This newspaper read, with great interest, a front page story in its sister publication Hindustan Times about a study by an industry lobby on the proportion of employees belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes in companies located in some southern states.
The study doesn’t seem a representative or universal one but some of its findings are illuminating. One such claims that the proportion of employees from the scheduled castes and tribes is highest in the case of companies in Tamil Nadu. This newspaper isn’t surprised by the finding and believes that it indicates that affirmative action, however flawed its execution may be—and however political its motives—works.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
With the necessary caveats about not being in favour of any kind of reservation, let us look at what has happened in Tamil Nadu. For well over two decades, the state has reserved seats in colleges for students from the scheduled castes and tribes and other backward classes. The magnitude of this reservation is 69%, the highest in the country.
At one level, this reservation has resulted in an exodus of students from the state. The extent of this “drain” may or may not have been compensated by the state’s efforts in recent years to successfully woo companies in a range of industries—from computer software and hardware to mobile phones to cars—to set up base in Tamil Nadu, resulting in the influx of both blue- and white-collar workers. That, though, isn’t relevant.
At another level, the reservation has made it possible for people who would have otherwise never enrolled for a college education to do so. The results, 20 years on, are there to see.
To carry affirmative action to its logical denouement though —after, through a universal survey, ascertaining that the impact of reservation is what this piece infers it to be—the state must now do away with reservation. Having levelled the playing field, it must make sure that its reservation policy itself doesn’t create another unequal society where some doors are shut to some people just because they belong to a certain caste or class.
Years ago, Tamil Nadu set the trend by becoming the pioneer in terms of affirmative action. It did so despite significant opposition from the so-called forward castes, including legal challenges. If the findings reported by the Hindustan Times are indicative of a larger trend, the state has an opportunity to set the trend again— this time by scrapping reservation.
Has affirmative action fulfilled its promise in India? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org