Sunday, April 13, 2008

Affimative Action in India

Hot off the press this week: Supreme court of India OKs reservation or "quotas" of jobs and college seats for "backward communities". (The Hindu, 11 Apr 2008). Some exceptions such as "creamy layer" apply.

There is a parallel with affirmative action in the US, where the idea is to get some folks who are either women or minority population (based on color or race), up to speed with the ones that do very well, but structured in a way that doesn't result in "quotas" as a matter of right due to an individual's color, gender or race. The Indian context is different in the sense, it is the majority population that isn't doing well, and they are now effectively using the democracy to advance themselves through quotas. No one would have a problem, except that the majority is based on quotas for "caste" or specific community identities, so:
  1. The deprived in the minority castes are left out,
  2. The well-to-do in the majority castes will get to enjoy the quotas (though the supreme court has excluded the "creamy layer" in these quotas, this may not easily get sorted out).

Obviously these are divisive hot potato socio-political issues, and resolution will take a few generations. Here is my take on how all this might pan out:

  1. The" backward community" folks will take advantage of the quotas, get the much needed education and jobs, and hence become wealthy enough to pay for good services. When enough of them get to this level, they will want the very best doctor, lawyer, financial consultant etc, and will not accept average or even above average. That will gradually trigger the questioning of the quota system and the majority population will want the best brains to go into the colleges and jobs - eventually paving way for the egalitarian society people dream about. This is not unusual - majority whites in the US have fought to end slavery of minority African Americans, and minority forward community individuals in India have fought for ending caste discrimination of majority population even before Indian independence.
  2. The quota system remains, but it will become a non-issue if supply increases. Since more private colleges equally good may emerge that everyone gets a degree and college of their choice, government jobs become a mundane choice versus lucrative private company jobs (where there are no quotas). Premium colleges may now become more at par with the tier-2 colleges, so the issue of premium colleges may become moot. Even here, everyone gains, as those who need the education and jobs have gotten it, and eventually catch up with the rest of the society.
  3. Other ways exist, both negative and positive, but what matters is may optimistic solutions can happen naturally, though the policy makers may never think of a step in that direction.

Instead of focusing on the what the government is doing (which, in a democracy will always be what the majority wants - can't solve that "problem"!), the forward community is better off in:
  1. using its resources to bring it's own needy folks up to speed,
  2. helping speed up the process of educating the backward classes, so they eventually demand the right minds go the right jobs.
Guess what happens then - India would have it's caste system working the way it was intended and written by it's vedic proponents! That caste system will not be based on birth, but will make the country stronger and forward looking!

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