As a person who is in close contact with the educational system of the country, I believe I can provide a viewpoint that is rooted more in fact than just hearsay. Let me put forth my points:
- Affirmative action is important, necessary and even critical. I say this because of several factors. Firstly, all human beings are created equal and it is we ourselves who create these boundations of caste, gender, religion etc. Secondly, a fair society that encourages everyone to come forward and march together is a society that is likely to survive and not disintegrate. Poor social conditions or poor economic conditions lead to social tensions; that is why governments all over the world try to bridge the gaps between the various sections of the society. These gaps are inevitable, as a result of the Capitalism. Capitalism is the best socio-economic system, as is evidenced in its continued success; and the repeated failures of various other systems. So gaps are inevitable, and plugging them is important. Gaps are the reason that the crime rate is likely to increase when the people of a country are divided sharply in their income strata or caste status. Thirdly, affirmative action is important for creating conditions that encourage economic growth. It helps foster an environment of co-operation. Better educated people are more productive resources of the country. This is why reservations, in principle, are fine.
- However, the fault lies in the application of this principle to the real world. Note that no one of us shouts about parliament reservations of 33% for women, but all the political parties have lacked the direct will to do this and most of them actively work against it to ensure it does not get tabled/passed in the parliament. And we are shouting about educational institutes, but the politicians are moving ahead with this. The one who is affected, is the one who shouts. At the end of the day, we also suffer from the same 'what's-in-it-for-me' syndrome.
- Another issues is that the constitution envisages an egalitarian society, a noble but slightly utopian goal. If we want that, reservations are a fairly good way to achieve that. Reservations when originally envisaged, were planned for 10 years for SC/ST etc. It is now nearly 59 years since independence and a clear 56 years since the constitution was adopted. But they continue since removing them is akin to political harakiri. OBC reservations were envisaged in 1980, by BP Mandal Commission and implemented partly in 1990 for the government jobs and the second part is happening now in educational institutes. If we have time bound reservations, may be that will serve the purpose better.
- Other checks and balances like one reservation in one life time - be it college, job or some entrance exam; one-reservation-per-family - so if father got it for job, then no more for son/daughter etc; creamy layer exclusion; reservations for all poor people are some solutions that are needed.
- Another way is to encourage SC/ST/OBC to be given more chances/more coaching etc. Merit should not be replaced by caste. Would you like to be treated by a doctor who got in a medical college based on 0 marks out of 500 in medical entrance exam, just because he was from a reserved category. Or for that matter, travel on a flyover made by an engineer who entered PWD after getting a job/admission based on caste than merit. These are true cases, not fabricated cases.
- Reservations are good and important, provided they are done well. They can be voluntary, e.g. USA has voluntary affirmative action for black rights, even in the private sector; otherwise it would be difficult for others to enter and break the stranglehold of the upper castes / rich people on the whole system. To take a case, during the past 80% of all IAS officers were brahmins, whereas they formed only 4% of the population. While this is also because brahmins have better education, the need is not really for SC/ST/OBCs to be given more jobs, it is just that they should be given equal opportunities. The case of brahmins is interesting; a large percentage of IT engineering firms are launched and run by brahmins, not because of any caste-conspiracy, but because these guys are, in general, educated better. Take Jains / Marwaris etc. They are stronger in finance and money related companies, simply because there is a strong culture of learning finance and money related concepts, early on. No one can demand that more SC/ST/OBC be given more jobs in this sector based on their caste.
- The debate is long. We need to recognize that the step is correct in principle, but wrong in its implementation. The war-cry should be for better and fairer implementation, not removal of a good principle.