Revenge of the creamy layer
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The quota bill, cleared by the cabinet and tabled in Parliament, provides for staggered implementation. However, politicians have not eliminated the "creamy layer", ensuring it is the well-to-do who will benefit. Given the large number of prosperous and powerful OBCs, this will certainly achieve the politician's goal — of enhancing vote banks.
This flies in the face of the stated rationale for a quota policy — social justice and equity. It has long been recognised that the benefits of education quota policies go to the better-off in any caste or community. On the face of it, this seems inevitable because only the creamy layer is in a position to take advantage of seats in higher education — higher education presumes that you have successfully completed schooling, which in India has been a distant dream for the poor from any community. Yet, it is instructive to get some sense of who are the people who actually benefit from reservation policies.
Evidence from higher education institutions reveals the obvious — those coming from comfortable backgrounds benefit. For instance, in Delhi University, the ST quota is often utilised by children of prosperous and well-educated north-eastern tribal families. In the IITs, large numbers of Meenas from Rajasthan fill the seats (apparently, out of four sub-categories of Meenas, the quota was meant to apply only to the Chowkidar Meena category which is a denotified tribe; it is actually monopolised by the Zamindar Meenas who are landowners).
Other evidence from a study of IIT Delhi shows that the SC category has several students who would clearly be in the creamy layer. Their parents are engineers, doctors and IAS officers, bank managers or businessmen. The retention of the creamy layer in education quotas will be a double injustice — it will discriminate against poorer OBCs and against general category students with higher cut-offs. Although we do not have evidence on the backgrounds of OBCs currently in higher education, if such an exercise were conducted using state lists, it would most likely reveal a sufficient presence of the OBCs. Students who are not represented would be from a handful of poor artisan castes. The absence of the latter also cannot be taken for granted without proper investigation since location, parental educational background and resources are today shared unevenly across castes.
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