Saturday, July 30, 2011

On Caste-Based Reservation in Education

As hype around Prakash Jha's forthcoming film 'Aarakshan' grows, we can expect the media to raise its pitch regarding the system of caste-based reservation in education. Here are my views on the controversial subject.

Historically, due to caste system, the access to knowledge in India was restricted to very low percentage of population . So technically, we have always had the system since centuries,only that it worked in primarily favour of the " upper castes". What is the Gurukul system but a system of reservation where only the top three 'Varnas' were allowed to enter( I suspect it was even more exclusive: I havent heard the stories of the Vaishyas being included in the Gurukuls, nor was it open to women- barring over hyped exceptions of course). I am often irritated when people talk about reviving this system as a remedy to the depraved 'Macaulayian' education system. These people forget that if Macaulaying model was not implemented ninety percent of the society would still be living in the dark ages. Nor is the Gurukul system of any use when the nature of knowledge, its processes of production and distribution have altered completely. The Gurukul system may have been of some use when the knowledge was largely produced and transmitted orally. Today, knowledge is produced in research and analysis departments and laboratories,preserved, processed and transmitted by machines on immensely large scale. How can you teach applied physics or mechanics in a Gurukul? Hence, I feel most of the talk of revival of the Gurukuls is a waste of time. 

When the system of reservation was turned up side down after the Independence, there was hue and cry regarding merit from people who have been enjoying the privileges since centuries. Had Eklavyas been 'admitted' on the bases of 'merit' instead of "only upper caste" system of reservation functioning at Dronacharya Gurukuls,we would not have needed the reservation system today.

Caste system is, in essence, " reservation system" which goes back five thousand years on the subcontinent. Reservation applies to who can or cannot be 'touched', who can marry whom, who can eat with whom, who will do which work, who is 'pure' and who is 'impure'. Basically who is 'superior' and who is 'inferior' and all this is decided by birth- no amount of financial or social mobility can erase your 'distinction'. Unlike 'race' where biological markers play a prominent role ( though not always) caste has no biological markers- a brahmin can be dark skinned and a shudra can be fair and yet brahmin remains 'superior' to others.

There are still plenty of cases where children of poor illiterate parents enter educational system and allowing them to compete with students whose parents and grandparents and great grandparents have had the benefits of " upper caste only" system of reservation in India functioning since centuries is simply callous and hypocritical. Reservation in theory is about providing level playing field, though in practice it has not worked very effectively like most of well intentioned schemes in India.Just because something is not being implemented effectively does not mean it should be scrapped. If this were the case we should scrap the traffic rules also.

Reservation is not about being condescending and obliging. It is about giving equal opportunity which all citizens of India deserve. If the thesis is bad than no amount of pestering should be permitted to get it through just because of the caste of the researcher, reservation does not mean breaking the rules, it is about following them.

People who raise hue and cry about reservation dont realize that reservation is given at the level of 'admission' and it is not gracing to pass. An ST or SC might get 'admission' but he/she has to work equally hard as others to pass and if he/she does he is as good as or as bad as others...

In a fundamentally unfair society, there is a 'choice' between injustice at the individual level ( an upper caste student who gets high percentage and does not get admission due to reservation) and injustice at collective level- entire community being denied 'admission' for centuries. Not that I like this predicament myself, but I prefer doing injustice to a minority of individual than doing injustice to entire communities.

It so happens that the most of the people who have access to technology and are articulate against the system of reservation are the people who have belonged to communities which benefited from the 'unofficial' and 'informal' system of reservation and hence they are heard the most on the media ( TV and the Net)...but I do know some people who belonged to the so-called backward castes and have rejected reservation....

( Views expressed on the Facebook community called Netrutva: Teachers for Transformation and Leadership)


Reema Kunvrani said...

"On Caste-Based Reservation in Education" includes neutral and unbiased arguments about this system in India. But education and admissions are becoming bases for the students to get the jobs too.. if (a) student(s) is/are with a reservation seat(s) not qualified at least in comparison, would he/she(they) not be reducing opportunities for (m)any student(s) who really deserved it??

Dilip Barad said...

I do not understand why people who disown their right to reservation as per constitution of the country are considered 'good' people... and by that way it is implied that those who take benefits are 'bad' people! Why do we 'construct' such virtues and vices which pushes people towards margins/peripheries instead of bringing them towards center? Aren't these 'new' definitions of virtue and vice going to create yet another chasm in our social structure? Smtimes I feel that it is this 'elitist - attitude' and 'new definitions' that makes the 'Other' more aggressive and violent.

Aaditya said...

I never used my reservation quota in education despite being from a poor family but I think those who need it should get it. However I am not really happy with the way these reservation benefits are taken for granted by many of the students who get admission through it. :(