Transcending Reservations

In this article published by the EPW, I have tried to map certain developments in the official discourse on equality that transcend the traditional debate on reservations. These developments include proposals for enacting anti-discrimination measures, incentivising diversity in the private sector and encouraging corporate social responsibility. I also make a case for restructuring the social justice regulatory framework by instituting a single Equality Commission and merging all the existing group-based commissions.

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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  • Not that I am trying to reduce the level of this discourse, but really, what’s the point? As someone who spent literally weeks researching at length all possible options to the reservation approach, it is entirely moot when you are dealing with a political set-up which is wholly and absolutely established on a framework of casteist obligation.This is not based on my position in representing the Petitioners in the OBC challenge, but on my having experienced the complete unwillingness of the State to even contemplate any alternatives.
    I’m afraid that any suggestion / discourse/point of view (including yours of the Equality Commission) is of absolutely no value (except to the intellectual elite) unless you chart out clear methods of having them implemented in the Real World.
    P.S.Tarunabh, this is not an attack on you. Its actually an invitation to all well-meaning intellectuals to get some practical backing to their theories.

  • dear gopal, thank you for your comment.
    although i share your cynicism generally, in my article, i map the changes in the ‘official’ discourse – that is what makes it most interesting. the EOC proposal is due to go to the cabinet very soon, if the news reports are anything to go by. so, it is happening as we speak, and you may be right that ultimately nothing will come of it. but even this ‘government speak’ on equality is a reflection of academics shouting from roof tops to move away from reservations.
    issues of strategy are of course important, but should that compromise an academic evaluation in all cases?
    specifically as an example for the equality commission, (and I realise the socio-political cultural differences between the two countries), UK had group based commissions which were merged to form a single commission. of course i realise that this will be very hard in india. but i think that is even more of a reason to ask for it, not less.

    i realise that my response above is jumbled gibberish, here are my two points in brief:
    1. my article actually maps ‘government proposals’ which may soon go to cabinet,
    2. although academics have a responsibility to pragmatism and possibilities, their primary responsibility is to speak truth to power.

  • Good article and a very interesting and novel idea. Though the relevant reports have been in the public domain for a while, there has not been much discussion about it (at least nothing significant that I have come across).

    On the question of incentivizing diversity, I do have questions about its practicability.
    1. Given the size of the private sector, it may only be feasible to implement it in larger companies but then, grants too would have to be correspondingly higher.
    2. I believe there is a fair amount of diversity in the private sector if you count the Group C/D employees as well (though perhaps less than in the public sector). The issue today is more of lack of diversity in the upper level group A/B jobs which employ fewer people but are more prestigious. If the incentive were to be based on total numbers including C/D groups, many would probably see that as defeating the purpose (in other words, would more peons/janitorial staff from the backward communities in a leading software company count as diversity?). On the other hand, if you include only the group A/B jobs, the government is effectively subsidizing job placement for the well-educated few from the backward communities, perhaps the so-called ‘creamy layer’. Is that smart or even legal?
    3. You quote from Grutter to argue that diversity is also beneficial to the institution because of the larger number of viewpoints that it brings. The idea is no doubt intuitively appealing but the evidence in this regard, from what I have seen, is not all that clear (The Kundu report also talks about the greatest diversity being found in the fortune 500 companies but this may well be a consequence of size rather than its cause). If greater diversity promoted efficiency, you would also expect it to be a successful idea in the marketplace and would not need government intervention in the first place. But that does not appear to be the case which makes this argument dubious. For example, if you look at the Thorat papers in the EPW special issue recently, in one of them, their data shows that numbers for OBCs/SC/ST/minorities is greater in the government than in the private sector. By implication, you would therefore expect the government to be more efficient / productive than say, any of the major software firms (which are known to be dominated by the upper castes) that we know of. Controlling for other factors, is that likely to actually be the case? I have my doubts. None of this however is to discount the benefits of the approach – the government may be justified in trying to skew the system to favor diversity – but simply to point out that its implication is unclear.

    There are of course other issues regarding the actual calculation of the diversity index but as you say, these are something to be debated later.

  • After reading your article I am as skpetical as before, of these proposals. Diversity in India means
    different things to different groups. Groups supporting preference for ‘sons of the soil’ in job may not agree with the notion of diversity that gives less importance or ignores their
    claims.As individuals have multiple identies, diversity indices can be calculated in many different ways. Giving incentives for diversity in employment will
    amount to violation of the
    principle of equality as stated
    in the constitution.Moreover the question of essentialism cannot be
    avoided in debates on diversity.
    Tokenism might result in deceptive diversity, keeping intact the other