Merit in Reservations (YouTube Video)


My grandfather once told me – You don’t have reservations to support you – you have to work twice as hard – the finish line is further away for you because you’re Brahmin 

And that’s what I believed – for the longest time. 

I, too, thought of the reservations as an unfair advantage given to undeserving people.

This video is going to examine the idea of merit in reservations.

My early life was tough – I dealt with abandonment, abuse, starvation, and being orphaned. But you know what I never had to deal with – caste discrimination. Because, after all – I was a “bahman chuaa” or “brahman baccha” for the Hindi speakers. I was a part of such an elite demographic (display upper caste & male) and I didn’t even know it – poor me, grew up with so much self-pity, maybe this knowledge would have made me feel better. Anyways …. (Transition).

Like most Savarnas, I was oblivious to my privilege. When I first read about untouchability, I legit thought that was a thing of the past – like most savarnas, I failed to notice the glaring signs of a still present caste hierarchy around me. Naturally, growing up – I also thought that the caste-based reservation was unfair. I also scoffed at the lower cut-offs for reserved categories and thought they were dumber. 

My first realization that the caste system was very much alive, and kicking came when my grandma got sick back in 2006 and didn’t have the energy to cook for my grandfather and me. My grandfather suggested that we should hire our domestic help to do the cooking. My grandma was against it – she put her foot down and proceeded to go on cooking in her weak condition. I asked my grandfather what the problem was if the domestic help cooked for us. He said that the person in question was an Adivasi and my grandma was “old-fashioned” in her views, so she wouldn’t eat the food cooked by an Adivasi. I confronted her regarding this and she made some excuses about the domestic help living in unhygienic areas and not being clean enough to handle the kitchen – but it didn’t make sense to me. “She cleans the house. If she is clean enough to clean the house, how is she not clean enough to cook?” Having read about social justice in school, I knew caste discrimination was bad but what could I say to my 70-year-old grandma, who had taken me in after my father’s death? 

After that, I started seeing it everywhere – how caste-based discrimination is explained away by propagating regressive stereotypes, and by calling it “old-fashioned belief” instead of the social evil that it is. This changed how I looked at things. 

Most savarnas today, in light of the post-Ambedkar sensibilities, consider caste discrimination bad but still engage in casual casteism. Most savarnas are vehemently against reservations. Here’s an example from a few days ago:

This guy left a comment on my video about the caste census. His point was – reservations is a bullshit concept as it allows incompetent students in. He thought that the government should instead help the financially weaker students.


 

In my reply, I asked him to read up on “generational privilege”. I told him that I knew from his surname that he was not from a marginalized community and I could bet that he didn’t understand how the lack of generational privilege affects people.

 


His reply made the basis for this video. He didn’t even bother to look up the meaning of “generational privilege”. He instead assumed that I was talking about his financial background and pointed out to me that he was “lower middle class”. He also said that “alleged historical wrongs” can’t be the basis for letting unmeritorious students into top institutions.

 


This was my reply. 

 


Now many of you might feel like the guy made sense. And that’s why what I am going to say next is important.

Reservation is about access, not just about someone’s financial condition. Privilege can’t just be equated with how much money someone has. Money matters, sure. But there’s something that the upper castes in India have that a Dalit who becomes rich today will not have – social capital. A poor Brahmin will still be treated better than a rich Dalit. If you don’t believe me, test this theory out. Reservations are designed to provide marginalized people a seat at the table – and even with reservations, 75 years later, they still struggle to get their foot through the door.

This brings me to the point of merit. 

In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled against removing the 27% OBC reservations from All India Quota seats of NEET UG and PG Exams. The apex court noted that “Marks are not merit” – this was flashed boldly as the headline on TV news channels and ridiculed widely on social media, but people didn’t bother to understand what the Court meant. The court noted that the notion that high-scoring students are meritorious leads to “reproducing and reaffirming social hierarchies”. This is because there are widespread inequalities that affect how candidates perform in competitive exams. The privileged classes have a lot of advantages, which are often invisible, while backward classes have structural barriers to overcome. 

Let me try and explain these concepts with examples.

My father was an Air Force officer. My grandfather was an English Professor. My great-grandfather was a School Headmaster. There has been education in my family for generations. My grandfather grew up very poor, but he was never denied entry into a school, college, or temple. In contrast, a Dalit student, even today, will face harassment in school, and will not have the communication skills, accent, access to books and a social circle of educated people that I inherited from my family, because they were Brahmins, rich or poor didn’t matter. 

The generational access to education makes Brahmins perform better academically – which they attribute to superior genes, in turn taking ahead the myth of caste superiority. There have been studies that indicate that discrimination is associated with a decline in episodic memory and worse performance in several cognitive domains.  I am not sure whether someone has pointedly studied the phenomena for the various oppressed castes in India, but I think one can safely assume that the social hurdles faced by the marginalized communities do affect how they perform in competitive examinations – a fact that the Supreme Court recognized but most people in our country fail to acknowledge.

So, the next time you lead a protest against reservations – online or offline, try and walk in the shoes of someone who has not had the generational privilege you have had and then see if you still feel the same way. Maybe, just maybe, your energies would be better spent eradicating caste than opposing reservations.

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Links for reference articles:


TheWire Article about Supreme Court's idea of Reservations: https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-bench-reservation



Some speculative reading: 




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