament to the argument that even if we’re unable to solve the evil that has risen from this system, it is ultimately required for sustainable development of every community towards equality.

In the end, I would like to end with three simple questions: doesn’t a student who is capable of getting into IIT, if not for the accident of birth, deserve a go at it? Isn’t it our responsibility to make sure that accident of birth does not translate into your socio-economic status? Isn’t it more important to focus on the larger group that needs help than to focus on the minor section that exploits the privileges given to it?

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