Affirmative action, popularly known as ‘reservation’, has been a topic of debate ever since its institutionalisation in India. It’s one of those issues we talk about and speak either for or against in the passing, conversational way we talk about a lot of social concerns. The recent protests by the affluent Patidar community from Gujarat moved the issue from that of casual conversation to the limelight. Demand for reservation in the OBC quota by the politically and economically powerful community brings to fore what has been said by scholars and social researchers for ages- there’s a need to assess the reach and benefits of the Caste-based reservation system and tweak it accordingly, rather than extending indefinitely what was supposed to be implemented for only the first ten years post its institutionalisation.
While some are entirely against reservations, claiming that it ‘dilutes’ merit, it would be unfair to not level the playing field for communities which have faced years of unjust oppression and lack of opportunities. That was the aim of reserving a certain percentage of seats/jobs/other benefits for certain communities- to level the playing field. If considering the notion of dilution of merit, we must also consider the many potentially meritorious individuals who never get to fulfil their potential because of denial of opportunities. Again, since the main issue is the lack of means, it is important to consider individuals who suffer from similar disadvantages but are not under the purview of reservation since they don’t belong to the list of communities under it. This is one of the reasons reservations based purely on the basis of caste could be called ineffective. And ineffective they are. Statistics show that most of the benefits of reservation go a few, well-educated elites in the communities. Families from the SC, ST and OBC categories who are poor and without the means to pursue education and employment- the ones who should be the beneficiaries- seldom are.
The Patel community’s demand to either be granted reservation or to essentially remove reservation entirely seems nonsensical. Reservationsor any kind of affirmative action taken to uplift backward communities isn’t bad, but the way reservations work in India has led to paradoxical results and undesirable outcomes. There’s a need for additional criteria to be introduced- like years of education of parents and the type of school attended- which will effectively filter out the elites from these benefits. The plight of disadvantaged individuals from other communities also needs to be addressed. Another important aspect to keep in mind is that of the level playing field- once it has been levelled, it is counterproductive to keep providing the benefits, which will lead to complacency. Generations of families getting reservation benefits when they’ve arrived at a level where they can certainly complete with other communities needs to stop.
Image Credits: hindustantimes.com
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