I get email – revisiting Affirmative Action

I wrote about affirmative action, and why I think the principle of having reservations for marginalized sections of society is sound. My reasoning was quite simply that there is nothing that’s fundamentally different among people from different castes, that these divisions are entirely artificial, and that therefore, the fact that a certain group of people is consistently under-represented means that they have been marginalized. If this is accepted, the fair thing to do is to support this group of people till they can stand on their own feet.

Amitha, whom I pestered into reading the blog, and who told me she was against reservations, said this by email (I’ve made cosmetic changes to the language to make it more, um, ‘me‘):

“The answer, patently obvious, is that this group of people has faced undue subjugation in the past which has left them unable to compete with the general population that hasn’t faced this sort of discrimination.”

I’ve thought about this and it feels right to have reservations from this point of view.

But also, if a  generation belonging to a scheduled caste has benefited from reservation,  is well educated, and is doing well economically, then that should be a good foundation for the next generation in the same family. The younger generation of this once under-privileged class stands on par with the general populace. Don’t you think reservations should end here for this family since the newer generation obviously hasn’t been disadvantaged?

The following is most of what I said in reply:

2) My point was never that reservations should be blanket-implemented without regard for anything other than caste. Caste just seems to me to be a relatively fair parameter in today’s context (especially so in parts of North India, I must add).

3) Obviously, I’m open to the necessary bounds, limits, restrictions, and qualifications being placed on reservations. ‘Only a few generations of your family will get reservations. After that, you’re on your own.’ seems to me to be a fair argument. (Perhaps one generation isn’t enough).

4) That last point is particularly important in India, because we have a very large number of people

(a) who need help, and,

(b) to do all this on an individual case basis.

5) The best thing to happen in this regard is for the affirmative-action debate to become part of the political  discourse and public debate of the country. That, in fact, holds for pretty much everything – sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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13 thoughts on “I get email – revisiting Affirmative Action”

  1. I agree with this argument. But certainly some modifications to the existing reservation system are needed.

  2. Like I said, the best way to do affirmative action is to look at every individual on their own. But if that can’t be done, something like the ‘creamy-layer’ exclusion seems fair.

  3. If reservations are there.. they should not be only on the basis of caste. they should give the reservation for rural people and poor people also. And for Telangana people too 😛

  4. Well Croor, it certainly is clear that you have no reservations. I’d highly like to see a system where reservations are closely tied to the financial background of the people.

  5. Nair, did somebody steal your account? That comment is uncharacteristically dumb. What part of “I’m open to the necessary bounds, limits, restrictions, and qualifications being placed on reservations” is me having no reservations?

    What on Earth is ‘highly like? First cousin of “lowly like”?

    Financial background could be grounds for disqualification, but not enough grounds to merit reservations. I think we all agree that a CEO’s kids don’t need reservation just because they happen to be from a lower caste. On the other hand, poverty isn’t ‘permanent’; caste is, and has been for a while. A poor person from an upper caste is much less hamstrung by his poverty than an average-earning person from a low caste is by virtue of belonging to his caste.

  6. I’m only repeating what you’ve said. Reservation must be the means to an end; equality (in oppportunities). After more than 50 years, it seems like we haven’t moved much in that direction, which means to me, on of two things (or a bit of both)

    a) Reservation has been seen as an end in itself
    b) Reservation has been a means to an end, but a very different end.

  7. Vatsan, we have moved towards a more equal society, which is why people are comfortable questioning the necessity of affirmative action (in the cities, mostly.)

    We haven’t done anywhere near enough in our villages (and not to harp about this, but especially in North India), you’re right about this. I have a third alternative for you (although I think (a) and (b) are probably true as well):

    c) We haven’t implemented affirmative action properly.

    You’ll let me sweep everything from how much reservation there should be, who should get this reservation, and how you let people know that they are eligible, and so on, under the ‘implementation’ rug.

  8. I meant you have no reservations in speaking out. That was uncharacteristically weird. And you edited my post which isn’t surprising after reading the post.

    >>>On the other hand, poverty isn’t ‘permanent’; caste is, and has been for a while. A poor person from an upper caste is much less hamstrung by his poverty than an average-earning person from a low caste is by virtue of belonging to his caste.<<<

    Can you substantiate that? Else my argument of 'I don't think so' is equally valid. The system should support the poor irrespective of caste. Your argument is discriminating people on the basis of caste which is one thing a modern society can live without.

  9. I changed your ‘K’ to my ‘C’. That’s all I did to your comment.

    I can, actually. Every study on caste in India says (in much more knowledgeable ways) the same thing.

    It isn’t discrimination to support people who need to be supported. I’m not being sexist when I say women should have more representation, for example.

  10. I’m all for equal opportunities, but why reservations? You can’t cry feminism and in the same breath ask for reservations. That’s like having the cake and eating it too. People should be awarded based on merit if income is not a barrier. Why do you want to screw up an already shoddy system?Women should have more representation, yes, but through proper education and public awareness; not by shoving them into positions of responsibility without a second thought whether they are capable of handling it to the fullest potential. Good women should anyway get through.

    So the imperative should be on making more capable, well-educated, opinionated and independent women and not on giving them more crutches to lean on. Manu has given enough of them already.

  11. After millennia of subjugation, ‘equal opportunity’ isn’t to say “ we will no longer force you to remain inside four walls.” and leave it at that. That’s no better than status quo.

    Why is it you argue like somebody wants to pick some woman at random at put her in parliament? We’ll choose the best lawmakers among women. If you think even they aren’t good enough, does that tell you that there needs to be affirmative action or that there doesn’t?

    That last sentence is crap. I want more capable, well-educated, opinionated and independent women in this society too. Except, I’m willing to give up something to get that, and not just make empty gestures and emptier arguments.

  12. How is educating women, teaching them to be independent and asking them to be competent empty gestures. On the other hand telling them they need help to be on par with men is like giving them yet another crutch. Rather than solving the problem, it only exacerbates it.

    By reserving positions indiscriminately, you’re not eliminating poverty, you’re only re-distributing it. It doesn’t solve any problems. Yes, poor people need reservations to begin with to help them achieve a minimum level of education. After that give them the best job they’re qualified to do. That should be what a society should aim for.

    You might say poor brahmins are better off due to their higher ‘deemed’ social status but at the end of the day social status won’t fill your stomach. If there are proportionately more poor dalits, they’ll benefit for sure. But what if there are more poor people from a higher caste?

    I’m all for reservations but not in terms of gender or caste but in terms of income. You cannot set off one poor section against another and assign weights as to who gets reservations. That to me is discrimination.

  13. I’m telling women who need help that they need help. After they’ve been given help, and they’ve accepted the help.

    India is a poor country.

    Brahmins are better off. This friend of mine, who’s poor, goes to people’s houses to have food. And they think it’s their privilege because he’s brahmin. So yeah, social status fills stomachs.

    Discimination in the strictest sense of the word, yes. It’s discrimination in favour of people who’ve been discriminated against for centuries. I’m for it.

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