As Long As Reservation Is Poorly Enforced, Equality In Indian Education Will Remain A Myth

Reservation policies in India for historically disadvantaged sections have always needed political attention, it is now high time for concerned authorities to address the problematic mindset that has seeped through the cracks in our democratic institutions: the mindset that reinforces an inherent order of rank between individuals solely on the basis of their ancestry. It is this mentality that has allowed caste discrimination to persist.

The MHRD’s All India Survey On Higher Education reflects that since the 1960s, the percentage distribution of students in public educational institutions in the country is still trying to catch up to an equal marking. The implementation of affirmative action in India and government schemes and scholarships for disadvantaged sections has improved the same, but the persisting disparity in an equal representation of the population continues to be deeply disturbing to the idea of a democracy. This piece will try to point out to the reasons why a majority upper class in public educational structures sustains the demerits of the caste system.

Before we try to dig up the reasons behind the current gap between an equal representation in educational institutions across the country, we must address the steps already taken. The first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is affirmative action, or as it is known in India, reservation. Affirmative action was intended to realise the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution, which in this case translates into the right to opportunity. It was introduced as a series of measures to foster a more egalitarian society, in direct opposition to the years of conditioning the Indian mind had been subject to. Needless to say, because of its sensitive nature, it has succeeded in becoming one of the most hotly debated topics of our country-on the news, in our homes and on the streets.

Most of the attention reservation policies receive today can be traced to its effects in the education sector, where students have both opposed and rallied for its cause in huge numbers. The Mandal Commission protests remain the most cited example. Where on one hand, reservation has resulted in an increase in the representation of students in India, a lot of the backlash has come because of poor implementation. Adding to this, some argue that the declaration of reservation was made in a way that seemed to define it as a concession given to a few communities by the ‘owners’ of the country. This misinterpretation has also contributed to the problematic mindset mentioned previously.

Now, it can be said that an educational institute also aims to teach fundamental moral values to its students, apart from the particular course they enroll in. However, with a lack of proper implementation of reservation policies, a privileged caste background tends to take centre stage, as can be seen in institutes like BITS. This often means that those with similar identities tend to flock together, leading to an intrinsic divide between the already polar views. This defeats the purpose of moral values totally, as most institutes are guilty of engendering an already existing caste divide.

Secondly, according to the India Labour and Employment Report (2014), the rarity of formal employment causes social biases to come into play. Since most employers in private sector jobs tend to pick up aesthetically and publically impressive candidates, this actually compels the relatively more educated SCs, STs, and majority of OBCs to pick up low-paying jobs in the public sector, thus causing an economic trough in addition to social disparity. The report suggests, on the other hand, that most upper caste Hindus continue to secure a disproportionate share of secure employment.

What this means is – let us take for example a recruitment process among two candidates, the job is more likely to go to the candidate with a privileged caste background than their counterpart from a disadvantaged caste background. Unless we decide to break in entirety social barriers and norms of caste discrimination, it will continue to be an uphill battle for equal representation.

Thirdly, a huge chunk of India’s caste minorities house an economic and social disadvantage. This has been corrected by the government through their scholarship schemes, which is accessible to everyone. However, due to funding for education decreasing in proportion over the last four years or so, colleges have been forced to divert funds and chosen to cut down on provisions for eliminating the caste divide in education. The protests against an unfair cutting down of scholarships and benefits for students at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), is a clear example of how money reallocation can engineer stagnancy within administrations.

Driving their point home, an RTI filed by the student protesting from TISS clearly shows the correlation between provided scholarships and enrollment percentages of students from disadvantaged caste backgrounds. It was found out, as shown in this charter that was shared by the President of TISS’ students’ union, that the number of students from the non-creamy layer of the OBC category fell from 158 to 67 after the withdrawal of the GoI-PMS for OBC students. This presents to us a clear picture of the causal role of government schemes and scholarships in ensuring a growth rate in representation within higher education, and the consequences of poor implementation and maintenance of their schemes.

Lastly, a monopoly of students from privileged caste backgrounds in public institutions causes a ripple effect that trickles down generations and allows a particular set of people access to power, with no guarantee of distribution or inclusion on their part. This clear violation of our right to opportunity will lead to a subsequent deepening of historical wounds of untouchability and segregation on the basis of caste. If we continue to implement reservation policies poorly, we embolden the prevailing system of the country which often chooses to mute the voices of the historically oppressed, and how can this be acceptable for a country that is built on the principle of equality? It is high time that we wake up from our sleep of entitlement and redefine democracy not as a bystander of the majority, but rather as a protector of the minority.

Image Credit: Cabinet Office/Flickr
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