By Pratik Mantri
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Ask your heart what thoughts come to your mind, when you hear the word ‘reservation’. For all general category students, a big frowning face filled with anger and somewhat hatred towards the system and for those who benefit from it, just a smile would do to reflect their state of mind.
Reservation policy has a long standing history in our country ever since the pre-independence era and it was finally introduced in 1990 after going through the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. The basis for bringing in such a policy was to ensure that the perceived backward castes get equal opportunities for growth and development. And, since India was a country in which social problems like ‘untouchability’ were deeply rooted, it was introduced to bring the people belonging to backward castes into national picture by giving them ample opportunities, as claimed by the government back then. As decades went by, this reservation policy was used by political parties to appease minorities by giving them reservations which is quite evident by the fact that, as of 2006 number of castes in backward castes have gone up to 2297 which is an increase of 60% from the list originally drafted by the Mandal Commission.
There were quite a few decisions by courts which were overturned by the ruling government through the amendment of laws and constitution in favor of a reservation system, which in turn paved the way for vote-bank politics. And, today if we say that Reservations scheme has worked wonders for masses till now, it obviously means that they and their families do not need reservation any more. And, if we say that our country is still poor in spite of reservations, then it is very evident that the scheme has failed to achieve its purpose and needs to be reconsidered or redesigned or scrapped.
And to further analyze this scheme, it is questionable whether the people who benefit from it actually deserve that position or a seat(s). In case of prestigious educational institutes which require a certain degree of skill and excellence, these people just do not belong there. This is why meritocracy should always be preferred over reservation. If people get what they deserve then it is definitely a step in the right direction. Quotas and special scholarships in education for backward groups have caused a lot of resentment amidst the general applicants who toil hard for extremely competitive spots in colleges cutting across different branches. This has hampered the growth of our institutions and students because in spite of their talent and ability they are unable to gain the desired results.
India has lost its pace for development only because of the reservation policies as more competent people were not offered the places which they deserved and many still feel that reservation has divided people on caste lines. Another flaw of this caste-based reservation is that it will engender animosity toward backward groups as well as among the backward groups themselves, whose main problem in some cases has been their own inadequacy combined with their resentment of non-backward groups who without preferences, consistently outperform them.
In 2014, I feel there’s no place for a caste-based reservation system. For a country which thrives on its secular credentials, this system is an aberration to that widely accepted notion. The overall benefits from this sort of an arrangement are probably limited and a very negligible minority has benefited from it, according to a study of income data by caste in 2005-06. If a very small group succeeds within a predominantly disadvantaged group, should it continue to enjoy quotas from the state? Rather than discussing the better implementation of the existing system, politicians focus on extending this benefit to a new set of people thereby enhancing their vote bank.
The fact is that India is a society in dynamic transition, where community identities are blurring and individual consciousness is on the rise. And so, there is a need to either structurally change or scrap this reservation policy. A reservation (if there’s any) based on a financial position of an individual is a better option than the prevailing one, especially when poverty has been an issue for our country for the last many decades. Poverty is deeply infested in our country cutting across all caste lines. It would benefit poor from the upper caste. This will make sure that all poor people benefit, instead of people of just certain castes or religion or gender, some of whom might actually be from a non-poor background. This scheme would eliminate almost all the limitations of a caste-based reservation.
There is also a need to overhaul the existing education system, particularly in government schools, where majority of classes belonging to reservation category are taught. If the quality of education improves then there is no doubt that in future they (the reserved classes) will not require any sort of a reservation quota because then they’ll be able to compete with rest of the classes on the same page.
As a friend remarked, the sole objective should be on how to help the underprivileged to become equally competitive and not on how to phase out the competition for them.
Armed with quality education of the backward classes/tribes, I don’t think there’ll be any need to continue with reservation in government jobs. There should be some serious brain storming on why reservation is there and then we should structurally eliminate all those factors which makes us believe that reservation is needed. This would require herculean effort, something which is not impossible, but politics as always has the last laugh.
Pratik is a graduate in commerce with varied interests such as reading, writing, traveling and following cricket and politics closely based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. A naturally reserved personality, he has worked as an editor at IMAGE (Annual magazine of college) and has been trying to carve a niche for himself in this world. He wants to see India as a poverty free nation in his life time and bring about a change through his writings. He’s been blogging for the last two years and can be reached through www.pratikmantri.blogspot.in or firstname.lastname@example.org