Thursday, August 27, 2015
Reservations - A Solution
The Hardik Patel led agitation in Gujarat has once again brought the Reservation issue onto the centre-stage. However the problem with discussing Reservations is that it rarely goes beyond the Social Empowerment versus Merit debate.
When we say Merit should be the only criteria for admission into colleges or for getting a job, what we are saying is that someone has to have the ability to score high marks in school/college and/or have the ability to clear entrance exams like the IIT-JEE or the CAT (for the IIMs) or UPSC. Essentially we are equating Merit with the ability to manage exams in school and college and entrance exams. This clearly has nothing to do with competence later on in life. I am sure all of us know of people who have performed well academically but are fairly incompetent.
It is obvious that competence could exist in a person who is illiterate too. It is just that he is not fortunate enough to have the luxury of a formal education or a family background that values it. Are we saying that such a person has no merit? That is a ridiculous contention and needs to be debunked immediately.
The argument that Reservations help in Social Empowerment is problematic because while we can use Reservations to bring about the betterment of the oppressed classes, there are sections of society who are economically marginalized but since they belong to the upper castes they do not get the benefit of reservations. This is clearly unfair and the claim of Social Empowerment rings hollow if it allows certain marginalized sections of society to wallow in poverty just because of their caste.
Is there some way in which one can continue the process of reservations in such a manner that it both helps the truly marginalized and also restricts its over use?
There is a simple solution to that. I believe the best way is to first extend reservations and then restrict them. Reservations should be extended to the poor among the upper castes along with the existing caste based reservations. And then restrict reservations in education and employment to just two generations of a family.
How will that help? I do not think that it is anyone’s case that there is no individual among the list of schedule tribes or castes who deserves reservations to better his lot. Of course there are plenty of people who deserve it. So let them have it. And let’s exclude the ones who have already had the benefit of these provisions for a couple of generations.
Why two generations and not just one? Very simple, for someone who has bootstrapped himself from ground level up, it would probably take him his entire career to be accepted in the society that he aspires to be in. Let’s give him some time to assimilate in that society and then let’s also give him some more time to pass on this legacy to his progeny. It is only fair that whatever gains he has got does not get frittered away because the he was not able to mentor the next generation properly. When the next generation also has the benefit of reservations in education and jobs there would be some stability in their financial and social status. Once they have achieved this state that family should be left to improve their status further through the dint of sheer merit without the intervention of the state.
This should be the exact same way in which reservations for the economically marginalized play out. Identify a certain income criteria and then allow that family to have the benefit of reservations for a couple of generations.
There also has to be a support system in educational institutions for all students who come in through the reservations – caste based or class based. This will enable them to be on par with their batch mates when classes start.
So will reservations be phased out totally? Not at all. They will continue to exist because there will be, for a long time to come, some or the other family who has been totally by-passed in this affirmative action. So the concept of reservation stays but the beneficiary families will keep changing from one generation to the other. Thus helping those who truly deserve support by the state and keeping away those who have already gained from the policy. I also feel that such an approach will blunt, to an extent, the animosity that exists among sections of society to the concept of reservations.
This I feel is the most even-handed solution to the reservations imbroglio.