There is no doubt that India is a deeply unequal society, that people at the bottom of the pile face discrimination, and struggle for the opportunities they need to raise themselves up. But is the answer caste- or tribe-based quotas in government jobs and universities?
This week, the debate is back in the headlines, as the Gujjar community takes to the streets again, blockading India’s capital to reinforce their demand for more quota-based jobs . Nearly 40 people have been killed in the latest violence, most shot dead by police.
I am not qualified to say whether quotas are right or wrong.
On the one hand, they reinforce caste identity and rivalry and seem to fly in the face of a secular India. On the other, they can be a useful tool in forcing an end to discrimination and giving people a leg up.
But one thing seems clear to me. Relying solely on quotas, or reservations as they are called, as a substitute for real policies to address discrimination and inequality, seems inadequate.
Take the case of the Gujjars.
Already considered a disadvantaged group, the Gujjars want to be reclassified further down the caste and status system so they qualify for more reserved government jobs and university seats. Already classified as an Other Backward Class (OBC), they want Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.