The key to revitalizing India’s reservation system (The Hindu, GS-2, Governance)

The key to revitalizing India’s reservation system (The Hindu, GS-2, Governance)

Context:- The Union government for introducing reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) examinations and a renewed debate on caste census  have once again brought the debate on affirmative action in the limelight. The affirmative action programme that was envisaged during the founding moments of the republic is indeed one of the remarkable provisions to have been worked out by our Constitution makers. 

Background of reservation/ Why do we need it:-

  • Constitutional provisions such as 15, 16 and some DPSps such as 38,39 43.
  • Article 15(4) and 16(4):- Reservation to the EWS in education and government jobs respectively.
  • For equity we need to provide affirmative actions.
  • It has been historically significant in enunciating the principle of justice in a deeply unequal and oppressive social order such as ours.
  •  Provide a sense of justice or setting aside historical injustice.

Still no equity

  • These provisions in the constitution have been one of the protagonists of Indian democracy’s success stories, these have also accumulated a fair share of problems and call for immediate policy attention and debate.
  • Through reservation of seats in political and public institutions of the state, it was thought that the marginalised groups which have suffered generations of oppression and humiliation would be able to find place in the power sharing and decision making processes.
  • This strategy of affirmative actions will remove the disabilities which has not translated into an equalisation of life chances for the groups in our heterogeneous society

Problems with current policy

  • There is now a strong demand to devise some policy option which may be able to supplement the existing system of reservation from those who have not been able to accrue the benefits of reservations from within the marginalised sections.
  • The data released by the Justice G. Rohini Commission’s report on the sub categorisation of OBCs
    • 97% of central OBC quota benefits go to just under 25% of its castes.
    • As many as 983 OBC communities 37% of the total have zero representation in both central government jobs and admissions to central universities.
  •  Asymmetrical distribution of reservation has severely deterred political projects of unified subaltern solidarity.

Insufficiency of data

  • There is a dire need of accurate data pertaining to the socio economic condition of different social groups. 
  • Though caste­based reservations have been pivotal in animating upward social mobility and led to the emergence of a handful of politically mature and visible Dalit­Bahujan castes, we hardly have suffi­cient data about the actual reach and access of this policy measure. 
  • We do not know what liberalisation has done to castes which remained tied to more traditional sources of income and were incapable of realising the new opportunities provided by the opening of the economy
  • The marginal majority still dwells in the waiting room of history, waiting to see the light of the policy grid of the state.

Affirmative action

  • Since every further categorisation two things are  required:-  
    • We urgently need to develop a wide variety of context­ sensitive, evidence based policy options that can be tailored to meet specific requirements of specific groups. 
    • we need an institution alike the Equal Opportunities Commission of the United States the United Kingdom which can undertake two important but interrelated things: make a deprivation index correlating data from the socioeconomic based census of different communities including caste, gender, religion, and other group inequalities and rank them to make tailor made policies. And, undertake an audit on performance of employers and educational institutions on non­discrimination and equal opportunity and issue codes of good practice in different sectors. This will make the formulation of policy and its monitoring simpler at an institutional level.

Way Forward:-

  • A new indicator for affirmative action.
  • Comprehensive data assessment.
  • Inclusive approach where all caste and other stakeholder finds appropriate representation both at the level of education and at the level of government jobs.


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