Should reservation in jobs be discontinued or extended?

Indian Government now Indian law provides for a quota system whereby a percentage of posts are reserved in employment in Government and in the public sector units, and in all public and private educational institutions, except in the religious/ linguistic minority educational institutions, in order to mitigate backwardness of the socially and educationally backward communities and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes who do not have adequate representation in these services and institutions. The reservation policy is also extended to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for representation in the Parliament of India. Reservation cannot be exceeded 50%, as per the rulings given by the supreme court, but certain Indian states like Rajasthan have proposed a 68 % reservation which includes a 14% reservation for forward castes.

Reservations are intended to increase the social diversity in campuses and workplaces by lowering the entry criteria for certain identifiable groups that are grossly under-represented in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Caste is the most used criteria to identify under-represented groups. However there are other identifiable criteria for under-representation—gender (women are under represented), state of domicile (North Eastern States, as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are under-represented), rural people, etc. as revealed by the Government of India sponsored National Family Health and National Sample surveys.

The underlying theory is that the under-representation of the identifiable groups is a legacy of the Indian caste system. After India gained independence, the Constitution of India listed some erstwhile groups as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The framers of the Constitution believed that, due to the caste system, SCs and the STs were historically oppressed and denied respect and equal opportunity in Indian society and were thus under-represented in nation-building activities. The Constitution laid down 15% and 7.5% of vacancies to government aided educational institutes and for jobs in the government/public sector, as reserved quota for the SC and ST candidates respectively for a period of five years, after which the situation was to be reviewed. The succeeding governments routinely extended this period.

Later, reservations were introduced for other sections as well. The Supreme Court ruling that reservations cannot exceed 50% (which it judged would violate equal access guaranteed by the Constitution) has put a cap on reservations. However, there are state laws that exceed this 50% limit and these are under litigation in the Supreme Court. For example, the caste-based reservation fraction stands at 69% and is applicable to about 87% of the population in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Arguments in favour of extension:

  • Reservations are a political necessity in India because vast influential sections of voting population see reservations as beneficial to themselves. All governments have supported maintaining and/or increasing reservations. Reservations are legal and binding. As shown by Gujjar agitations (Rajasthan, 2007–2008), increasing reservations is also essential for peacekeeping in India.
  • Although Reservation schemes do undermine the quality of education but still affirmative Action schemes are in place in many countries including USA, South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil etc. It was researched in Harvard University that Affirmative Action programmes are beneficial to the under-privileged. The studies said that Blacks who enter elite institutions with lower test scores and grades than those of whites achieve notable success after graduation.
  • Although Reservation schemes do undermine the quality of education but still Affirmative Action has helped many – if not everyone from under-privileged and/or under-represented communities to grow and occupy top positions in the world’s leading industries. Reservation in education is not the solution, it is just one of the many solutions. Reservations are a means to increase representation of hitherto under-represented caste groups and thereby improve diversity on campus.
  • Although Reservation schemes do undermine the quality of education but still they are needed to provide social justice to the most marginalized and underprivileged is our duty and their human right. Reservation will really help these marginalized people to lead successful lives, thus eliminating caste-based discrimination, which is still widely prevalent in India especially in the rural areas. (About 60% of Indian population stays in Villages)
  • Anti-reservationists have made a gross mix-up between brain drain and reservation. Brain drain is mainly attributed to the “want” to become richer very fast. Even if we assume that reservation could be a fraction of the cause, one must understand that brain drain is a concept, which is meaningless without nationalism, which is separatism from humankind as a whole. If people leave the country whining about reservation, they don’t have enough nationalism and brain drain does not apply to them.
  • Meritocracy is meaningless without equality. First all people must be brought to the same level, whether it elevates a section or relegates another, regardless of merit. After that, we can talk about merit. People of forward castes are not known to go backward due to reservations or lack of “meritocracy”. Reservations have only slowed down the process of people of forward castes becoming more richer and backward becoming more poorer”. In China, people are equal by birth. In Japan, everyone is highly qualified, so a qualified man finishes his work fast and comes for labour work for which one gets paid more. So the forward people must be at least happy with the fact that they are white-collared throughout their life.

Arguments in favour of discontinuation:

  • Caste Based Reservation only perpetuates the notion of caste in society, rather than weakening it as a factor of social consideration, as envisaged by the constitution. Reservation is a tool to meet narrow political ends. Allocating quotas is a form of discrimination that is contrary to the right to equality.
  • Reservations reduce elections to quid pro quos pitting castes against each other and fragmenting Indian society. Granting reservations to groups to get elected because they see it as beneficial to themselves and threaten to riot is corruption and lack of political resolve. It isn’t an argument in favour of reservations.
  • The policy of reservation has never been subject to a widespread social or political audit. Before extending reservation to more groups, the entire policy needs to be properly examined, and its benefits over a span of nearly 60 years have to be gauged.
  • The 60% of India that is rural needs schools, health care and infrastructure in rural areas, not reservation in urban institutions.
  • Poor people from “forward castes” do not have any social or economical advantage over rich people from backward caste. In fact traditionally Brahmins have been poor.
  • Many cite the Mandal Commission report while supporting the idea of reservations. According to the Mandal commission, 52% of the Indians belong to OBC category, while according to National Sample Survey 1999-2000, this figure is only 36% (32% excluding Muslim OBCs).
  • This policy of the government has already caused increase in brain drain and may aggravate further. Under graduates and graduates will start moving to universities for higher education.
  • Pro-reservation arguments based on US research are not relevant since US affirmative action does not include quotas or reservations. Explicit quotas or reservations are illegal in the USA. In fact, even a points system to favour certain candidates was ruled unconstitutional. Further, affirmative action is essentially banned in the states of California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska and Connecticut. The use of the phrase “affirmative action” to describe the Indian system hides the stark difference between the two systems.
  • Most opportunity in modern Indian cities is in businesses that are owned by people who are not from the highest castes. Being high caste in a city is no advantage.