Has caste-based affirmative action worked?
Indian industry has already made it clear to the government that job reservations and industry don’t mix…and that they will go by merit and merit only when it comes to hiring people. At the same time they promised affirmative action, without compromising on merit. In fact, the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry has introduced measures like scholarships and the FICCI (The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has “plans to support entrepreneurs in India’s poorest districts.”
And Naukri.com, India’s biggest job portal has now started asking job-seekers to register their caste!
But the question remains: Has ‘affirmative action’ in educational institutions and the public sector by the Indian government over the past few decades worked? And will the new caste-based hiring by private sector companies work?
Just one example. Infosys has put in place a programme to re-train engineering graduates who have been unable to get jobs in industry. Though no jobs are promised at the end of the training, many of those who are re-trained do find employment in Infosys and others, outside. What’s interesting is that these people are not from poor families. They are children of professionals…the poor have not benefited.
But isn’t ‘affirmative action’ meant for the under-privileged, for the poor? Ofcourse not, not in India. Few amongst the poor can reach an engineering college even if a seat is reserved for them as the public education system is pathetic. And they cannot afford private schools or private tuition. Well, this isn’t anything new I guess…
But The Economist (Oct 6-12th issue) has an interesting article on the subject…and it busts some myths about the caste system in India, myths that foreigners often believe. The article acknowledges that while reservations are a good idea in theory as they are necessary to right “a big historical wrong,” they have not worked in India.
The main points from The Economist article:
Groups benefiting from reservations have got richer at almost exactly the same rate as the rest of the population
Since 1950, about a quarter of all seats in universities and jobs in the public-sector jobs have been reserved for dalits and tribal people and there were more reservations in 1993. Between 1983 and 2004, their spending power increased by 26.7%, compared with 27.7% for the average Indian and these are statistics from the National Sample Survey Organisation, a government body.
The real cause of poverty and backwardness is being obscured because reservation policies are being touted as a solution
The real problem is the government’s “rotten educational system” – basically the pathetic primary and secondary school education. The government has neglected its greatest asset – its people.
Those who stand to benefit from reservations in higher education and reservations of jobs in the private sector are the children of those who have already achieved some measure of success in life. Mostly on their own merit.
Only a minuscule percentage of employees will benefit if ever there are job reservations in the private sector.
This is because this reservation will apply only employees in the organised sector…which is about 2 percent of the entire workforce (firms with ten or more employees)! In any case, a lot of companies already employ huge numbers of other castes, particularly industries which have come up in tribal belts. E.g. Tata Steel.
India is being divided along caste lines
The Economist mentions the phrase ‘reservation inflation’ and that this is happening due to political reasons. Not only has politics become divided along caste lines, the politicians are dividing the people along caste lines. More reservations could be on the anvil.
This is ironical as in urban India caste divisions are reducing. Not only are inter-caste marriages rising in number, lower caste people from urban areas admit that they do not face discrimination because of their caste. In fact, according to Jeevansathi.com, a matrimonial site, 58% of its online matches involved inter-caste couples…
In my view, if this ridiculous divide and rule policy of the government doesn’t stop, one day we will have civil war on our hands.
The discrimination against lower castes is often rooted in class differences
There is an acknowledgment that class-based prejudice is prevalent all over the world . The truth is that well-to-do lower caste people face far less discrimination, if any at all as compared to their poorer brethren.
Companies do not discriminate against candidates because of their castes
Another very important point! The Economist points out that companies do not hire people based on their caste…which we all know ofcourse. And if in some family-run businesses, people of the same caste are hired, it is not because of hierarchical feelings, but because of the increased level of trust and bonding that the community might feel towards members of their own caste. This trust helps with accountability and dealing in money matters.
Update: A small study (4,808 applications for 548 jobs advertised in English newspapers over 66 weeks starting October 2005 were analysed) which was undertaken by the University Grants Commission in conjunction with Princeton University and it has revealed that two groups of people in India – Dalits and Muslims – face discrimination when it comes to getting jobs.
Reservations have worked in Tamil Nadu though
The reasons given for the success of the high level of reservations in this state are that the state is well-run, has high literacy rates, and businessmen from the reserved classes have come up (which has nothing to do with the reservation policy) as there has never been a stranglehold on business by certain communities, like in north India.
Injustice is something not to be tolerated…but to try and resolve a grave injustice by obscuring real problems is another very grave injustice that is being heaped upon the Indian people. An injustice which is going to cost the country dearly one day, in terms of discontent and hatred between different communities and castes.
(Picture is by me)
Update March 08: Infosys has trained 100 graduate and postgraduate science students free of cost as a pilot project in 2007, and now it is planning to train other poor students, mainly from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Related Reading: Supreme Court stays OBC quotas