Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India

Caste Heads of India

Caste Heads of India – Horniman Museum, London

India’s waves of conquest and settlement left thousands of tribes intermingled, and with a prevailing ideology of patronage and spoils — tribal and caste ties determined social roles, down to the details of what kinds of jobs people could have. British conquest began the process of liberalization, and after independence, the new Indian governments made efforts to reduce the hold of caste discrimination.

The Indian caste system is vastly more complex than most outsiders realize, and efforts to catalog and define what caste is often fail. There are at least 3,000 recognized castes, and the recognition of caste as a factor in employment probably dates back thousands of years in the form of reservation of high positions for Brahmins. Reservation of voting strength and employment in the Affirmative Action sense of bringing up those discriminated against began in the early 1900s. The “Communal Award,” a system of representation apportioned by ethnicity and religion. was introduced by the British administration in 1933. Voting and representation was separated for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and the “untouchable” Dalit caste. This guaranteed some voice in the government to previously powerless classes. After Independence, this system continued after the Poona Pact between supporters of reservation and Gandhi, who had fasted to protest against the British practice of separate voting and representation for Dalits.

The Indian Constitution of 1949 recognized Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) as needing assistance to make up for historic discrimination. Reservation schemes have since carved out minimum proportions of each of these for new government jobs, university admissions, and other purposes. The total percent of the population eligible for special consideration is around 50%.

Reservation percentages vary greatly by state, and actual discrimination faced by some castes varies as well — a caste can be seen as untouchable in one area, while accepted in another. And in recent decades, many members of the “backward” classes and oppressed castes have migrated to urban centers and jobs unrelated to their historic categories. You would expect that as India grows more cosmopolitan and historic prejudices have begun to fade, at least in professional and urban settings, that the reservation system would gradually dissolve also. But like affirmative action in the US, it remains a contentious issue, with tribal pride and prejudices continuing to create contention over these set-asides.

The Economist just ran a news story about some of the turmoil created, “Backward ho! – Higher castes demanding lower status make a mockery of positive discrimination”:

A city under siege can resist many things, but not thirst. On February 22nd both the national government and that of Haryana, a state that rings Delhi, the Indian capital, on three sides, crumpled after rioters sabotaged a canal that supplies nearly half the water to the sprawling metropolis. Some 28 people died as police backed by soldiers struggled to control arsonists and looters, as well as more peaceable protesters, who blocked roads and railways into Delhi. But with taps running dry it was easier to capitulate to the rioters’ main demand, which is to allow the Jats, a caste-like community that is powerful in Haryana, to gain “reservations”—that is, a share of state favours formally reserved for the supposedly poor and downtrodden.

It is not the first time that a relatively privileged group among India’s 3,000-odd castes has resorted to threats and blackmail to win inclusion in an official category known as “other backward classes”, or OBCs. Such protests have become alarmingly frequent. Last August in Gujarat a protest by the Patidars, a caste which, like the Jats, is traditionally composed of yeomen farmers but has increasingly joined the urban middle class, brought a crowd of perhaps 500,000 people on to the streets of Ahmedabad, the state’s main city. Ensuing riots left a dozen people dead. In late January the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh set railway carriages ablaze. The Gujjars of Rajasthan are another ethnic group, many of whose members, no longer wholly rural, are prospering. Accounting for 6-7% of the state’s people, they staged protests in 2008, 2010 and again last May.

These people are demanding to be “downgraded” to the category of OBC (Other Backward Classes) to gain from the reservation schemes already in place:

In 1990 the federal government set national criteria for defining OBCs, fixing their quota at 27% and capping the overall reservations for all three groups at 50%. Further tinkering has created an increasingly elaborate structure of reservations. Some states certify hundreds of caste groupings as OBCs, while others have pushed their quota closer to 70%. Government commissions that vet applications for OBC status have grown increasingly imaginative, uncovering such subcategories as “backward-forward” castes, parts of a caste group that have fallen behind the rising status of other parts, or the so-called “creamy layer”, ie, members of an OBC who are denied benefit because their family income is above a defined maximum (about $10,000).

As in all such schemes, what started as a temporary boost to make up for past wrongs has become a political football. By treating people as members of a class rather than as individuals, these schemes actually increase social tensions and racial animosity:

…the preamble to India’s constitution included a call for fraternity along with justice, liberty and equality. Its framers envisioned reservations primarily as a weapon to target social exclusion, and saw it as a temporary measure. Their long-term goal was to do away with the iniquity of caste barriers altogether. Instead, by appealing to one category or another for votes, India’s politicians have perpetuated and entrenched a system that fragments the country into jealous islands of class privilege.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

If you have a good story or anecdote from your organization, please email it to I can use a few good tales (anonymized, of course) to illustrate the problems.

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