ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Reservations in Higher EducationSubscribe to Reservations in Higher Education

The Eternal Debate

Caste still remains an indicator of disadvantage as distribution of both income and wealth are skewed along caste lines. Though the data on OBCs is scanty, there exists a clear disparity between these castes and others in terms of educational attainment, occupational success and standard of living. The mechanisms for perpetuating inter-caste inequality are still strong and alive in contemporary India. Quotas, however, should not be seen as the beginning and the end of affirmative action.

Redesigning Affirmative Action

Arguing for better policy design in affirmative action, this paper presents an illustrative model of a feasible alternative to caste quotas. The proposed model is evidence-based, addresses multiple sources of group and individual disadvantage (caste, region, gender and rural/urban residence), as well as interaction effects and degrees of disadvantage. Such an approach allows us to demonstrate that affirmative action is not about "appeasement" but about eliminating sources of tangible disadvantage in our unequal society.

Case for Caste-based Quotas in Higher Education

The roots of discrimination in India go so deep that social and economic disparities are deeply intertwined, although in increasingly complex ways. We still need reservations for different groups in higher education, not because they are the perfect instruments to rectify long-standing discrimination, but because they are the most workable method to move in this direction. The nature of Indian society ensures that without such measures, social discrimination and exclusion will only persist and be strengthened.

Assumptions and Arithmetic of Caste-Based Reservations

There is reason to be cautious in the use of affirmative action policies to achieve equality in access to higher education. There appears to be considerable heterogeneity within the broad social groupings that are currently used and differences in the extent to which groups that were traditionally disadvantaged have managed to extract benefits from the state. Affirmative action policies that target broad social groups are not going to act as powerful tools of social justice - too many of the disadvantaged will be excluded in favour of the more privileged.

Exclusive Inequalities

This essay suggests that questions of merit, caste and discrimination in Indian higher education can be usefully analysed in a framework defined by "exclusive inequalities". Beginning with a discussion of continuing caste inequalities in higher education, the argument outlines the specificities of this sector and its peculiarities in the Indian context. The idea of merit and the modalities of the examination are evaluated in terms of their contribution to the legitimation of higher education.

Merit of Reservations

Upper caste youth are not willing to tolerate the sharing of government educational facilities with youth coming from historically oppressed communities. But reservations and nation building are not antagonistic. The democratic and rational path charted by Ambedkar should be allowed to run its course; otherwise, an anarchist trend is bound to set in among the SC/ST/OBCs. Let the upper castes decide which course is better for the progressive transformation of this nation.

Democracy, Disagreement and Merit

At this juncture, even before we discuss what effective access policies should look like, we need to clear some space and ask: How will we handle disagreement in this domain? For fundamentally, the reservations debate has become a debate about the character of democracy, in more ways than we recognise.

Paying the Social Debt

It is necessary to recognise the exclusionary and discriminatory character of our society and economy, a creation largely of differences arising from caste, ethnicity, religion and other group identities. But to design appropriate remedial policies, an understanding of contemporary forms of discrimination in multiple spheres and their consequences is very necessary. Policies adopted by other countries, such as Malaysia and South Africa, as a way of correcting centuries of historical discrimination could also serve as pointers.
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