Naveen Gurappu, 25, an electrical engineer and doctoral student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, is an embodiment of India’s 34-year-old system of reservation for the most disadvantaged groups.
“I would never have come so far if it had not been for the scheduled caste quota and my dad,” IndiaSpend.org quoted Gurappu, a native of Hyderabad, son of a bank clerk who himself got his job through reservation as saying in a recent report.
“My dad enrolled me in St Martin’s High School in Hyderabad, a good school, because he wanted me to study well,” said Gurappu, from a scheduled caste called the Malas.
“SBI (State Bank of India) pitched in with a yearly fellowship of Rs 500 for stationary, etc. We could not afford extra tuition or the internet at home, even though I badly needed help. Dad paid for my college, coaching and books, he treated me to my first movie—I was in class 11", he added.
According the study of 53,374 scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribe (ST), other backward classes (OBC) and general students by researchers from the US’ Carnegie Mellon University, published in the American Economic Review, as many as 26% male and 35% female students from India’s most disadvantaged castes and tribes in 245 engineering colleges would not be there without reservation.
Affirmative action spurred students from disadvantaged castes–who still lagged upper castes–to perform better in college than in school, said the Carnegie Mellon study which compared the first-year college scores of 42,914 students with their high-school scores, the study says.
Disadvantaged-caste students were more likely to choose competitive majors, such as electronics, communication and computer science, than other students.
Reservation is an equaliser, but it does not get enough SC/ST/OBC students into higher education.
“Even with the attendance gains from affirmative action, the most disadvantaged castes still attend in smaller proportions than their population shares,” Dennis Epple, co-author of the American Economic Review study and Thomas Lord University Professor of Economics at the Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, told IndiaSpend.
“Our work also indicates why affirmative action policies generate debate,” said Epple. “We find that improved educational outcomes for disadvantaged students come at a cost to those who do not receive affirmative action.”
India introduced 15% and 7.5% reservations for SC and ST candidates respectively in government-aided educational institutions in 1982. Some states tweaked those percentages to factor in local demographics, which the Constitution allows. So in Tamil Nadu, 18% of higher-education is reserved for SCs, 1% for STs. In some central universities in the tribal-dominated northeast, 60% of seats are reserved for ST students.