Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Equality of Opportunity or Equality of Outcome?

Madhav in his response in The Hindu says -- "Most seriously, though, Surendranath’s analysis ignores the crucial constitutional principle at stake here: equality of opportunity. Reservations seek to remedy unequal starting positions, but once introduced in promotions they do the inverse: they treat equals unequally."

Part of my reply is aimed precisely at that claim. Madhav's premise is that equals are being treated unequally by providing reservations in promotion. Empirical evidence does not back Madhav's claim and his response to the empirical evidence is rather circular. He first argued that quotas in promotions were problematic because it would mean treating equals unequally and when faced with evidence that we are not talking of equals, Madhav's response is that reservations are not a legitimate tool to equalise opportunities beyond initial appointments. I don't think he can have it both ways. He must either argue that reservations is not a legitimate method to remedy lack of equality of opportunity or establish that reservations are not needed in this case because equality of opportunity already exists due to reservations in initial appointments. He does neither.

Madhav has certainly not claimed equivalence between SC/STs and OBCs. But the test he has suggested borrows heavily from the test used to determine the creamy layer within OBCs. He seems to believe that we can apply largely similar tests to both groups when determining members who should not receive the benefits of reservation. The consideration of recognition harms must be particularly intense for SC/STs and I believe that in terms of those harms, the problem of creamy layer within the SC/STs is more imagined than real. That is not to say that the demands for internal quotas within SCs in AP, Karnataka, Punjab etc are not valid. Even there, the basis of those demands is not that certain groups amongst the SCs are no longer backward but that the interests of the "more" backward amongst them needs special protection.

This has been fun and challenging but there is certainly a greater sense of freedom on the blog -- one can, in the very least, use first names!

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