Monday, March 2, 2015

India needs a new affirmative action system

Like most forward community students, I detested the reservation system until I got to hear a different perspective from a hardcore RSS member.  He was my brother's friend.  It was so refreshing to hear it from another forward community member.  It goes as follows:

"We, as forward community members have ways of figuring out our future, even if we don't score well.  The community supports you in finding out the right opportunities in other domains and geographies.  A member of the scheduled caste or a tribe doesn't have the privilege.  It takes generations of education and economic well being to ensure success, for someone belonging to the underprivileged communities.  As privileged members of the society, we have a responsibility towards the less privileged."

It altered my views on reservation for ever.  I didn't do well in education, but that didn't stop me from getting ahead in skills or career.  Had it been someone from scheduled castes, such a lackluster performance would have resulted in abrupt end to education with no hope of a better life compared to the earlier generation.  So, that justified reservation on caste lines.

The complaint against reservation is, it is benefiting those who are already benefited.  This may be true to some extent.  So far, no political party had the courage to face this head on.  There isn't even an acceptance that the current system of reservation may have flaws in it.  I hope the current government has the strength and integrity to accept it.

The policy on reservation is sixty five years old.  There have been patch work to include castes in every state, alter the percentage and so on.  There has been no review on its effectiveness.  The country's demographics have changed and are continuously changing.  If we do not have a system that is open for review and correction, we will risk leaving a sizable chunk of our population in poverty and under-development.

The only major complaint about the current reservation is that is along caste lines and ignores economic conditions.  There are these criteria that impact sections of society from progressing.  Some of them are:
  • Family Conditions: A family that has no educated members will be less serious to support the younger ones in education.  Tamil Nadu government did something to address this, 25 years ago.  My wife benefited from that action as she was the first one to go to college in her family. But for that, she'd have been forced to a dull course and may also be the end of her education. Now, she's a Ph.D, educating a few hundred engineers every year.
  • Regional Backwardness:  Two students with identical marks but from different regions are to be treated differently.  For example, all other things being equal, the student from a backward region like the Chattisgarh or Bihar will have to work harder than one from Mumbai to stay in competition.
  • Caste:  We can't just wish away castes in this country, but can reduce its impact in policy decisions by keeping it as one of the factors to be considered.
  • Religion:  Yes, religion too is a factor for the backwardness.  This will help in preventing a section of population going to religious schools to stay away from the mainstream.
  • Economic Status:  Visible factor in the current opposition to reservation.
  • There are other factors like family background.  For example, a farmer's child must be given a preference over a government servant in an agriculture course.  This may be limited to a few domains like medicine, agriculture, gemmology where the entire family may be in the field. 
Considering the advances in technologies and the government's capability in pushing massive programs like Jan Dhan, it shouldn't be too difficult to build a system towards a new affirmative action system.

Every applicant should be able to register in such a system with his/her details that covers the above items. Each of these factors could be given a weightage and the total score could be made available to the institutions that conduct admissions.  These weightage can be revised year on year by a constitutional authority.

Over 15-20 years, we should be able to alter the society for the better.