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Reservation? Yes To that!

By Vijay Narayan

F**k you.

That, dear reader (and by God I hope there’s more than one of you), was the response I received when I mentioned to a friend that I had plans of writing this article. Frankly, I don’t suffer from any illusion that the few of you still reading this feel any differently. A few days ago, I’d have felt the same too.

So here’s the scenario at hand. It’s 9am and I’ve just sat down to write a Political Concepts paper. (I’ve also had an exam the day before, not to mention another one the next day, so it’s safe to assume I’m not thinking as clearly as I would like). The question put forward to me was this. “Based on the concepts of equality and justice, make arguments for and against reservation in Indian education, and finally take a stand.” What follows is something akin to what I scribbled in that paper (and did very well, thank you for asking!)

Honestly, I don’t care for reservation. Reserved seats for people solely because they are minorities? That’s bullshit. That’s the reason (or so I would like to believe) that I did not get into IIT. But for the sake of a decent grade, I shall attempt to answer this as best as possible.

The question of reservation is a tricky one, so let’s try to break it down a bit. For starters, do we really need to help anybody? Well, that one’s easy enough. To a certain degree, we’re all egalitarians (at least the sane ones in a democracy), in that our consciences wouldn’t be clear if we found someone was being treated unfairly/unequally and did nothing about it. To a certain degree, we all want equality. (The outrage following the Shaheen Dhada case and the Delhi rape should be more than enough to prove my point.) . That leaves us with, “Who are we trying to help?”, and “How do we help them?” Since the question has not been more specific, I’ve assumed that we’re talking about people from backward classes who have no access to education, due to a variety of factors that could range from financial problems to social stigma. Also, this argument is being made for students alone, and not for the reservation of teaching positions for the backward classes( Apparently that’s a big debate as well!)

So, how do we help the people in question? This is where we’ve got to consider whether financial remuneration would be the solution. (Most people, including myself until very recently, believe that this is a viable one). If only it were that easy. Studies have shown (They actually exist, says my prof) that a fair number of families belonging to the backward classes are quite well off. If that’s the case, then why can’t they bloody well get in without the help of the college administration? The answer is quite simple. Social Stigma.

Now you and I may have no problem when it comes to interacting with people from other castes, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the country. The caste/class system, banned as it may be , still exists throughout India. And while the fact is lamented, it is generally ignored when it comes to the decision making process. The solution therefore, is the elimination of social stigma. Easier said than done, because it would be excruciatingly difficult to change the mind-set of an entire nation. The only other option is to improve the social standing of those in need. Now, this is a far cry from the preferred solution, but the best that is possible. It may seem ‘unjust’ to the larger sections of society, but the term justice itself is relative, and depends on the situation at hand.

The most important decision now is to pick the theory of equality that we intend to follow while trying to bring about change. The libertarian theory advocates a free market, where all of us are free to make our own decisions without the coercion of the government(which would only interfere to maintain the safety of its citizens). Essentially, survival of the fittest. We’d be equal in the sense that we’re all allowed to do as we please. Granted, even considering this theory seems a little foolish (at least in this country), since the democratic government we have is present to safeguard the future of all its citizens.The Equality of Resources theory also does not pan out, since this could amount to little more than a socialist regime, where resources are distributed in equal measures to all members of society. So while it may help the backward classes, it could potentially lead to a stagnant economy.

But what about equality of welfare or equality of opportunity? Now these theories state that an individual cannot be held responsible for factors he has no control over, including his caste or sex. Therefore, to ensure that every member of society has the same basic welfare opportunities, we would have to take the ‘backward class’ factor into account and end up providing reservations for them.

The equality of opportunity concept is slightly trickier. There are two main interpretations to this theory. The first is Rawls’ theory of egalitarian nature, which advocates the hidden veil principle. In simple words, we make decisions in an unbiased manner for the least privileged members of society first. By this logic, offering reservation would be a natural step in that direction. Dworkin’s theory of equality on the other hand, says that (and I apologize if the meaning of this one doesn’t come across easily) the government should offer the citizen a fixed amount of resources. These resources can be in any form, though the net amount can be the same, and the citizen has the liberty to pick and choose whichever privileges he desires. Something akin to giving you a lunch box and telling you to fill it up with whatever the hell you want. By this logic, reservation is completely unnecessary, since the individual has the right to make his own decisions. Sure, one would hope that he would make the smart move and opt for education, but pushing him in that direction would actually impinge on his freedom, with the government no longer remaining a democracy (god, I hate these loopholes!)
You know what, screw it. If there’s one theory I hope you remember, it’s the concept of equality based on responsibility and justice. Basically, it would be unjust of you to let another person suffer due to social stigma, and it would therefore be your responsibility to help him out, because we were not born to be brutes. We place so much importance to slogans like ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ but it’s not a claim that can be substantiated unless the most down-trodden member of society can say it. Only then can we say that we’ve been able to bring about a rational sense of equality.

And now I present to you, the loophole I shall take advantage of. (Said detractors from the beginning may now smile with satisfaction). Do I think reservation is needed and can benefit our society? Yes. Do I actually think it can be brought about successfully? Sadly, not for a while. Honestly, I don’t think the average Indian is ready to accept this yet. Now, I’m not going to preach about how the Indian male is too driven by his hormones to rationally make those decisions. Just open up Facebook in the aftermath of the Delhi rape case and you’ll get a earful.

I’m assuming that you’re an educated, urban youth, and therefore a minority. It’s about time we started looking at issues from the point of view of the government as well, before reaching conclusions about them. I’m honestly racking my brains to come up with a line about us being the youth of the nation and how the masses will look to us for help etc etc. I don’t think I need to though. You already know what’s at stake.


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