Economic Reservations? 

Recently, it has become fashionable to demand discontinuation of current reservation policy in India. The advocates of this argument want us to believe that the reservation is a reason for backwardness in India and by reservation, we are choosing ineligible fools over eligible intelligentsia just because of their cast or religion. They also argue that this policy is being misused by the rich in the lower casts and there are more poor people in upper casts than lower castes currently. They suggest the economic reservation as the alternative to the existing policy where poor irrespective of cast enjoys the reservations.

Considering these arguments one by one, is there any basis for the argument that reservation is the cause of backwardness? Are social reservations existing in other countries, especially developed ones?

Such reservation policies are not exclusive to India. They exist in many other countries including the developed countries. For an example, you can take social reservations for Native Americans in the US. Native Americans were pushed to the periphery by migrations into the US during the medieval era. This resulted in the destruction of their culture, practices and livelihood. When modern man realised this, he introduced some reservation policies for Native Americans in education and healthcare. They even have a right to demand schools run by government funding in those areas where it is needed. If reservation didn’t pull the US down, why should it pull us down?

This argument is closely related to another fascist argument of racial superiority. They promote a worldview that a particular race, ethnicity, religion, social class, nation, or culture is superior to other variations of that trait, and it advocates that those who identify with it dominate, control and subjugate those who do not. This unscientific worldview negates the egalitarian distribution of opportunities and rights. If you want to understand how these two are related, you should have a closer look at statistics.

A survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) put the OBC population in the country at 40.94%, the SC population at 19.59%, ST population at 8.63% and the rest at 30.80%. More than two decades after implementation of Mandal commission report, which mandates 27 percent reservation for OBCs in central government jobs, an RTI data shows that less than 12 percent of employees of central government ministries, departments and statutory bodies are from other The situation classes (OBCs) as on January 1, 2015. Though there is 15% SC and 7.4% ST in government employment, 80% of these are distributed in the lowest class of employment. Hence we can see that the 30.8% of upper casts are employed in 66% of government posts even with reservations. Government job is just an example. The situation is much worse in other areas. How can we explain this disparity? Either it is due to the racial superiority of the upper casts or it is because of denial of equal opportunity to the lower casts.

It may also be noted that we are not picking absolute fools over intelligent people by the policy of reservation. If you carefully see the selection lists of candidates, it is just a difference of 1 or 2 percentage marks that differentiate between others and OBCs and may be a maximum of 3 or 4 percentage marks in case of SC and ST. They may be slightly slower in catching up but are not fools. If you add up the adverse situations from which many of them came up, they may be even more intelligent than the general category candidates who had access to more resources to ensure performance.

Coming to the second argument, is it being misused by the relatively well off in the backward classes. This argument is true. It is being misused. I had a classmate in my pre-degree days who had a scholarship for poor while her father and brothers worked abroad, but never sent money home by legal routes. So, what is the solution?

To solve this issue, we have to see why people tend to underreport their income. One cause is the need to pay tax. The tax slabs sometimes are not realistic and reduce the disposable income so much that advantages of better earnings are lost in tax. But that is a less relevant issue. The greatest issue I have seen is the complexity of procedures. To file an Income tax return, the person has to fill a form, which asks you about deductions under 80cc, 80c etc. Why we presume that the taxpayer should know the exact acts and rules under which he is getting a deduction. Instead, ask ‘how much do you pay as house rent?’, ‘how much amount is invested with LIC?’ etc. More people will willingly file ITR.

There are also some people who underreport the income deliberately for reservation benefits also. They are doing it because they know they will get a certificate for lower income from the authorities. They are also confident that they will never be caught. So it is also an issue with our faulty enforcement mechanisms.
One more issue is there. Being rich shouldn’t be a disqualification to the reservation in most of the cases. Reservation is not an economic tool designed for poor. That is the same reason why I reject economic reservations as a solution.

Those who suggest economic reservations are the fools who haven’t learnt their history, and whatever they learnt was only a bunch of words to score marks in the school tests.

First of all, reservation is not a poverty eradication scheme. It was instituted to correct the historical imbalance in the society due to which some classes were not given equal opportunity to compete with others. Education and health pass through the generations in a family due to the improved awareness coming with education. Upper casts had access to education even during medieval era while it was denied to lower classes and casts. This has lead to perpetual inability among them to compete equally. To provide equality of opportunity we are forced to grant some enabling conditions for socially backward classes and casts. It was in this context we came up with reservation policy as a temporary measure. But we had to extend it again and again because we haven’t yet succeeded in making them equal and our society truly egalitarian. Of course, it may not be easy to repair the damage of 5000 years in just less than hundred years. Those who are arguing for economic reservations is ignoring this entire history and thinking of reservations as a poverty eradication scheme.

Hence, we cannot abolish reservations anytime soon, though we may need to modify it a little here and there to make it more effective and efficient. Alas, the modification never includes the prospects of economic reservations.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This was an eye-opener. I am (was?) one of those fools who believed that financial background should also be a parameter along with caste. As an OBC student from a rich family, I always ‘ticked’ the General Category for my college admissions and I have always felt that rich kids from backward classes shouldn’t avail such benefits because unlike their parents and grandparents, they have all the facilities. But I am not optimistic about reservation helping to make our society egalitarian. How to change people’s mind? How to drill it in their heads that it doesn’t matter? No idea!

    1. Sorry, Your comment got spammed and it took me time to delete the spams and uncover it.
      The ground reality is that we have failed in bringing about egalitarianism by reservations. But in long run, if we successfully make high officials from lower castes and higher castes are subordinates, it naturally drives in the point. But it is a slow process. The ultimate method is better education, but as long as the society is regressive and the values shared at home and society are past looking, they also may not be helpful.
      However, we cannot avoid the issue because there is no optimal solution. We try the ways we know…

Leave a Reply