This post is a part of #JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.
This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.
Before diving into who should get reservations and who shouldn’t, we must enquire about why reservations are needed in the first place. To answer this, we will have to familiarize ourselves with affirmative action which is adopted by one-fourth countries of the world with the similar intentions of uplifting the historically oppressed and increasing the number of underrepresented communities in the mainstream.
This affirmative action is applied in different regions with different parameters such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, geographical location and caste in India and with different names such as alternative access, positive discrimination, affirmative action and reservation. Since the Indian social structure was built on caste and caste defined the hierarchy of an individual in the Indian social order, the reservations in India are caste-based.
There’s been a lot of debate around reservations lately mainly revolving around merit in higher education and professional areas like medicine, legal or teaching. We must take a moral approach at looking at the things as they are in the current times and decide for ourselves whether or not reservations are needed in professional fields. Reservations in education are often questioned in terms of merit but the question we forget to address is the question of fair opportunity.
Is it fair to compare a person with access to resources and a person who lacks resources?
It will be only fair to compare two students who are given similar opportunities and resources, who have the same social background and a stable economic condition. This statement can be backed by a very famous research paper “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations” written by Emilio J. Castilla and Stephen Benard of Cornell University. It is also observed that managers in meritocratic organisations believe to be more impartial which restrains them from self-scrutinization and makes them biased against certain groups.
The rampant discrimination and caste favouritism does not just exist in rural areas but also in elite professional spaces. The NCRB data shows the rising number of crimes against members of the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi communities.
Questions are also raised on the efficiency of the organisations who practise affirmative action. A research paper “Does Affirmative Action Affect Productivity in Indian Railways?” by Ashwini Deshpande of Delhi School of Economics and Thomas Weisskopf of the University of Michigan suggested that organisational productivity may improve from a greater diversity of perspectives and talents by the integration of the members of previously marginalised groups into high-level decision-making teams.
There are plenty of researches conducted on how diversity increases productivity and a McKinsey report states that companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits. Private organisations do not have affirmative action policies in India but the studies on diversity have opened up discussions for the need for reservations in private organisations.
Recently, Justice Markandey Katju, a retired Supreme Court judge wrote in an op-ed that all caste-based reservations must be abolished. He cited reasons such as only 1% of Scheduled Castes are benefited by the reservations, reservations act as psychological crutches to the SCs, weakening them and reservations are serving the policy of divide and rule of the political rulers. Justice Katju himself had entered the judiciary where appointments and elevations of Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts are done through the Collegium System.
As a matter of fact, his father Mr Shiva Nath Katju was a judge at the Allahabad High Court and he is the grandchild of Mr Kailash Nath Katju who was a governor of Orissa and West Bengal. Such Collegiums tend to remain within homogenous caste-networks. The selection of the candidates is done through the system which seemingly lacks transparency, accountability and objectivity and is questionable, unlike reservations in education and employment which is a pretty transparent system.
The credibility of Justice Katju or rather the whole Collegium System can be questioned when a man of his stature fails to understand affirmative action. Speaking of why only a small segment of SCs are benefited from reservations in employment is because I think reservation in employment is only limited to government sector jobs which only comprise of 3.55% of the total jobs in India. Out of 6% of jobs available in the formal sector, 2.45% of jobs are in the private sector and the remaining 94% workforce is employed in the informal sector which has no reservations.
Many leading personalities who are beneficiaries of the reservation have reached respectable positions but still face discrimination. Instances of cases of discrimination popup every now and then even in the most elite institutions like AIIMS, IITs, Administrative services and Central Universities. A Harvard research scholar mentions in one of his interviews about how he is the proud beneficiary of reservations and adds “Had there not been reservation I’d not be…where I am now.”
“Reservation is not only a welfare program but it is a fixture of past mistakes and it is resolving present inequalities. It is a matter of shame that such affirmative action schemes are still criticized when the onus of it lies on the oppressor and not the marginalized,” he adds.
Instances of caste discrimination in elite institutions are as common as occurrences of petty offences like jumping a traffic signal in India.
The suicide of Dr Payal Tadvi which shook the entire nation reflects that there is no place for social justice even in the medical profession which demands the values like empathy, moral integrity and a sense of equality. Since Dr Tadvi’s case was politically highlighted, she received a decent legal aid and yet awaits justice. But that’s not the case with the majority of marginalized people.
34% of the total under trial prisoners in India are the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes while the rate of filing chargesheets for reports of violence against SCs and STs stands at 78.3% and 81.3% respectively which is again below the national average of 87.5%. These contradictions hint towards the presence of caste discrimination and thus validates the need for reservations in professional fields.
This will not only aid and uplift the members of the SC and ST community. It will also create a feeling of social inclusion among these communities providing them with the required social capital to fight injustice.