Affirming To Affirmative Action: Why Reservations Cannot Be Entirely Done Away With

Posted on July 18, 2013 in Society

By Meghana Rathore:

According to John Rawls theory of justice:

1. Every person is to have an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with similar liberty to others.

2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both :
a) To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, and
b) Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality and opportunity.

This principle of justice holds true in the Indian context too. We have always had an elaborate system of inequality especially when it comes to caste and thus, the affirmative action approach was undertaken to undo the discrimination that people belonging to the lower rung of the caste ladder faced. Since the dawn of history they have been shunned and were a pariah group altogether. So, a little bit of departure from the general norms of equality was prerequisite to bring the disadvantaged at par with the privileged.


The aptness of reservations has been questioned every now and then. I would not say it’s not needed. Coming from a not very developed state, Bihar, I have witnessed how this entire division based on caste works. The difference between the “upper” caste and “lower” caste people is more starkly visible in remote areas especially in the villages where this hierarchy takes a rigid form. Upper caste people tend to be the rich landowners and the lower castes are mostly workers. There is this stigmatization on the basis of caste that can be seen. The compensatory discrimination approach is certainly needed in such a scenario. A change has also been heralded upon, e.g. the unprivileged have access to education today. While reservations in educational institutions are a laudable step, reservations in jobs is not something that was direly needed and is quite controversial too.

Also, with all its positive aspects, the limits of affirmative action cannot be ignored. This like all other policies has not been bereft of controversies. The most dichotomous part being that there is no definition of the creamy layer for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes. Most of the benefits accrue to people who do not need them. I come across many well off people who use their caste certificates to seek undue leverage. Thus, economic disadvantage has to be brought within the ambit of reservations more intricately and not through vague terms. Also, wherever any such policy is in place, it’s imperative that records are maintained and the development made is well tracked.

In India, ironically, we have not had a caste census since 1931. With all its monumental shortcomings it cannot be construed though, that reservations should be done away with. It’s significant we understand the need of it and know completely about it without jumping to conclusions. It is required even today with just some amends.

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