Are reservations useful or harmful?

Reservations are seats, posts or positions set aside for people based on extraneous considerations, considerations which are unrelated to the criteria used to decide on selecting people for the job, seat or position in question. Let's take the example of a university. In a university, all seats can be said to be 'reserved', the university need not justify and should not be put in a position to justify to any external authority about the selection and admission of students.

Such a university will admit students only on the basis of the certain relevant criteria. The criteria usually are — marks scored in a preliminary exam, marks scored in an entrance test, ranking systems and other objective means of evaluation.

The need to admit only those students fulfilling a certain set of criteria is because of the fact that although there may be a large number of students, the number of seats available is finite, limited.

Reservations-What do they do

Reservations is the impostion of an unrelated, irrelavant set of criteria on the process of selection of a candidate. In our country, caste has been used as the basis of reservations; the 'caste' of a person is an unrelated criterion for his selection for a job/seat/post.

Why do we have reservations?

Reservations were concieved as a olive branch, a symbol of apology for the lower sections of people who were ostracised and discriminated against for centuries, by the 'Upper Hindu' Brahmins. As a corrective measure, they were offered by the precondition of reservations, jobs and posts "the kind of which they never even thought of reaching because of ages of discrimination".

This, along with other arguments like "upliftment of the poor", "benefit for the masses" resulted in the entrenchment of the reservation system in our country.

What does this result in?

As I have mentioned earlier, reservations, impose on the selection process, considerations for a irrelevant set of criteria and makes this the basis for selection. This introduces the element of subjectivity into the selection process. Where does that bring us to? Let me quote an example (Edwin A. Locke):

"Consider a more concrete, though fictional, example. Suppose that since its creation in 1936, the XYZ Corporation refused to hire redheaded men due to a quirky bias on the part of its founder. The founder now dies and an enlightened Board of Directors decides that something “positive” needs to be done to compensate for past injustices and announces that, henceforth, redheads will be hired on a preferential basis. Observe that: (1) this does not help the real victims — the previously excluded redheads; (2) the newly favored redheads have not been victims of discrimination in hiring, yet unfairly benefit from it; and (3) the non-redheads who are now excluded from jobs due to the redhead preference did not cause the previous discrimination and are now unfairly made victims of it."

From this example it is clear that reservations end up making all parties except the redheads, lose. The XYZ corporation has to now put up with incomptent but red-headed workers (they are not competent because a measure of comptence was not a criteria for job selection). Non-redheads who fulfill the criteria for the job will not get the job they deserve.

Reservations are discriminatory and immoral

This type of a 'solution' to problems can only originate in the mind of a Pragmatist. The process of reservation, since concieved without any moral or practical foundation is a self accelerating process of decay. Firstly, it proposes to fight injustice with injustice and therefore is enormously stupid. If people have been discriminated for ages, the solution lies in effectively putting an end to such discrimination. Yet the supporters of the reservation want to fight discrimination by doing the same thing as the people whom they are fighting—the Upper Hindu Brahmins, did—discrimination among people on the basis of caste and religion in the name of reservations.

Secondly, since reservations bring considerations other than merit into focus, the overall quality of the graduates/technicians/engineers/doctors churned out by universities will fall. Quality of work will deteriorate in factories and institutes where reservations are in force. The incentive of reservations will attract the least merited of the candidates, who can just get selected to the university seat/job by proving that he is member of a particluar caste. Several castes are fighting battles with the government to get themselves labeled as an 'Other Backward Caste' or a 'Scheduled Tribe'. This has already come to a high, witness the orgy of different caste members scrambling and screaming about being the 'most backward' and therefore the 'most deserving'.

What does a deserving candidate do?

In such a state, candidates of merit neither have the inclination nor the desire to study in an educational institution where the arbitrary is the rule and the whim is the law. He also knows the value of a Graduation degree of such a university. In short, he is the victim. He is the scapegoat.

The process of decay that reservations brings about can be seen in virtually all colleges and institutes in the country. This would be the end result if everyone from the professors, lecturers and the staff to the students are systematically 'displaced' and undeserving people are propped up in their places. Only a handful of IITs and IIMs and a few other institutes remain untouched by this disease.

What is the solution?

The solution lies in simply putting an end to the whole reservations business. If irrelevant criteria are removed from considerations, people with merit stand to gain, irrespective of their caste or religion. Then the really deserving people, even from the 'lower castes' will have, a fair access to the jobs/seats. Only this can raise their standards of living.
N.B. Edwin A. Locke is a professor of management at the University of Maryland at College Park.
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