Facts on the reservation issue
Gaurav Sabnis asserts that "The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average brahmin. They are miles and miles better than the Dalits who led a sub-human existence." If only he would have done some fact-checking first. I agree with his central thesis, that reservations allow the Government to hide behind a political move, and not do anything for the real backward classes. However, it's not because OBCs have already made it as big as compared to forward castes.
Incidentally, I will argue that reservations in IIT/ IIM/ AIIMS/ NIFT will bring marginal benefit, if any, to the backward classes and destroy immense value instead. However, I am also a proponent of affirmative action to create equality of opportunities (this is different from reservation). The fact remains that backward classes (this includes OBCs) in India do not have equality of opportunity even after many years of reservations and other proposed actions by the Government (which also points out the lack of impact of actions like reservations till now). In fact, OBCs are closer to Dalits than forward castes, unlike what Gaurav argues. For an informed point of view on this, please read the Economic & Political Weekly article. OBCs and SC/STs are clearly much much poorer than forward castes (this does not include only Brahmins, by the way) in the three states surveyed*.
"In UP...In the rural areas, the percentage in ’most poor’ category is 42 among pasis who are SCs, 22 among kumhars who belong to OBCs and 7 among brahmins..."
"In Bihar...For example, the percentage in the ’most poor’ category in the rural areas was 67.2 per cent among chamars (SC), 50 among kumhars (OBC) and 7.1 among kayasthas who belong to forward caste category..."
"In Tamil Nadu...For example, in the rural areas, 47.4 per cent of the pariahs are in the ’most poor’ category compared to 0 per cent among brahmins and 4.2 per cent among pillais, both of which belong to forward caste category..."
This clearly will translate into disparity in opportunities. Btw, for a non-factual stupid polemic go here. Can't expect any less from CPI-M!!
What both the articles ask for, by the way, is for an economic (instead of caste-based) criterion for affirmative action. Irrespective of the strong correlation between income and caste, this should be done right away. If the aim of reservations/ affirmative action is to remove backwardness, then it's the truly backward that it should identify and benefit.
Now, some people have suggested that the latest round of proposed reservations should be modified by including an economic criteria and all will be well. I do not agree. I can't see how giving away a scarce IIM seat to a non-deserving poor Brahmin is any way better than giving it away to a non-deserving rich Dalit. Both are fraught with issues that Falstaff mentions here. Issues in maintaining quality of class discussions, attracting good recruiters, forming teams etc. Issues which we currently face in IIMs because of existing reservations.
Having said that, since the point of this post is establishing facts, the current round of reservations are at least expected to be similar to the other OBC reservations (in Govt. jobs, PSUs etc.). Hence, while they do not obviously base reservations on economic criteria (thus restricting the poor Brahmin from getting his unjust share of pie), they at least theoretically exclude the moderately rich OBC from getting it. This is the 'creamy layer' issue, which is explained simply here. It says that:
"The following persons will be excluded from OBC's and they are considered as creamy layer.
1) Son(s)/daughter(s) of persons holding Constitutional positions (i.e., President, Vice-President, Judges of Supreme Court & High Courts, Chairman and Members of the Union and State Public Service Commissions, Chief Election Commissioner, Comptroller and Auditor General of India,
2) Persons whose parent(s) is(are) Class I Officer,
3) Persons whose parent(s) is(are) in the rank of Colonel and above in the Army and equivalent posts in the Navy and Air Force and the para-military forces,
4) Persons whose families own irrigated land, which is equal to or more than 85% of the ceiling limit in terms of irrigated land as per State land ceiling laws,
5) Persons having gross annual income of Rs.2.50 lakh (As of February 04, 2004) and above, or
6) Persons possessing wealth above the exemption limits prescribed in the wealth Tax Act for a period of three consecutive years (income for salaries or agricultural land shall not be clubbed)."
The fact remains that it is easy to procure fake income certificates, but then, so is the case with fake caste certificates. Tribune editorial on the creamy layer and raising of the income bar, here, raises more such issues.
To summarise, I will say two things. One, OBCS/ SCs/ STs clearly do not have as many opportunities as the forward castes. However, there are poor forward caste members who also do not have these opportunities. Clearly the criteria for affirmative action needs to more socio-economic rather than caste-based**. Two, the case for reservation in higher education can't be made even for the newly defined socio-economic criteria. They are too scarce a resource to be allocated in any way, other than the most efficient manner.
*Amongst OBCs, obviously, there will be some castes which don't deserve any help, like Urs in Karnataka, which were the erstwhile ruling classes (!) and others (some which Gaurav mentions), which come up because of the ambiguous way in which OBCs have been defined.
**I am for the moment ignoring the case for reservations for removing discrimanation, something I believe, can be solved through stricter performance management.
Update: Gaurav has clarified that he was talking from anecdotal evidence about the many OBCs he has encountered who are better off than Dalits. Also, he says that the creamy layer clause doesn't work and the benefits accrue to the rich.
I can imagine, as Gaurav says, that the creamy layer concept will fail in practice (or that the rules are not stringent enought). However, I disagree with the other.
If we believe that reservations, as it is now, for Dalits will help the truly backward then it should help the OBCs as well. Researched (and not anecdotal) evidence shows that OBCs are almost as poor as Dalits. Additionally, the amount of reservation is only 27% for 52% population, compared to almost 1:1 reservation ratio for SCs (15%). Having said this, I would also say that reservations will only help the unworthy and not go down to the poor (anecdotal evidence from the IIM I have been to).
I wonder if anybody is willing to conduct research on the economic status of people enjoying benefits of reservations in higher education. I would be willing to raise funds for it.