Is there Merit in Reservations?

May 30, 2006

Is there a merit in reservation? As many comments on the previous posts allege, the benefits of reservation are supposed to have been cornered by the "creamy layer" or by those who don't actually fit into the criteria of being "backward".

On the other hand, a nation cannot develop on a sustainable basis, unless certain radical reforms are implemented to tackle the issues of social disparity and unequal opportunities. The arguments on both sides (pro- and anti-reservation), however, are largely based on ideological or anecdotal evidence.
My own mental analogy has been like this: if you spray fertilizer in a field - real life not being 100% perfect - it will not only help some plants to grow and bloom, but will also kill some plants due to overdose, and it will also often facilitate the growth of the weeds for whom it was not meant. But the effectiveness of the fertilizer is measured in propotion to the aggregate productivity of the field. And so, in this current debate about the reservation, one question begs an answer:

Is there any empirical evidence to show that quota has really helped?

And if they have not done in last 60 years, how can one be sure that they will do so now?

The Southern Four states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra) have had 50% or more reservation in higher and profession education for many decades - even before the Mandal Commission in late 70s.
If the distributive justice that the reservations aimed at had really worked, then there should be some positive differences between southern and the northern states.

In one of the earlier postings (pt.10), I had quoted how in Tamil Nadu (which has had 69% reservation since 1960s), in 2004, students belonging to the Backward Class (BC) or Most Backward Classes (MBC) quailified for 952 of the total 1,224 seats in 12 government medical colleges in the State (77.9 per cent), and the first first 14 ranks in the medical admissions went to BC/MBC students.
But, as one would point out, getting into a medical college through reservation, is different than becoming a good doctor (or as someone cruelly commented: "would you leave your life in the hands of a SC/ST/OBC doctor who got into the profession through reservation?")
Following this line of enquiry, I stumbled upon this report on The Merits of Reservations. It is based on the data from the Planning Commission's National Human Development Report 2001:
As the table below shows, apparently, at an aggregate societal level, reservations in healthcare education have had a positive impact on the society:

  • Merits of Reservation

  • Planning Commission's National Human Development Report, 2001

  • Southern Solitude

  • Reservations/Quota and the Meaning of "Merit"
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    Is there Merit in Reservations?


    Author: madhukar


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    May 30, 2006
    08:21 PM

    In Tamilnadu, everyone who is not a brahmin is considered to be a 'BC' so the competition for reserved seats is pretty high, thereby ensuring reasonably good quality of students even in reserved seats.

    Secondly, Leave alone causation You have not shown even a corelation between general health stats and reservation, at most what you have shown is that both trends occurred at roughly the same time.

    Shantanu Dutta
    May 30, 2006
    10:16 PM

    While the rest of India is caught up in the reservation row, Tamil Nadu (TN) has been rather quiet. It is easy to guess why? With majority of the TN population coming under the quota purview and majority of the opportunities being reserved, it is no wonder that TN has been rather untouched by all this furor.
    Intresting article in rediff traces the genesis of reservations in TN

    "At least 80 per cent of the population is included in the reservation net. If you look at the data of the last five years, you will see that it is only the creamy layer of the Other Backward Classes that gets all the benefits," says Professor Radhakrishnan.

    "If you look at the employment data, the MBCs, the SCs and the STs have not benefited. The real needy will benefit only when we remove the creamy layer. For the last 56 years, reservation has not reached the needy, and there is data to show that," he insists.

    At least 35 per cent of India's population the age group between 20 and 25 aspires for higher education, but the present enrolment in higher education -- beyond the higher secondary level -- is only 9 per cent to11 per cent, as against 45 per cent to 85 per cent in developed countries.

    May 30, 2006
    11:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing your findings in this post.

    Sudeep mentioned that in Tamil Nadu everyone who is not a brahmin is considerd "BC" needs to be clarified. There are others who fall into the so-called "forward castes." But, many of them over the years have opted to belong to the backward caste because of the reservation issue. If you dig through the archives of newspapers from the 1970's you will see this trend reported as small news items.


    May 30, 2006
    11:53 PM

    In Tamil Nadu, apart from the 2-3% of the population - the brahmins , the entire population falls under the 'backward caste' category. So it is all very convenient. Everybody gets a reservation. Except the hated brahmins.

    Shantanu Dutta
    May 31, 2006
    01:43 AM

    In the Common Entrance Test conducted by Anna University for admission
    to engineering and medical studies, the cut-off marks for general
    students and OBC students are almost the same.

    Does that mean reservation has started achieving its purpose?

    "Yes," says Professor P S Balasubramanian, former head of the
    Department of Education, Madras University. "It is only because of the
    reservation policy followed by the state for the last several years
    that the OBCs have reached this level. There is no second opinion
    about it. Education is the means of social mobility, and reservation
    has helped those in the deprived sections of society to have vertical
    mobility in the social strata," he adds.

    Professor Radhakrishnan disagrees. He says there is no connection
    between reservation and admissions, particularly in the context of
    Tamil Nadu, because almost every group is included in the 69 per cent
    category, except a few upper castes.......for more

    May 31, 2006
    03:01 AM

    Thanks for the comments, and observations.

    But please also note that the data is not just about TN, but for the four southern states, which have all long experience of reservations.

    re Tamil Nadu's health system, there is a detailed article by Leela Visaria, based on her field study, available at:


    A comment at the end of her article:
    "A visit to the primary health centers in the state (Tamil Nadu) would convince anybody that many medical officers have non-brahmanical backgrounds and are very similar to many rural patients in dress, mannerism, language as well as overall values and attitudes."

    May 31, 2006
    04:56 AM

    True, Brahmins in TN form a very few part of the populations, therefore they should NOT get seats more than the proportion of the population. Therefore reservation is a highly justified means of equalization, as Prof. Madhukar has pointed out.

    Although I was born a brahmin, and i am very much aware that my ancestors were the cause of incomensurable misery to the other castes(point to note: i REJECT the guilt and responsibility for my ancestor's actions), I know that India will be truly developed, truly independent and just when we dont DIVIDE ourselves based on 'upper' caste and 'lower' caste. True equality will be achieved on the day a Brahmin does not consider himself a Brahmin and a "lower" caste guy does not BEG in the name of what my ancestors did to his "caste"!!!! True equality will appear ONLY when we do not think in terms of caste, reservations ,albeit "good" (its a claim which has not yet convinced me), achieves the EXACT opposite!

    Lets fight for an India of equality, Ideologies NOT apart.

    May 31, 2006
    05:17 AM

    "True, Brahmins in TN form a very few part of the populations, therefore they should NOT get seats more than the proportion of the population. Therefore reservation is a highly justified means of equalization, as Prof. Madhukar has pointed out."

    How can it be justified Mr.Laxmikanth ? You are advocating discrimination against people just because of their caste. This is called reverse casteism. Or racism.

    May 31, 2006
    05:22 AM

    yeah, I agree Raj, but caste based reservations aka reverse casteism seems to be the "ONLY" solution to our "backwardness", as some email forward pointed out:
    "India is the only country where people fight to prove that they are backward instead of trying hard to be forward"

    In such a pathetic state of affairs we have due to our impotent politicians, reverse casteism aka caste based reservations seems to be the "TRUE" solutions as well.

    I was being plain sarcastic.

    May 31, 2006
    05:26 AM

    You know Mr.Laxmikaanth , your statement would ot be out of place if said by a Nazi in the Germany of the 1930s. You know - in those days jews - who were the minority in Gernmany used to dominate the academic and professional classes. Germans had a lot of historical baggage against the Jews and were jealous of them. So as soon as Hitler came to power , Jewsish student were barred from entrace into Germany's best colleges - reason : there were enough of them already.

    What happened to jews in Nazi Germany is happening to brahmins in today's India. Brahmins are a tiny minority - which gets demonised and as well as persecuted by the majority.

    May 31, 2006
    05:34 AM

    Okay - I get it that you were being sarcastic , but such statements are widely made by politicians and lower caste Indians. They publicly demand persecution and subjugation of brahmins and pat themselves on the back for it. This passes for 'social justice' in India. Racism against Brahmins is institutionalised , officially and publicly endorsed and encouraged in this country. The day is not far when brahmins will be put into concentration camps and gas chambers because of the perceived misdeeds of their ancestors in the past.

    May 31, 2006
    05:58 AM

    Thats fine, brahmins were born to 'suffer'.. brahmins suffer for the sins that there forefathers created.

    I am an atheist, yet every mof**ker sitting in a government office asks for my caste!!! Anywhere else in the world, that would be termed Racism. In India its "just" knowing ur caste, thats all, no harm intended!

    The excuse is that our forefathers were Nazi Aryans, and hence we need to go to the gallows for it.

    The day is not far when brahmins will be put into concentration camps and gas chambers because of the perceived misdeeds of their ancestors in the past.

    Although this cannot be done physically, it will be done in other subtle ways, like caste based reservations. Thats pro'lly the only "TRUE" way to equalize.

    The problem with all this is that instead of equalizing the people at the start line(i.e. providing everyone with uniform secular BASIC education) reservations equalize people at the FINISH line of the race. Short sighted: Yes, Impotent: yes, Unjust : yes! But who cares about primary education and scholarships, they dont fetch us votes.

    We are here to avenge the oppressive "higher" castes, the "only" way we can do it is to oppress the "higher" caste themselves!!!!

    May 31, 2006
    12:05 PM

    One more important statistic where TN beats the northern states, but not covered in this article is in the number of caste based violence cases...
    Infact it has the ignominy of being named with Bihar and Maharastra in a Human rights watch report.

    June 12, 2006
    06:08 PM

    Good points Shantanu, you completely demolished Madhukar's fallacious arguments.

    June 13, 2006
    12:00 PM

    Interesting comments! ;0)
    ...and amazing attempt to escape the facts.

    the point still remains that the four southern states do not produce professionals who lack "merit" (and are more developed in many ways than the one's which have issues with "reservations")

    in any case, there are certain discussions that would lead no where... so give up

    June 13, 2006
    12:08 PM


    no sir, don't give up!

    agree with you though over 'certain discussions' that lead nowhere...though to be fair it is not discussions per se but certain tunnel-visioned folks that continuously spit at the moon of logic;)

    June 13, 2006
    01:11 PM


    agree with t.

    i guess you seem to fail to see the logic.

    alternative perspective ;)

    if there were no reservations in the four southern states they would have done much better. check for facts of the northern states where there is progressive meritocracy.

    it is safe to travel in those states. the knowledge industry occurred there. they are power surplus states. they are 100% literate.
    they are the health capitals of the country. medical tourism happens there. and moreover they are the best governed states.

    AP should be ashamed. Kerala should curl up in distress. Tamil Nadu is trounced. Karnataka is a basket case.

    Don't you see what reservations did to these states?

    Therefore Madhukar, for southern states' sake, do not give up. They need a helping hand. North can figure it out. they have meritocracy.

    June 13, 2006
    01:48 PM

    once when I was a kid, my mother was calling me. as kids wd, i was playing and ignored her call. she got upset and called me 'dalit (more colorful, vernacular reference, for politeness sake i omit here) b@$><%!, can't you hear me?', well we had a 'dalit' ias officer sitting in the drawing room who had come to see my father.he had to deal with his embarassment or shame or indignity? to be fair she did not know. she was in the kitchen.

    she was a polite woman. a well educated brahmin.for those times she was a graduate with an LLB.

    my forefathers are not guilty of treating other human beings as subhuman beasts. they were very learned. they knew vedas. actually i was taught sanskrit as a kid (true). probably lord sani, must have made her call me by such names that day.

    i learn that i should not be guilty.

    caste is not a reality. indignity is not a reality. learning disability is not a reality. lack of vocabulary is not a reality for the lower caste blokes.

    3000 years of yoke - and 50 years of patience. what magnanimity! and sitting in victimhood.

    fortunately, indian lower castes have so imbibed their terrible fate, they wd not rise up in arms. except nodding at their 'fate' in despair. so no worry there. no gas chambers. no glamor.

    merit or a dog-fight for the crumbs the political system throws at rest of the world?

    begging for reservations? beg your pardon? the dispossessed should be demanding it as their right.

    check any public or private system where there is no objective type transparent tests and public scrutiny. you would find merit in droves. nepotism? no, no. just pure, unadulterated merit.

    merit? my foot.

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