Dipanjan MUukherjee Log

Reservations in India; Why do we still need them?

An irritated population often asks why, even after 60 years of independence, we need a caste-based reservation system.

Let’s look at the need for reservation. The reserved are communities, often minorities who have been socially and educationally excluded for centuries. Tribals have been exploited to varying degrees by British rulers and other majorities. Some castes have been barred from suffrage, from praying in temples built by majorities. Some castes and tribes have been removed from their lands by force to exploit natural resources. They have faced social, often criminal injustice at the hands of the majority (now the unreserved).

Reservation programs have long term and short term objectives. The short term objective is to pacify the reserved communities by giving economic and educational incentives to them. Think of these incentives or guarantees as reparations from the unreserved community to the reserved for the injustice effected on them. Note that while these are pacifying attempts, they do tie up to the long term goal.

The long term goal is to have social integration and dissolution of boundaries between the reserved and unreserved. I’d say it takes generations for these boundaries to resolve in everyday actions and thought processes. The long term goal, I feel, is a hundred years into the distant future with the goals starting to materialise in the fourth or fifth generation of beneficiaries.

In implementing the original intent of the reservation system, I believe there have been some lapses. The long term objective of social integration is hurt if it is possible for the unreserved to identify the reserved. I don’t think this adds any value. In my undergraduate life, for example, the reserved students had roll numbers after the unreserved. They also had a different coloured library card. It is acts like these, perhaps done in good faith, that undermine the long term objectives.

It is to provide context to the reservation system that I want to write this post and hopefully, reach out to those who implement the reservation system in various reaches of the government. If you are responsible for implementing some aspect of the reservation system, note that the long term objectives are not identification of the reserved, but integration of their communities into the unreserved.

Reservation is not a benefit. It is a mode of reparations that tries to create social balance. While it may have been used to further populist, vote oriented intentions, reservation still emerges effective if a single tribe or caste is now able to feel or find itself socially equal to the unreserved.

April, 2016