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Reservations in India - Myths and truths

Contributed by: Ra. Ravishankar and PalaM-Ni Ramu (

In April 2006, the government of India announced upper caste intellectuals are against reservations.
that it is likely to provide 27% reservation in The only reason is that they see the reservations
higher education admissions including elite as a mode to limit the share of future generations
educational institutes to other backward classes of their families and castes. The point to be noted
(OBCs). This announcement created a stir is that these upper caste people never agitated
among the upper caste and the largely upper against any policies that might have adverse
[1] [9]
caste national media eagerly latched on to the repercussions if implemented . Neither did they
upper caste discontent. A policy like reservations protest against lack of healthcare facilities, work
to OBCs that provides traditionally to improve technology, management in rural
underrepresented and oppressed communities areas. It all boils down to the fact that they are
an opportunity to get access to higher education not bothered about the quality of the education,
was projected as an anti national policy. In this nation’s growth but truncated opportunities to
article, we hope to shed some light on the their families and castes are of major botheration
objectives of reservations in India. to them .

In a democratic setup like India, the idea of Another major argument is that reservations

reservations is to provide the basic needs to the should be based on economic criteria rather
underprivileged that will create an opportunity for than caste system . Firstly, it should be
every individual the equal right to access understood that reservation in India follows the
resources irrespective of caste, creed, gender, concept of protective discrimination compared to
class and economic disparities. The government egalitarianism. Egalitarianism aims at equality by
identifies the underprivileged who qualify to providing the disadvantaged individual the bare
receive the reservations as Other Backward minimum that allows him/her to qualify to join the
Classes (OBCs). A community is a candidate to main stream. But protective discrimination is
be OBC based on a complex set of social, something more, in the sense that it addresses
education and economic criteria as reported by individuals who are disprivileged in more than
the National Commission for Backward Classes one category like social, economical,
[2] [3]
(NCBC) . Besides, OBC is a dynamic notion . psychological, gender etc. It is very clear that
Evaluation of the community’s backwardness reservations are meant to address something
should be done periodically and the ‘creamy more than economic depravity and cannot be
layer’ exception should be applied as suggested viewed as counters to poverty. Moreover, some
by NCBC . opine that India needs to have US -style
affirmative action instead of reservations. This
The primary argument that is used against argument has fundamental flaws because
reservation is the bogus ploy of merit. Initially affirmative action is framed in terms of formal
people used academic performance as a equality whereas India has institutionalized the
measure of merit. Then, when the oppressed notion that a commitment to equality entails not
(with limited resources) began to make inroads in just formal equality, but substantive equality in
this aspect the focus changed to performance the form of preferential treatment to overcome
[5] [11]
and later into ‘personal potential’ . Eventually, the historic disadvantages suffered by groups .
the measure of merit is so formless, cannot be Affirmative action is not based on quota or lower
defined and is adopted according to the grounds eligibility criteria but provides a preference to
of argument. There is a general misconception women and Afro-Americans over the whites
that reservation in elite institutions will degrade when they are equally qualified. An alternative
* †
the institute’s quality. In the AIIMS and IIT argument presented is that reservations promote
entrance examinations, the difference between further casteism. This is not true; the policy of
the toppers in open and reserved category is reservations is recognition of the brutal reality of
large of the order to 20 to 30% . However, when casteism and a meager attempt to counter the
it comes to the last successful candidate in either caste order. Protests by upper-caste Indians
lists, the difference narrows down to about half of (who constitute less than 15 percent of Indian
it. In 2005 and 2006 IIT entrance exams, many population) against the attempts of Indian
students would have made it even without the government to make elite educational institutions
quota. In AIIMS, the difference is mostly because accessible to those who have suffered centuries
of the smaller pie. In spite of these of oppression is disingenuous. However, majority
developments, it leaves one wondering why the of the Indians supported reservations in India .

* ‡
AIIMS – All India Institute of Medical Sciences There was a discussion on the same during Dr. Pandey’s

IIT – Indian Institute of Technology visit to UF on 11th June 2006
It is the media’s bad to blow up the opinion of a but improvement in state of ordinary man is
small percentage of the people regarding growth. As Ilaiah puts it, where does the Indian
reservations. upper caste merit stand compared to the merit of
China where the former working class (aka lower
Reservations and development go hand in hand. caste) occupied all key positions after the
The south Indian experience is a classical revolution and successfully developed science
example. Cities like Chennai, Bangalore have and technology through self reliance.
become more modern centers because of the Reservations are a mode to avoid social unrest
participation of lower castes in all markets based on casteism. It is reported that individuals
compared to Delhi and Kolkatta . In India, coming from village level caste communities have
reservations provide a smooth transformation of enormous common sense and logical thinking but
the caste-centered system and allows for equal no exposure to institutional education .
sharing of resources. Instead, if the upper caste Reservations provide the chance for these minds
is going to continue their attacks, the nation will to get exposed to systematic thinking and
have to get ready to face violent struggles as the analysis. The guided energy of these individual
Nepal Maoist movement or the civil strife in Paris might show exceptional talent in discovering new
in 2005. The upper caste intellectuals who have ways of doing things that could enhance the
occupied the majority of academic, administrative knowledge base of the nation. In conclusion,
and executive positions, including over 95 reservations for OBCs are important for the
percent of the appellate judicial positions haven’t above cited reasons like education for all,
really produced any major changes in the efficiency, equality and the proportional growth of
proportional growth of the nation. Proportional the nation. But they should be adopted seriously
growth does not refer to GDP but to the state of and applied properly.
ordinary man. Rich getting richer is not growth

[1] Upper caste dominates national media.

[2] Guidelines for consideration of requests for Inclusion and complaints of under inclusion in the central list of
[3] Reservations for OBCs in India: Friends of South Asia (FOSA)
[4] Persons/Sections excluded from reservation which constitute the “creamy layer” in society
[5] Anand Teltumbde, Reservation in Private Sector: An Overview of the Proposition
[6] Quota for undeserving? Here’s a reality check
[7] Neera Chandhoke, Three Myths about Reservations, Economic and Political weekly, June 10 2006.
[8] Kancha Ilaiah, Merit of Reservations, Economic and Political Weekly, June 17, 2006
[9] Jayathi Gosh, Case for Caste-based Quotas in Higher Education, Economic and Political Weekly, June 17,
[10] Majority of Indians want quota.
[11] The Furore over Reservations: A Primer.