Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The issue of caste-based reservations has been a controversial one in India. Part of the disillusionment can be attributed to the blatant electoral motives of the Congress party. Its objective to garner more votes at the next polls will fail since caste-based policies reward casteist, not national parties. However, the concept of reservations in itself is not flawed.

Some maintain that educational standards will decline with reservations. Others allege that state interference in the private sector's ability to hire and fire individuals will compromise the open market.

Let me reflect here. The UPA had widened the ambit of reservations to include private fee-levying educational institutions. It exempted minority religious schools from the new policy - a poll tactic to not alienate the minority religious vote. It then endeavored to extend reservations to Muslims but failed due to judicial intervention. It now plans to introduce legislation to make it mandatory for the private sector to hire a fixed proportion of the backward castes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

While I do not care for India's Prime Minister, the policy of reservations does have its merit. Education and employment standards might not necessarily be compromised. However certain caveats are in order.

India is a pluralist land with many languages, ethnic groups, caste configurations and religions. It is a county poised for economic and military take off. It is only correct that different caste groups share the best education opportunities available and the fruits of economic development. A policy of reservations would ensure greater representation of marginalized groups and would help integrate them into the national mainstream.

While not all "backward" castes are marginalized, they are under-represented in the modern urbanized economy. Integration through socialization, inter-marriage and close bonds would take place once they are fully represented in education and employment. This can only strengthen India, not weaken it.

Would this compromise the quality of education in the elite IITs and IIMs that have churned graduates only to lose them to the United States? I think not, provided rigorous admission and graduation standards are retained. Only the most qualified amongst the backward castes, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes should get admission into the elite institutions of higher learning. And only the most qualified should be allowed to graduate. The admission and graduation standards can not be compromised. Quotas to ensure adequate representation of different caste groups would integrate India's myriad castes provided rigorous standards of admission and graduation are retained.

Some would argue that this would strengthen caste through university admissions and employment. But one can not deny that caste is already a social reality that strikes one in the face. Its existence can not be denied. Integration would only follow once different caste groups are represented in the mainstream. I provide the example of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Reservations are in keeping with the Indic historical tradition. The Panchayat (five castes) or the basic structure of local government in ancient and medieval India was a forum where the five broad caste groups convened to jointly decide on village affairs. The five groups were the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and the "Untouchables". All five had to jointly anoint the king upon his coronation.

This is not to deny the reservation pitfalls. The current UPA administration has arrogated the right to interfere in private university entrance fees. It excluded minority religious institutions once again in the most cynical manner. This is a dangerous precedent. Interference in the fee structure undermines private education.

The administration should instead set up an endowment to provide scholarships to India's neglected and marginalized. It needs to invest in grass-roots education to ensure the improved competitiveness of non-elite caste groups over time. Nehru failed to do so and it is high time to rectify this anomaly. Until then, caste-based reservations are needed to ensure national integration. India can only emerge stronger.


doubtinggaurav said...


Interesting post.

Caste is a reality, so is caste based discrimination. How best to tackle that is a serious concern and one which I am not , at present, able to formulate a response.

So it may take some time to reply.


Anu said...

There IS a need for reservations for students whose communities have had no opportunties for generations. I agree. But how on earth are "rigorous" admission standards maintained if you have reservations? The very meaning of reservations is that you will keep aside some seats for some groups and fill it with only its members, even if they have not performed as well as some others in the general category. There is definitely a compromise on quality. The question is how much and where this compromise is acceptable.

Jaffna said...

Gaurav, Anu

Here's my take and I could be wrong. Should there be open competition, it is likely that those from the "forward castes" would monopolize admission into the universities. This can be explained with reference to the better education opportunities that they have access to.

But if say 25% of university seats is set aside for "backward" caste groups alone, then one has provision for those who might have otherwise not been admitted with open competition due to less access to secondary education.

Reservations can co-exist with rigorous admission standards. In other words, only the best students belonging to the "backward castes" should get admission into the best universities.

More importantly, like France, rigorous graduation standards should be retained. It is not difficult to get into the Sorbonne in France. But it sure is a challenge to graduate from it. The qualifying examinations are a killer and sift the wheat from the chaff. This is different to the Anglo-Saxon education system which emphasizes competitive entry. Graduation is more or less guaranteed.

If one were to keep rigorous admission standards, it is clear that only the so-called "creamy layer" of the backward caste, scheduled caste and scheduled tribes would get in. That is Ok in my view for now.

I am not arguing for social justice. I am arguing for national integration. We need to hear the dalit voice. We need to socialize. We need to intermarry. What better forum than the university and the work place.

Social justice on the other hand would only be ensured through investment in grass-roots primary education.

I am uncomfortable with the term "backward castes" since many actually belong to the rural elite. However, they have not been proportionately represented in India's modernized urban economy and thus are in need of affirmative action.

Best regards

dipendra said...


You yet again raise some very pertinent issues. Well done.

Yes, this government is pandering to OBC votes in the Hindi heartline away from SP/BSP while pandering to the minority vote bank - when will Congress learn that they cannot appease the whims of every special interest groups all the time.

btw, did u hear about the students and staff of AIIMS striking since the proposed law will only affect them. Contrast that with another elite school Christian Medical College, Vellore which will NOT be affected by such a law - it can continue to reserve 60% of seats for Christian students - boy, talk about social justice.

Same with elite liberal arts colleges like St. Stephens Delhi, St. Xaviers Bombay, Loyola college, Chennai, St. Joseph's Trichy I think - only the rich elites (from all castes), children of alumni and the minority (with a letter from the local pastor) can get into such schools - why not introduce quoatas here as well to improve social mobility?? halleluja and start chanting the Lord's words!

And don't get me even started on the education 'cess' collected from Indian corporate profits - not a penny of that has been used so far to fund education. Why does'nt Arjun Singh do something about that first?


PS: I hope this blog will continue to publish high quality posts from Jaffna even if others decide to leave.

Anonymous said...

I come from Madras where the concept of reservation has been stretched to ridiculous limits. But I have never seen any politician get treated in the local government hospital. They always take the next available flight to get treated for coughs and cold either to the UK or the US, funded by the state, of course. So what is the baloney about reservations being helpful? I fail to understand. If the govt. in sincere about helping the underprivileged, let them subsidize education, and provide placement counseling. This is a vote grabbing technique and nothing else. Jai Hind

froginthewell said...

Jaffna, I think typically in IITs etc. the rich and urban among the backward classes mostly take up the reserved seats ( there are some exceptions, of course ). Moreover, they are given substantial waivers of fees and scholarship irrespective of their financial background. I hope you won't side with the left and say that these people are subjected to "humiliation by castesit comments" and are hence entitled to reservation and other privileges. Because of the creamy layer, the genuinely marginalized people are indeed sidelined.

Also what do you think of private sector reservations? In corporates?

Rajiv said...

What ahout the point that we are going to alienate and deprive more deserving candidates? True, it will also give the people who have been discriminated against for generations a chance. But just by doing the same to the "upper caste" will not solve this.

Kaunteya said...

i have an genuine question actually. will companies like microsoft,ibm, google etc who operate out of india be required to reserve seats in their companies too, if mad-mohan singh has his way?
will they agree ? take a guess! they won't. so that would leave tatas and ambanis and premjis to reserve the jobs. the communists who are a part and parcel of this government will then be guilty of indirectly helping the MNCs since the talent will all divert to foreign companies. unless mad-mohan singh seriously wants to close their shops in india.

it is understandable that congress and commnunists want india to remain poor, since 80% of their votes come from there. prosperity and economic success is something congress cannot afford. if india prospers, pinkos and gandhis will loose power. the rise of their stocks is directly proportional to rise in poverty and all round destruction.

iits/iims/corp houses are the engines of growth. arjun singh and madam sonia probably feel it is best to attack the root cause of prosperity. and i think they are doing a good job at that.

thelonelyfurrow said...

Guys, let us start a revolution. Let there be 100% Reservations! Let there be a new parallel education / job system, where the students / workers, management and even the friggin sweepers are appointed with reservations. And let there be 0% reservations in all the other institutions.

The time the OBC etc is born, he will have a certain admission into the reservation education system. He can study till whatever time he wants to. The teachers too are 100% from the reservation cadre. The reservation student after completion of his studies, will have an assured job in the Government. After all, didn't Nehru say that another purpose of the Public Sector was to generate employment?

தமிழ் சமத்துவம் said...







Memoryking said...

My Reservations blog.-It's a bit controversial :)

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markali52 said...

It is the same all over, they use different words and different ways but it happens all over, I recently moved to my italian property and in the village there is a distinct class difference in the people that almost cuts the village in half, it always suprises me in this day and modern age that these yhings still happen.

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