Tuesday, March 23, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Reservation: policy and implementation


Reservation: policy and implementation


Niranjan Sahoo; Academic Foundation, 4772-73/23 Bharat Ram Road (23
Ansari Road), Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 595.

This slim volume is an attempt to assess the seriousness with which
the Indian state has implemented programmes of affirmative action. The
emphasis is on detailing the various components of such programmes and
examining their effectiveness through published data. While the aim is
laudable, it needs to be said at the outset that the work has fallen
between two stools — its analysis is not incisive enough to hold the
interest of an informed reader, nor does it serve as an introduction
to the interested but essentially lay audience.


First, let us see what the book's strengths are. There are data on a
spectrum of issues relating to affirmative action such as the status
of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and the Other Backward
Classes in political institutions from the local bodies to the
StateLegislatures and Parliament, and in relation to parameters like
literacy, education, and employment. The information is collated from
authentic sources. In this sense, it will be useful for any student
who wants to have a quick access to data. Of course, there are other
such books. But this indeed is a positive feature.

Another positive element relates to the questions it raises for
further inquiry. But then, the work has important limitations here.
Principally, Niranjan Sahoo makes no attempt to situate his analysis
against a large canvas such as the changes that have taken place in
the economy and the role of the state, which is getting diluted.

With the state ceasing to be the main employer of the educated classes
and with the market-friendly paradigm quite firmly in place, the
policy of 'positive discrimination' (a term that is, at least in the
opinion of this reviewer, more appropriate for the Indian context than
'affirmative action') confronts new challenges.

To be fair to him, the author does make a reference to this aspect as
well as to the relative neglect that the various other forms of
positive discrimination have suffered compared to reservation in
employment, which has occupied the centre stage for too long. The work
would have turned out to be much more impressive, if only the entire
analysis had been housed in this framework.

There are other problems as well. The author rightly discerns a
north-south divide with respect to the policy of reservations. But he
fails to observe that in Karnataka, for instance, the displacement of
Brahmins as the hegemonic class led to the emergence of 'hegemony' by
the dominant among the backward classes, which in turn triggered a
protest movement of sorts in the late 1960s — and this was utilised
astutely by Devaraj Urs.

Also difficult to comprehend is Sahoo's bland assertion that in
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala the OBCs outperform the upper castes
in higher education and in accessing jobs. The root of the problem
must lie in the author's inability to make nuanced distinctions among
the OBCs. In States like Karnataka, this is a major issue.


There are some interesting, indeed sometimes insightful, observations.
One such is that the STs perform better than the SCs in higher
education, although, disappointingly, no attempt is made to take a
closer look at it. This also goes for the data on enrolment in higher
education, course-wise and caste-wise. Elsewhere, some of the
information provided is difficult to digest. For instance, his
statement that the IITs have been providing reservation for the SCs
and the STs "since 1973 as per the constitutional provisions of 15 per
cent for the SCs and 7.2 per cent for the STs". There appears to be
some confusion here, between a constitutional mandate and (presumably)
a government order, since the percentages are not constitutionally

Among the interesting issues raised for discussion is the one relating
to the woefully small number of SCs/STs securing positions in the
non-reserved category — therein lies the "true test" of empowerment.

On the whole, the book is useful in some ways but falls short in
offering compelling insights.


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