Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reserving India

The controversies and debates ranging around the reservations (affirmative action amendments) in India rage on.

Why should caste be used as the only criterion of ‘backwardness’?
Caste is a very useful criterion for several reasons. One, the original discrimination in access to education took place on the basis of caste; the same criterion needs to used for reversing that discrimination. Two, caste is still a very good proxy for various kinds of social and educational disadvantages and the single best predictor of educational opportunities. Three, caste and economic hierarchy tend to fuse at the upper and the lower end: the poor are likely to be ‘lower’ caste and the upper caste likely to be well-to-do. And finally, caste certificates tend to be more reliable than other proofs of disadvantage, especially the notoriously unreliable certificates of income.

Yet all these are not good reasons to treat caste as the only criterion. Sociological evidence shows that we have multi-dimensional inequalities that cannot be reduced to a single factor. Any good scheme to create level playing field in higher education must take into count gender, regional backwardness, urban-rural divide and economic resources, besides caste.

And the bad press spawned by the reservation policy? Perhaps one could look for answers here: a survey of diversity in the Indian media shows that Hindu upper caste men hold 71 per cent of top jobs and that Muslims account for only three per cent among key decision-makers.

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