Remodeling the Caste System-Economic Reservation

We may try to brush this subject under the carpet, but it has been popping out every now and again. There is overwhelming evidence that backward castes are economically worse off too.  However, it is also clear that the reservation quota system is now defunct due to the mobility of social classes. A poor person of upper caste is much worse off than a poor person of a lower caste, and this is making ‘forward’ communities question the reservation system. It is a perfectly reasonable criticism, even though their methods to convey this criticism are usually questionable.

Most debates on this issue end with some ‘insightful person’ suggesting that the system must be redesigned taking poverty, and not caste, into account. Logically speaking, in a capitalist society, there is no better and more convenient way of measuring unfairness of the system than money. The bottleneck of this seemingly ideal solution is the implementation of it. Who is going to find out income of each and every family? How to rate them on a national level taking into account the regional disparities. In short, creation of such a database ,  in a country as big as India suffers from complexity issues. Even a census is done only once in 10 years because of logistical issues and the costs involved, and even then they survey only samples and extrapolate for the general population.

One way to get around all these nitty-gritties is to classify people based on their current occupation. An idea eerily similar to the caste system. With one major difference. It is a flexible and dynamic caste system. This helps us get around two major challenges in creating a reservation system based on economic backwardness:

  1. It helps judge the standard of living of a person without having to look through their books, and avoids cheating by showing less income. If someone is still found cheating (a fact much easier to detect), the sanctions could be prohibitive. No reservation for the persons involved for next 10 years.
  2. It also helps in masking the regional disparities that may exist in the incomes. It assumes an engineer in Bangalore enjoys the same standard of living as another in Patna. While this may not strictly be the case, it is a good proxy for measuring the actual standard of living.

Now assuming that one classifies people based on their jobs, how does one go about actually allocating the quotas? First step would be to quantify the incomes of the families. This could be done through a professional survey conducted every ‘x’ years (x<10). Once the incomes are quantified, one can introduce a quota coefficient to be added to the scores of candidates while making decisions. This quota coefficient would directly depend on the income of the candidate, possibly in a linear way. Clearly, beyond a certain level of income, quota is not necessary and the coefficient could be designed to take this into account. This ensures that the competitiveness of the system is maintained, in the sense that everyone still competes in the same pool, but with handicaps proportional to the economic backwardness.

Preempting some of the arguments that might come up:

  • This system is politically unimplementable. Its political hara-kiri.

Given the recent Jat, Patel riots, it is clear that it is the poor who are ones protesting, because they are the ones being marginalised the most. Such a scheme would receive support from all poor, irrespective of their caste.

  • It is too complicated to implement and explain to masses. Reduces transparency.

If we can implement and explain the intricacies of progressive taxes, we can surely manage this. Socialist countries like France have a much more elaborate social benefits system based on family incomes. We dont need to go in such details for judging the reservation coefficient, so we can manage to do it for entire country.

Added benefits of such a system would be the flexibility it affords in the implementation. The weight of the reservation could be regulated for different jobs. Government can, for example impose a smaller coefficient for  private-public partnerships proportional to the capital invested by the government for the partnership. These are secondary benefits though, and could come as later additions.

I urge you to contribute to the discussion with your proposals and criticisms on Idea Bhandaar . If you agree with the arguments put forth, spread the message. Its time to remodel the caste system to reflect the current realities and not what our ancestors were doing. That is the only way we will manage to get the caste system out of our society without collateral damage.