The Economist provided the background in a recent article: The issue of reservations is indeed one of the most incendiary in Indian politics. In 1950 India’s constitution provided quotas in education and government jobs for tribal peoples, and for scheduled castesthe dalits, formerly known as untouchables, at the bottom of the thousands of hereditary castes making up Hindu society. In 1990 the government approved a long-neglected report by the Mandal commission, recommending the extension of reservations to the OBCs, but excluded education from the new quotas. Even so, the effects were profound: nationwide protests, and the growth of the caste-based parties that now dominate politics in some of India’s biggest states.
It added: In an unavailing effort to placate critics, the government has said that it will increase the total number of places in colleges, to ensure that no qualified student is worse off. Arithmetic dictates a 54% increase. No one knows where the necessary teachers, buildings and support services would come fromResearch carried out by the elite Indian Institutes of Technologyshows that one-half of the places they have reserved for dalits and tribal people are vacant. In those that are filled, one in four students do not complete their degrees. This indicates that the fundamental failure of Indian education is not discrimination in tertiary institutions; rather, it is the inability of primary and secondary schools to produce enough qualified students. Meanwhile, a shortage of well-qualified college graduates has become one of the biggest threats to the continued rapid growth of India’s services and other industries, and hence to the booming economy.
Katar Singh, a former director of the Institute of Rural Management, wrote in the Indian Express: Based on my own experience over the last 45 years as a teacher and researcher in the field of rural development in premier institutes, I am convinced that: one, securing social justice for everyone and not necessarily only for the people belonging to SCs, STs, and OBC is a desirable goal. Two, as borne out by the experience of the last half century, reservation is not the best available instrument to achieve the goal of social security for all. Three, the proposed reservation will not secure social justice to those who are deprived of it it will only benefit the creamy layer of the eligible classes who are neither poor nor in need of social justice. There are other alternatives to reservation which are financially more efficient, socially more equitable and politically more acceptable.
His solution: First, we need to provide equal access and equal opportunity to free quality education to everyone, irrespective of caste, creed, and economic status, right from the primary to the higher secondary school levelSecond, for students from the underprivileged sections of society, we need to provide free lodging and boarding in school hostels so that they have a congenial environment for learningThird, we need to revise curricula and textbooks at all levels so as to make education more relevant to the needs of the present generation.
Tomorrow: Other Comments (continued)