India Extends College Quota



The Guardian ( London)

April 18, 2008


By Randeep Ramesh

Delhi, India— India’s supreme court has given the go-ahead for almost 50% of places at the nation’s publicly funded universities and colleges to be reserved for lower-caste and other disadvantaged people. In extending the world’s largest and oldest affirmative action system, the court accepted that higher education institutions had to reserve a larger quota of seats for untouchables, tribals and "backward classes".  

The system of "reservations" was enshrined in the nation’s first constitution in 1950 in an attempt to erase inequalities of the centuries-old caste system. At present the law guarantees 22.5% of all places at India’s universities for indigenous peoples and dalits, or untouchables. The government wants to extend this scheme to secure seats for the remaining "backward" sections of society, who make up 27% of the country’s 1 billion people.

Many upper-caste Hindus argue that "backward classes" have made such gains that quotas should now be based on economic need rather than caste. The court, headed by the chief justice, KG Balakrishnan, attempted to balance the arguments by saying that the prosperous "creamy layer" of people from lower sections of society should be excluded from the quota.  

Dipankar Gupta, professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says defining this layer is key to limiting the "damage" of quotas. Gupta said factors such as whether a person works in the fields or whether a community feels other castes resent it are rated to be three times more important than poverty. "Being part of the backward classes is a perception of social status," he said. "It is totally bogus."








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