Insights into Editorial: Not just about a quota
03 January 2016
A new survey called SARI, Social Attitudes Research for India, was recently conducted in India. The survey investigated what people in cities, towns, and villages think about reservations. SARI used a sampling frame based on mobile phone subscriptions, random digit dialling, within-household sample selection, and statistical weights to build representative samples of adults 18-65 years old.
The survey yielded the following results:
- About half of the respondents said they do not support reservation. However, support for reservation was more common among people from reserved categories.
- The lowest opposition to reservation was observed among respondents from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), while the highest opposition is found among general caste respondents.
- The survey concluded that a majority of the most educated and historically well-to-do communities do not feel that people from marginalised groups should get government support for representation in social and public spheres.
Respondents from well-to-do communities are against reservation mainly for the following reasons?
- People from unreserved categories feel that people from reserved categories are often given a concession of a few points on exams and in interviews. This, according to them, distorts the playing field.
- Some of the respondents said that they opposed reservation because they believe in equality.
- Also, some people say that they oppose today’s reservations because they believe reservation should be made on the basis of income rather than social background.
What are the main intentions behind reservations/quotas?
- People from reserved categories face many disadvantages in going to school or getting a job today. Reservation is a useful tool to level the playing field. This is also necessary because these groups have been historically deprived of education, skills, and access to other means of economic mobility and they suddenly cannot start competing with those from groups who have had access to these means for centuries.
- Social transformation and building of economic and cultural capital takes time to be passed on from one generation to another. Children who grew up in a dominant caste household are often encouraged, supported, and helped to succeed by other members of their caste groups, while reserved category students rarely have such networks to draw on.
- It is also worth noting that many reserved candidates have reached schools and jobs in spite of economic and social disadvantage as well as overt exclusion and discrimination. Because they have succeeded in the face of adversity, they bring a different and desirable kind of merit to a school or workplace. Hence, reservation is necessary for further push.
- Reservation is a policy tool that aims to ensure representation of all social groups in positions of power. When people from all social groups are represented in government, higher education, and in business, it is less likely that traditionally marginalised groups will continue to be denied fundamental rights and access to their fair share of society’s resources.
- Also, reservation is provided to only a few groups like Dalits, backward Muslims, and Adivasis as they face social discrimination and exclusion that people from general caste backgrounds do not face.
Questions surrounding reservation have long evoked strong and passionate responses. People come to the debate with preconceived ideas and stands, and rarely change their minds. As a result, India is left with little consensus on the reasons for reservations and whether or not reservation is a useful policy. However, the time is now ripe for informed and logical discussions. The government’s responsibility now is to conduct regular surveys and re-examine the reservation policy in the present scenario. The government can ensure wider reach of the policy if necessary and also limit its usage wherever its necessary.
Reservation is a policy tool that is used not only in India. In many countries, reservation or other types of affirmative action are used to try to overcome human prejudice based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, caste or any other group identity, and to encourage representation of and participation by groups traditionally excluded and discriminated against. One way to make these measures more acceptable and help people better understand the historic, social and cultural background behind reservation would be to educate children in schools about caste, ethnic, gender and regional diversities and the need for public policy interventions to make society more equal and fair.