Reservation system and confirmation bias

While writing this I am having a battle with this blank sheet and above all, having the battle with my prejudice.It is not easy to be fair, it’s not easy to accept something that challenges your preconceived notions.Anything that changes status quo faces strong resistance.

Caste based reservation has always been a subject of debate since its inception and I have actively condemned it in all such debates.I am not a supporter of current reservation system but an introspection was much required, so I asked myself what are the reasons behind my dissent? is it because I am an upper-caste brahmin? Or is it my confirmation bias, my privilege-blindness? or do I really have logical and fair reasons to condemn it, oppose it? 
 I really needed the answers.Those answers are the only reason I am writing this blog post today.

Almost all upper caste people condemn reservation system, question it, curse it or cry for replacing caste-based reservation with the reservation for economically weaker sections.But do we have a reason to do this? Or we oppose it as we are not directly getting benefited out of it?

When we oppose reservation systems without any real grounds, it is our prejudice and privilege-blindness that comes out as a cry against reservation system.We have to understand that this system was introduced as a tool for social inclusion of the lower castes and till the time we don’t let go of our prejudices, such special provisions for lower castes is a necessity.

There is a lot to tell, but let’s start with a story:

Long long ago there was a great woman,her name was Nangeli. She lived at Cherthala in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore.The kingdom of Travancore was one the most barbaric kingdoms; it used to collect a tax called “Mulakkam(Breast Tax)” ,which was required to be paid if women of lower castes had to cover their breasts.Nangeli was a poor Ezhava woman from Cherthala. Her family could not afford to pay the taxes and was in debt to the rulers,The tax collector, then called the parvathiyar, came to her house one day and demanded that she had to pay the tax.Nangeli cut off her breasts and presented them to the parvathiyar on a plantain leaf. The tax collector fled in fear, while Nangeli bled to death at her doorstep.

The incident happened in 1803. Nangeli’s sacrifice created a lot of anger and the practice of collecting breast tax was put to an end by 1812.This tale is very unfortunate, but this is not the only tale of oppression.The lower castes were subjugated and oppressed everywhere in India and this still exists.

The preamble of our constitution boasts of social, economic and political justice, it enshrines equality of status and opportunity but does such equality such justice really exists? 
 For these very same reasons affirmative actions are required for the backward classes.To provide them social justice and equality.

Why were reservations required for lower castes?

You cannot expect someone to compete with you who have been oppressed and subjugated for hundreds of years. That competition would never be fair.

At the time of independence, the caste system was deep rooted. The social, economic and educational status of lower castes was very poor and social evils such as untouchability and caste-based discrimination were rampant. The whole country was in distress and despair but the condition of the backward community was worst. These communities did not have to fight just poverty and lack of basic amenities but they had to fight the social injustices, oppression and prejudices of the masses.To instill social justice and to provide equality of opportunity and status and to address the question of proper representation of these underprivileged castes affirmative actions were a necessity. Hence, the reservation was provisioned for a tenure of 10 years but it is still continuing fighting with the stigma of caste discrimination.

Are affirmative actions, such as reservations, still required?

When we dismiss or oppose caste-based reservation, we assume that there is no more any caste discrimination. This is our confirmation bias.Just because you have not seen such discrimination doesn’t mean it does not happen anymore.Unfortunately, our country is not treating the backward community as equally as we think it does. 
 For instance

  • Thorat committee report came out in 2007 and exposed the horrors of caste-discrimination suffered at every level not only by the students but also by the handful of SC and ST faculties in AIIMS which is considered to be one of the country’s premier educational institutions.
  • Below poverty line survey shows us that SCs, STs and OBCs constitute half of the India’s poor deprived households.
  • Untouchability still prevails.We have a law for the abolishment of untouchability but society still needs to adapt it. see this
  • Stigmas like manual scavenging still not addressed properly.Nothing in particular has been done for manual scavengers and there is a lack of proper legislation regarding this issue.
  • Inter-caste marriages are a rarity.Just 5% of marriages in India are inter-caste.
  • Violence against the backward community is on rampant.Various reports suggest crime against Dalits have been increasing.

After considering all these factors we cannot deny that caste-based discrimination still exists.

To fight this social stigma there is a need for special provisions and affirmative actions, one can debate over effectiveness and need of reservations as an affirmative action but we all have to agree that there is a necessity for affirmative actions.

Does not reservations contradict equality, which is enshrined in our constitution?

Equality does not always mean justice!

Yes, our constitution talks about equality but a notion of equality is very hard to understand.It is evident that total uniformity and total equality is against the laws of nature. 
 Roosevelt has said:

“We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, But we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought.”

When we argue about our right to equality, we often forget that the same constitution under the article 15(4) and 16(4) empowers the government to make special provisions for advancement of backward classes. Article 16(4) states

“ Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State. ”

Similarly, article 16(4A) gives the power to take affirmative actions to the state governments. 
 We as a democratic country have to understand that social inclusion and equality of status and opportunity in true sense must be achieved.We need to understand that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Is India only country to have reservations?

No, Reservations are not unique to India. To name a few Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are countries where reservation system exists.However Quotas are very rare in countries but affirmative action has been in force all over the globe. To list a few:

  • The United States has Affirmative Action
  • The United Kingdom has the Equality Act 2010
  • Japan has policies to help the Burakumin, who are considered the outcast group of Japan.
  • Brazil has Vestibular
  • Canada has Employment equity (Canada) which affects aboriginals and minorities
  • China reserves positions for ethnic minorities and women
  • Finland has quotas for Swedish speakers
  • Germany has quotas in their Gymnasium system
  • Israel has affirmative action
  • Macedonia has quotas for Albanians
  • Malaysia has the Malaysian New Economic Policy
  • New Zealand has affirmative action for Maoris and Polynesians
  • Norway requires 40% of the PCLs boards to be women.
  • Romania has quotas for Romas
  • South Africa has Employment Equity
  • South Korea has affirmative action for Chinese and North Koreans
  • Sweden has general affirmative action

In 1969, the United Nations hosted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which encourages states to take affirmative actions for the disadvantaged groups.

Why can’t poverty be sole criteria for reservation?

Economic status based reservation is well intentioned but fallacious.Poverty has to be one of the criteria for reservation but it cannot be the sole criteria for reservation. We cannot neglect the factors such as discrimination faced, inaccessibility to employment and education opportunities, the state of housing and health and oppression faced.I firmly believe cast alone should also not be sole criteria for reservation as well but let’s keep this discussion for another time. 
 We need to understand that base of reservation is not just economic but social and educational backwardness.It is a tool for social engineering. 
 Considering the prevailing caste discrimination one has to take caste as well in consideration.We can understand a poor and an oppressed are both disadvantaged but a lower caste person from the same economic group have more chances of facing discrimination, oppression and denial of equal opportunity and hence more distressed. Moreover, when we cry for an economic status base reservation we are neglecting the prevailing caste discrimination and oppression.It is our privilege blindness, our confirmation bias! 
 We can think about reservation for economically weaker sections of upper castes or there can be many other affirmative actions that can be taken.

  • Make education mandatory and free for all until age of 15
  • Provide the opportunity to students to earn while they study.

This will not only help the economically weaker groups of upper castes but this will be a tool of upliftment for the society as a whole. 
 Poverty based reservation is based on false premise that now there is no caste discrimination hence it is only going to address the issues of economic inequalities, not social inequalities.Moreover, it fails to address the social evils that prevail in our society.

In today’s relevance, one could question or argue over the caste as the sole factor to identify these people who are given reservations, but every system has its pros and cons, so has the reservation system and it needs to be updated to match the current scenario, perspective and needs.Social engineering tools must be evolved with the social restructuring but first thing that is needed to be evolved is our attitude towards the caste issues. If a nation has to prosper then it will have to take all of its citizens forward, leaving a group of people behind won’t help.

“It is against the fundamental principles of humanity,it is against the dictates of reason that a man should,by reason of birth,be denied or given extra privileges” -Mahatma Gandhi

It’s time to let go of our prejudices and think rationally, it’s time to address social stigmas and eradicate them. If you want to eradicate reservations eradicate caste-based discriminations first.

NOTE: This blogpost has a second part that will be published soon!