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Missing Issues in the Debate on Reservation

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  • Morris, Sebastian

Abstract

The issue of reservation has been presented as arising out of educational and social backwardness of the OBCs. Except in nomenclature there is no substantial evidence to show that most or even the majority of the ‘jatis’ that constitute the OBCs are educationally backward. The heterogeneity within what is an administrative grouping (and that too residually defined as non-upper caste and non SCST essentially) is far too large. And the systematic regional differences in the educational and economic achievements of the OBCs would not warrant the lazy position of class=caste from which the reservation agenda has been both presented and discussed. The assumed parallelism with SCST reservation are just not there. Neither the argument for creating a middle class, nor the need to overcome social ostracism and untouchability are relevant in this case. The issue is at best (to the extent that some of the OBC jatis are backward educationally) one of access which is overwhelming an issue of economic ability and performance of the state in the provision of educational services. Moreover the fact that as much as 20-25% of enrollment in higher education being from the OBCs makes us ask the question: Is the initiative that has the potential to divide the country worth addressing a non-problem or at best a most ill-stated one? The Supreme Court having placed ‘social and educational equality’ above equality under law, if it has to be true to the spirit and letter of this very position would have to address the issue of educational deprivation far more comprehensively than is presented by the reservationists. It cannot accept a report merely because it has the imprimatur of the executive. It needs to understand the nature of the unholy alliance of all political parties on this issue. Much of the deprivation has to do with performance of the state and its educational machinery. State failure in regulation of both public and private education, shameful underfunding of the public education system at the primary and secondary levels especially in much in much of north and central India, the wanton destruction of most of the universities leaving much of their fare all but worthless are the real problems. These now create a scarcity for quality education and that makes the issue of reservation politically appropriable in a most perverse and reprehensive manner and which could never solve either the problem of higher education or the problem of access that much of the OBCs (as much as the Indian population as a whole) face. The Supreme court must see through this game. After all it can insist on compulsory primary education and fully funded quality primary and secondary education to begin with, which could then start the process of the real problems being addressed.

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Paper provided by Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Research and Publication Department in its series IIMA Working Papers with number WP2006-06-02.

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Handle: RePEc:iim:iimawp:wp01961

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