Why I am Pro Reservations – An illustrated guide

They always told me that its unfair – its unfair for people who did not get it, its unfair because they never did anything to earn that special status, its unfair because they do not think of other people when they do that, its unfair because they think that everyone claiming that really deserves it. They told me that not all of those people deserved it; and I probably agreed to most things for most of my life. What could I possibly have to lose by doing so, those people were not anyone I cared about!

Its much easier to criticise the reservations given on the basis of caste, and gender; I shall narrate a very conventional conversation which I usually encounter on several occasions.

(This conversation is built over several actual conversations with many people – allowing me to document many diverse, but still important opinions in it)

Ohhh Come on! They are not all poor, you look at our friend X, (s)he is from a rich family, his/her father is an IAS officer, who got the advantage of reservations; why are they still claiming it – why do they still need it??

Well they still need reservations I suppose now is precisely because of your question. That even when X’s father is an IAS officer, and apparently in the higher social/economic circles, you never cease to be prejudiced enough to mention that its because of reservations, and that he really does not deserve it much. If its you, and X is your friend, imagine what kind of biases everyone in X’s family would have to encounter – even after struggling hard and achieving what he has already. He STILL has to justify at each moment that he has actually earned it. How do you think that would make them feel?? Constantly being reminded by seniors and juniors, friends and colleagues that their position is because of nothing they have done, the constant reminder that they lack actual ‘merit’. Isn’t this what you say to humiliate them, don’t you think that its insulting and humiliating to another human being – to be pointed at by caste, and said that you don’t really actually deserve anything, and that you are the free loader, the ‘daamad’ of the government. What if someone just said that to you one day? Tell me if you would not start fighting with them publicly.

Okay! Fine!! Even if I agree to you, but India has so few resources – should you not be giving more enabling circumstances to those who need it more, those who are extremely poor. And do you think upper caste people are not poor! Why not give it on the basis of economic status then, nobody will complain then.

So, first you mean to say is that everything should be earned, even marginalisation. Only those who fit your definition of marginalisation should deserve to get any kind of benefit them. Poor people should be given advantages and there should be enabling atmosphere for them, did I ever even argue that? The thing is that you really do not get the concept of social backwardness and think everything is based on money – even marginalisation. And that is where your brilliant foresight fails you.

I am not speaking against upper castes, or the poor, or the upper-caste poor. But when you close your eyes to everything else and start propagating your prejudices, you fail to see what is actually there, right in front of you. Go look at any statistic, majority of the backward communities live in abject poverty, and are forced to do work which no upper-caste poor will do in India. Tell me if a poor and starving brahmin will go take up the job of a manual scavenger, or even clean public toilets. Why is the ‘unclean’ work still reserved for the lower castes? Why don’t you ask your upper-caste groups to do all that. Tell me what answer you will get. And then you might get some of your answers. You remove this reservation and I will advocate for your cause as well.

As far as there is the question of lack of resources is concerned, my concern is more to remove structural inequalities than anything else. The poor is a very general term applied to the people, to hide the discrimination meted out to people on the basis of their caste, gender and religion – to demonstrate as if the poor has no identity, and they are poor out of no issues of identity. If that had been true, then a majority of the religious minorities and lower castes and tribes would not been living in extreme circumstances of poverty, and would also not be continuously discriminated in employment, housing and other welfare mechanisms.

What is all this discrimination you are talking about? I am an upper-caste and I do not discriminate against anyone. I treat my cleaning lady in a respectful manner. I also have lower caste friends, some of them are also not well-to-do, we still play and hang out together. We even eat from the same plate. Then why should this friend of mine (someone who is even richer than me) be given preference over me? What have I done wrong to deserve this ‘reverse discrimination’? If you want to give caste-based reservations, should you also not separate people who are already in a much better position already, by removing the creamy layer – so that atleast some of really poor people can benefit from this.

First, I do not really understand your frustration with reservations. How is that ‘reverse discrimination’? Look at the provisions. A maximum of 50% of seats is anyways reserved, that too in very few government and public institutions and offices. How many people who are eligible for the ‘quota’ actually get the requisite marks and take the ‘open’ quota. The quota system has been ensured so that the people who have been historically and socially marginalised are given the long-due representation. And its done so that atleast 50% of the people are actually from such communities. If there are more, its so much better. But let me tell you, only a handful of places is the quota system effectively followed. See reports of teacher and student compositions in any top government university in higher education – be it engineering, management, medical or anything else.

Secondly, why is it that even the desired representation level, envisaged for a few decades at the time of passing of the constitution, has still not been achieved? Why does it still have to go on?

Thirdly, and most importantly, is the question of discrimination. You cannot have a myopic view of something like reservations, compare it with your realities and say that it! The number of rich people from backward castes can be counted on finger-tips in this country. Even they undergo humiliating forms of bias and prejudiced behaviour, and also from ‘good people like you’.

Untouchability is not the only aspect of caste-based discrimination. To separate people in your heads into different capabilities on the basis of caste is being casteist. To associated ‘dirt’ and ‘unclean’ things with people from a certain section of people is being casteist. To eat in the same plate and point it out later as your defense is still casteist.

So you are actually saying that its ok for people with less merit – let alone their religious or caste or gender identities, to assume roles which somebody else could have done better. Isn’t that a loss to the nation – putting it back thousands of years from progressive civilizations?

The measure of merit itself is deeply prejudiced. You most probably have been exposed to learning all your life, have got access to best of schools, have been around people who have never faced any kind of discrimination based on what their identity is; and you believe all of that justifies whatever you believe to be true knowledge. Still, coming to the question at hand – give me instances of people who have used the quota system to become engineers – have went on and build bridges or buildings or satellites or software programmes which have gone wrong – solely because they were not meritorious enough; simply because they did not get as much marks as you did in that exam or test.

What you probably fail to see is that there are only a handful of students from the ‘quota system’, who eventually even get access to such jobs. Why does only the best english speaking groups get access to the most coveted jobs in the private sector. Why can’t the other people speak that good english, or know much of modern world development tools – like the computer and the internet? What is it that makes them ‘less meritorious’ at all these levels – have you ever thought of that. This is what I meant of structural inequalities. And I hope you have got a bit of what I tried to say.

Well! You can argue all you want. But I still think all that needs to change. Its the politicians who have done all this and we need to clean this up. What do you think?

I will save that one for another day! Well lets just go have some tea!