Reading List

Personal Laws in India present a situation where abolishing them in the interest of gender justice also inadvertently benefits the reactionary side.   
The rampant abuse faced by domestic workers urgently necessitates a national policy to provide social and economic protection
This reading list explores the contradictory narratives that have been built around the issue of unemployment.

Discussion Map

In this feature, we map the discussion around S Subramanian’s 2006 article, “Examining the ‘Creamy Layer’ Principle,” that argued against excluding the economically affluent of the backward classes from the reservation system.




We Need Preferential Treatment To Annihilate Preferential Treatment




The author argues that caste backwardness is a more crippling deficiency than income insufficiency.




This principlewhich, for convenience, will here be called the “creamy layer” principlehas been held out by many forward caste persons as an argument against providing reservation in education to the creamy layer segments of the “backward castes”




Suppose, then, that four candidates appear for a competitive examination for admission to a professional college and that only two seats are available. Imagine that one of the candidates is a “poor backward caste” person (whom we shall refer to as PBC), one is a “rich backward caste” person (whom we shall refer to as RBC), one is a “poor forward caste” person (whom we shall refer to as PFC), and the fourth is a “rich forward caste” person (whom we shall refer to as RFC).




Suppose the distribution of marks is as follows: 70 for PBC, 81 for RBC, 83 for PFC and 85 for RFC. This distribution simulates the commonly observed phenomenon that, other things equal, academic performance improves with each of economic and caste status.





Scheme I, which does not allow for any group-related preferential treatment whatever, is the sort of scheme that would be favoured by an undiluted belief in the virtues of meritocracy: notice that it is the two members of the forward caste who are selected under this scheme.




Next, suppose that we have a scheme of extra marks allotted to a person suffering from the disadvantage of caste backwardness (Case II); specifically, assume that a backward caste person is given six extra marks … The chosen candidates, in this situation, will be RBC and RFC.





Given a certain perspective, this outcome is unfair to PFC: the poor, forward caste person is seen as having been forced to lose out unjustly to the rich, backward caste person. This perception plays an important role in upholding the creamy layer principle.




Consider a third case (Case III), in which caste-based preferential treatment is given to a backward caste person (six extra marks), but only if s/he happens to be poor: this scheme upholds the creamy layer principle …  Finally, consider a scheme (Case IV) in which an extra six marks are allotted for caste backwardness and an extra three marks for poverty: both caste and economic status are seen as grounds for preferential treatment.





For all practical purposes, however, neither of the backward caste candidates is helped by Scheme III: PBC’s “raw” marks are too low to be aided by the preferential treatment to which he is eligible, and RBC, by virtue of being rich enough to belong to the creamy layer, is not eligible for caste based preferential treatment at all. The outcome of Scheme III is that it is the two forward caste candidates that are selected.





A more rational approach to the problem would consist in basing preferential treatment on grounds of both caste and economic status. This, precisely, is the view that underlies Scheme IV. Under this scheme, the outcome is that the selected candidates are RBC and PFC… Scheme IV favours the candidate disadvantaged by caste; and of the two forward caste candidates PFC and RFC, Scheme IV favours the candidate disadvantaged by poverty.





As such, the concern should essentially be with group averages of relevant indicators of well-being, not with questions of how the total is distributed within any group. For, no matter how distributed, if the average for a currently disadvantaged group rises sufficiently over time, then that should be a signal for moving the group out of the ambit of preferential treatment.


Click here to read the article.



Excluding The Creamy Layer Will Benefit The Eligible Backward Caste Population




The author argues that excluding the creamy layer from quotas will raise access to education for the eligible backward castes.




In arguing his case, Subramanian sets up a mechanism of compensatory discrimination in a format akin to a handicap race with a common finishing line with only those crossing that line being selectedin his example, for admissions to higher education courses.





Now the issue of exclusion of the “creamy layer” has come up precisely in the context of a quota regime with strong restrictions on the transferability of seats/jobs from the quota pool to the general category.





However, and this is the crucial difference, in a quota regime, the quota seats will first be filled from all eligible reserved category students, with the further provision that, all those among them making the “cut” on the basis of the cut-offs for the general category students are not to be counted towards the filling-up of the quota.





In the sort of quota regime outlined above, two issues seem to be important in deciding on the creamy layer principle. First, whether, in a non-quota regime, the creamy layer gets a fair representation in, say, the admissions to the undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Second, whether the exclusion of the creamy layer so depletes the pool of the eligible candidates that there are not enough of them to fill the quota.





Among the OBCs, those located in the expenditure class defining the top 5 percent of the total all-India urban population (with a 3.1 per cent share in the total OBC population in the 17-25 age-group) accounted for 7.9 per cent of the OBCs in this age-group with a higher secondary certificate and for 12.2 percent of OBCs with a higher secondary certificate and attending undergraduate courses, also in the same age-group. Excluding this creamy layer of the OBCs from the ambit of quotas will, therefore, still leave over 92 per cent of the OBCs with a higher secondary certificate available to fill the “quota” seats without “risking” transferring seats to the “general category” and, without denying those in the creamy layer their fair share of seats in higher education.





In such a scenario, with the creamy layer getting their fair share of seats in the absence of a quota and their exclusion still leaving enough number of eligible candidates from the disadvantaged groups to fill the quota seats, it is less than obvious that the exclusion of the creamy layer from the ambit of a quota regime will exacerbate prevailing caste disparities in the access to higher education.

Click here to read the article.




Current Quota Systems Resemble Reverse Discrimination Rather Than Preferential Treatment




The author contends that Subramanian’s article consists of theoretical flaws which cannot be substantiated by empirical evidence.




Contrary to the widely held view, the question of “creamy layer” is not decided on economic criterion alone. Even a cursory look at the criteria would show that the idea was to ensure that socially and educationally advanced persons do not corner reservations in the name of social justice for OBCs.





The gap between cut-offs for OBCs and open quota cut-offs have been diminishing over the years. In Tamil Nadu the BC and MBC candidates corner a lion’s share of the seats available under the open quota, i e, seats that are available to all irrespective of caste.





In reality what happens is that the RBC candidate will have an edge over RFC candidate as (s)he can compete for seats in the BC quota if the mark is equal or less than that of the cut-off marks for that quota or can compete with RFC in open competition if the mark is more than the cut-off for BC quota. In other words BC candidates are much better placed than FC candidates.





BC students are doubly blessed by the quota system as well as the other facilities that the state provides, ranging from hostel facilities to free coaching for competitive exams. About the condition of PFC the less said the better. The author would like us to believe that the reality is otherwise.





If all the groups classified as backward classes are equal to each other and get reservation benefits equally, there would have been no need to divide the reservation quota further. Many states have quotas earmarked for BCs, MBCs, etc. This shows that the author’s argument about equality within groups is flawed.


Click here to read the article.




There Are Larger Issues In Caste Discrimination Besides Preferential Treatment For A Few




Subramanian argues that constructive debate cannot occur if the concerned parties disagree on social discrimination.




I believe Sundaram’s comment can be seen in the light of three major points he makes. First, he suggests that my argument is located in the format of a “handicap race” rather than in one of a “pre-assigned quota”; the latter is what is relevant to the context of discussion. Second, he suggests that skimming off the creamy layer among the backward caste group need not necessarily compromise the extent of backward caste representation in aggregate educational attainment. Third, he suggests that, contrary to my assertion, within-group inequality, at least in the matter of certain aspects of educational achievement, is more pronounced for the backward than for the forward castes.





I had also warned that my approach was not intended to encompass nuance, nor complexity, nor a literal representation of reality. The idea was simply to convey (and to convey simply) the essential logic of a certain line of reasoning.





The example I have dealt with was intended to illustrate the proposition that implementation of the creamy layer principle could exacerbate caste disparities in access to education … If the BC-FC gap in academic performance is quite narrow, one wonders what to make of the common FC lamentation that “quality” and “merit” are being crucified at the altar of reservation.





If concerns of within-group equality must be imported into the discourse, why restrict these concerns only to the backward caste? …  Why is the redress of forward caste inequality located in “substantially expanding the availability of means-based scholarships”, while the redress of backward caste inequality is located in skimming off the creamy layer?





There is no question of refusing to acknowledge that some defendants of the creamy layer principle are motivated by a pure concern for within-group backward caste equality… Having said this, I would reiterate a point made in my earlier article: that, often enough, there is a difference between the real and professed reasons for favouring the creamy layer principle.





Data in the 1991-92 NSS survey on Assets and Liabilities of Rural and Urban Households suggest that at the all-India level, in each of the rural and urban areas, both the Gini and the Theil indices of inequality in the distribution of household assets were lower for the scheduled caste and tribe group than for the non-scheduled caste and tribe group… it suffices that there be a finite level of inequality in the distribution of resources among the forward caste; it is not necessary that this level be higher than what it is for the backward caste.   


Click here to read the article.



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