Before we proceed with the numbers, let me recall here that there was no reservation for OBC students this year because the Supreme Court has ordered a stay on this scheme.
Here are the key numbers. OBC students constituted 18.75% of the exam takers and 14% of the JEE-qualified, indicating that they do suffer a disadvantage in terms of JEE-preparedness. Of the 990 students who qualified, 876 showed up for seat allotment, and only 590 enrolled. Without comparable numbers for the other categories, it is impossible to make any comment on why 286 students chose not to go to the IITs. But we can guess: the JEE list this year included some 1600 extra students -- 7209 candidates made it to the list, but IITs had only 5537 seats! Thus, it's possible that a large fraction of OBC students weren't willing to 'settle for' institutions and fields of study that didn't attract them.
Another interesting number is that out of the 990 OBC students who got through JEE-2007, fully a third of them -- 329 -- were from the Chennai region, which includes the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Pondycherry and Tamil Nadu. This indicates clearly the higher level of preparedness among the OBC students from this region (though a stronger inference will have to wait for detailed data on the numbers of candidates from different regions). The Mumbai region had the the second largest number of OBC students among the JEE-qualified.
Hemali Chhapia's story has only one quote from an IIT student, who also happens to belong to an OBC:
‘‘When there are so many OBC students who are doing well naturally, why set aside seats for them and demoralise them?’’ asked an OBC student who joined IIT Bombay.
The bit about 'demoralization' shows -- sadly -- that this student has bought into the rhetoric of the anti-reservation lobby. Leaving that aside, is it really true that "OBCs ... are doing well naturally"? Consider: the data show that the OBC share among the exam-takers is low, and it's even lower among the JEE-qualified. Given this fact, I would bet that their representation keeps dropping as one moves up the rank-list (say, the top 1000 or the top 200). If this is true, then the top branches -- say, Electronics Engineering or Computer Science -- would have a far smaller representation of OBCs. It's this disparity -- particularly at the top -- that a reservation policy is meant to address: OBCs and other disadvantaged sections must have opportunities in top colleges and most sought after fields of study -- not just some College X or in some Field Y.
A final comment about the IITs' penchant for hoarding information: instead of releasing data in selective trickles, it would have been great if the IITs made detailed statistics -- on all aspects they deem important enough to ask for in the application form -- available on their website. For example, I am interested in gender-wise and category-wise (i.e., OBC, SC, ST and General) details on the percentage of first and second timers among the JEE-takers, JEE-qualified, admission offers and acceptances. I am also interested in data on the economic status and background (urban or rural) of the students. I don't see any reason why the IITs should wait until someone files an application under RTI to reveal this kind of basic statistical information to the public.