Many people who claim they oppose reservation are not really opposed to reservation per se, but are opposed to the kind of reservation program that uses caste as its basis. They are amenable to a quota program based on economic considerations. For example, they say that poor among the general category also deserve to be included in the quota. And, in particular, they are aghast that a 'creamy layer' end up cornering much of the benefits of the quota program.
Such people may find this Tehelka article appealing. The author, Purushottam Agrawal (who the blurb says teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University), presents a fairly detailed plan that takes into account multiple ways in which one could be disadvantaged. His is effectively an affirmative action plan in which people get 'points' added to, say, their entrance exam score; then, the 'merit list' is prepared. For example, a rural Dalit student from a poor family would get points for all three 'social handicaps': 'rural', 'Dalit' and 'poor family'.
I hereby propose a model of affirmative action that I will call miraa — Multiple Index Related Affirmative Action. As the name suggests, this model will take into account several factors when a candidate is considered for admission or employment.
In the specific situation of our country, miraa will consist of the following indices:
- Economic status of family
- Kind of schooling received
- Region where candidate spent his/her formative years
- Status as a first generation learner/educational achievement in the family
If the points for 'caste/tribe' are different for different castes based on their relative 'social backwardness', this plan would certainly address one of the concerns I raised in this post over at How the Other India Lives: in the present quota program, a large number of castes are lumped together as OBCs, which could allow a few of the top castes to benefit disproportionately from the quotas, leaving behind a large number of really needy groups. So, Agrawal's MIRAA plan might help in converting a blunt tool (our present quota program) into a surgical knife. To that extent, I would support this MIRAA.
Having said that, I don't see it being acceptable to a large number of people, simply because it adds some complexity to the program. If at all it is even taken up for consideration, it will probably be killed by endless discussion on the relative number of points to be assigned to the different 'social handicaps' listed above.
But still, it's an interesting, nuanced perspective.
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Update (18 May 2006): In today's Hindu, A. Vaidyanathan (a development economist and ex-member of the Planning Commission) offers a similar perspective, but a different plan: restrict reservation to only those who don't pay income tax!