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A New 'Caste' System: Remodelling Reservations On The Basis Of Wealth

28/03/2016 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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We may try to brush this subject under the carpet, but it has a way of popping up again and again. There is overwhelming evidence that backward castes are economically worse off too. However, it is also clear that the reservation quota system is now defunct due to the mobility of social classes. A poor person of an upper caste is often worse off than a poor person of a lower caste, and this is making upper caste communities question the reservation system. It is a perfectly reasonable criticism, even though their methods to convey this criticism are usually questionable.

A poor person of an upper caste is often worse off than a poor person of a lower caste...

Most debates on this issue end with some 'insightful' person suggesting that the system must be redesigned taking poverty, and not caste, into account. Logically speaking, in a capitalist society, there is no better and more convenient way of measuring the unfairness of the system than wealth. The bottleneck of this seemingly ideal solution is the implementation of it. Who is going to find out the wealth of each and every family? How would they be rated at the national level taking into account regional disparities? In short, the creation of such a database, in a country as big as India, would just be too complex. Even a census is done only once in 10 years because of logistical issues and the costs involved, and even then they survey only samples and extrapolate for the general population.

One way to get around all the many complexities is to classify people based on their current occupation. Ironically, an idea similar to the caste system. With one major difference. It is a flexible and dynamic caste system. This helps us get around two major challenges in creating a reservation system based on economic backwardness:

  1. It helps judge the standard of living of a person without having to look through their books, makes cheating the system more difficult. If someone is still found cheating (a fact much easier to detect), the sanctions could be prohibitive. No reservation for the persons involved for the next 10 years.
  2. It helps to transcend the regional disparities that may exist in the incomes. It assumes an engineer in Bangalore enjoys the same standard of living as another in Patna. While this may not strictly be the case, it is a good proxy for measuring the actual standard of living.

Another robust and probably a simpler way of estimating a family's wealth could be the price of their residence.

Now assuming that one classifies people based on their jobs, how does one go about actually allocating the quotas? The first step would be to quantify the incomes of the families. This could be done through a professional survey conducted every 'x' years (x<10). Once the incomes are quantified, one can introduce a quota coefficient to be added to the scores of candidates while making decisions. This quota coefficient would directly depend on the income of the candidate, possibly in a linear way. Clearly, beyond a certain level of income, quota is not necessary and the coefficient could be designed to take this into account. This ensures that the competitiveness of the system is maintained, in the sense that everyone still competes in the same pool, but with handicaps proportional to the economic backwardness.

Another robust and probably a simpler way of estimating a family's wealth could be the price of their residence. This has the advantage of being even more easily verifiable and quantifiable. Moreover it eliminates cheating as hardly any family would reside in a much cheaper house than they can afford only to avail reservation benefits. Also, property papers and information are probably the most reliable economic data kept by the government.

Such a scheme would receive support from all the poor, irrespective of their caste.

Pre-empting some of the arguments against the proposed system that might come up:

  • This system is politically unimplementable. It is political hara-kiri.

Given the recent Jat and Patel riots, it is clear that it is the poor who are protesting because they are the ones being marginalized the most. Such a scheme would receive support from all the poor, irrespective of their caste.

  • It is too complicated to implement and explain to the masses. Reduces transparency.

If we can implement and explain the intricacies of progressive taxes, we can surely manage this. Socialist countries like France have a much more elaborate social benefits system based on family incomes. We don't need to go in such details for judging the reservation coefficient, and thus we can manage to do it for the entire country.

I urge you to contribute to the discussion with your proposals and criticisms on Idea Bhandaar. If you agree with the arguments put forth, please spread the message. It's time to remodel the caste system to reflect the current realities and not what our ancestors were doing. That is the only way we will manage to get the caste system out of our society without collateral damage.

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