Vantage point

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Remember the Individual

How can supporters of affirmative action make it work better? How can they make it a fair and effective idea?

By remembering that society or community is after all made up of individuals. So through affirmative action, they are trying to help, not the "community" but "individuals belonging to the community". A lot of actions like reservations, quotas etc have failed in their objective because the focus is more on the community per se, rather than individuals of the community.

The problem with focusing on helping entire communities is that there is no accounting for how dispersed the reach of the help has been. As a result it may be argued that the OBC 'community' has benefitted from the reservations in state-level colleges in the states of Southern India. Because an xyz number of OBC students have obtained higher education. But it can not be stated with certainty that a large number of OBC individuals who were disadvantaged by their caste have been able to benefit and get higher education.


Reproducing here a mail that Alok Kumar Singh, a senior of mine from IIML posted on the alumni group -

I went through the website of Ministry For Human Resource Development -

Following are some useful numbers:
Total # of SC / ST candidates registered in graduate & higher education -
408966 (as per MHRD website)
Therfore, # of OBC candidates that might get registered in graduate & higher education if the reservation policy works as effectively as it does for SC / STs ~ 378672 (# of SC/ST multipliied by 25% divided by 27%)
Total # of SC / STs in the age group 18-24 yrs - 112718000 (as per MHRD website)
Therfore, # of OBCs in the age group 18-24 yrs ~ 104368518 (by the same logic)

Arjun Singh can influence lives of approximately 3.4 OBCs for every thousand wanting to avail themselves of the reservation (if reservation works as it should). He also doesn't commit to not letting the creamy layer benefit from reservation as in the interview below:

"Karan Thapar: It could be possible that the creamy layer is excluded from reservations for OBCs in higher education?
Arjun Singh: It could be, but I don't know whether it would happen actually."

Some inferences:
1) Most of the reservation will benefit creamy layer (3.4 per 1000 at 100% occupancy)
2) It will take at least 5 years to ramp up the capacity to ensure non-reserved category seats are not impacted.
3) Reservations haven't worked well enough in past - 2/3 of seats in Delhi Univ reserved for SC / STs go vacant. In a capacity deprived scenario, it is criminal to let another 16% of existing seats potentially go vacant (that's 2/3 of 25% required for OBCs).