To reserve or not to reserve by Maryam Yasmin (July 04, 2007)

Reservation in Indian law is a term to describe government policy where a percentage of seats is reserved in Parliament, State Legislature, Central and state government departments and public sector units for socially and educationally backward classes.

In 2006, the Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh promised to implement 27 percent reservation of OBCs in institutes of higher education after 2006 state assembly elections.

This move led to opposition from non-reserved-category students as this proposal reduced the seats for the general (non-reserved) category from the existing 77.5 percent to less than 55.5 percent.

The strong anti-reservation sentiment has swept the society and brought forth a number of arguments against caste-based reservation. Whether we support or oppose caste quotas, we cannot fail to recognise that it has been a divisive issue. We notice that even auto-rickshaw drivers have been discussing the subject with great involvement.

One relevant question is as to what should be the basis of reservation. We often call ourselves a progressive nation. But how justified it is to call ourselves progressive if we are still stuck in the old caste mould? We take two steps forward and one step back. We should understand that backwardness, rather than caste, should be used as criterion for reservation. No one can deny the fact that backwardness arises from lack of access to economic resources like quality education and employment opportunities.

A student under OBC category (reserved category) may be more economically well off than a Rajput (non-category) who does not have money for good education. But the way of living and kind of confidence of a Rajput is difficult to find in a student of OBC category. In fact, one group of OBC students is against reservation because it feels alienated from the general-category students.

No doubt, this reservation policy has stirred the whole nation. It has also brought in lots of questions. For instance:

Who actually can be put in the OBC category?

It is important to check whether backwardness of OBCs in 2007 is the result of 5,000 years of tradition or whether it is a creation of 60 years of education (mis) management.

Should reservation be granted on the basis of caste or on economic criterion?

Will or will not reservation based on caste become a source of conflict for comparative advantage?

Perhaps the answers to all these questions are yet to be found. Even after so many debates and discussions these questions remain unanswered.

Maryam Yasmin
(The views expressed here do not necessarily coincide with those of the IOSCA. – EDITOR)

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