Maharashtra government recently approved 16 per cent reservation for Marathas and five per cent for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. This decision has rekindled the debate around the polarizing issue of reservations. Whenever the issue of reservations comes up, many people raise the point of meritocracy. According to these people, reservations undermine meritocracy and therefore they are unjust. I find this argument grossly ignorant.
Frankly, I am ambivalent about caste-based reservations. (And I for sure do not approve of government’s recent decision to give quota to Maratha community. This Indian Express article has a strong argument against the decision.)
I somehow feel the current system of reservations perpetuates caste instead of making it irrelevant as a social construct. Very few people raise this point. But the point, that reservations are against the principle of meritocracy, is mentioned frequently; not by serious commentators, mind you, but mainly by people on social media.
It is very easy to identify these people. They are convent-educated, urbanites, speak English fluently, own smartphones and have broadband internet connections at home. Their main problem is, they do not understand the concept of “privilege”. They do not understand what role this privilege plays in them scoring 85 and 90 per cent marks in their board exams. They think it’s all their hard work or their talent or their brain’s superpowers. Well, that may be true but the thing you need to understand is, all this would have been irrelevant without your privilege.
There is a reason urban/ upper caste/ rich students score higher marks than rural/ lower caste/ poor students. That reason is privilege. The superior grey cells in your brain can take you only so far. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is very relevant here. He says
Success in the education system is facilitated by the possession of cultural capital and of higher class habitus. Lower class pupils do not in general possess these traits, so the failure of the majority of these pupils is inevitable.
Also, I do not understand why only high-scorers should be entitled to good colleges. Does an academically bright student need a good college more or a dull one? It is a no-brainer that a good college helps a pupil learn better. And all those who are relegated to bad colleges suffer enormously.
Reservations are a way to bridge the gap of inequality. They are a means to correct the historical injustice and oppression that certain communities had to face or are still facing. Reservations have not been very successful in achieving these goals but we still need them till a better alternative is found.