Caste or Income based Reservation- Which is Better?

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Caste or Income based Reservation- Which is Better?

Caste based reservation has been questioned in India since its inception. The idea that people of a minority community deserve benefits has not gone down well with many of the majority. But the biggest question is whether caste based reservation is fair, given that the creamy layer gets most of the benefits? Many propose that income based reservation will solve India’s problems and turn the demographic disaster into a demographic dividend. Reservation is a critical issue for Indian youth. Let us examine both caste and income based reservation to see which is the more deserving one of the two.

Case for Income Based Reservation

1. Reservation should be for the poor: To provide equal opportunity as far as equity is concerned, reservation policy should be associated with economic status and rich/poor classification. This will prevent the privileged classes in minority communities from unduly benefiting from caste based reservation, whether it is in government jobs or medical admissions.

2. Income based reservation will help urban-rural population: India still lives in her villages and instead of caste based reservation, income based reservation will be more beneficial because people from rural areas and low income groups will benefit. Even the urban poor need assistance and special affirmative action programs will be able to ensure their continued upliftment

3. People from high income groups would stop getting undue benefits – Those below the poverty line and low income groups are the ones that need help. Income based reservation will see to it that people from high income groups are barred from advantages given that they have already received the benefits of economic upliftment

4. This will stop the rush to get OBC/SC/ST status: Many castes are making attempts to be classified as backward to avail the benefits. Consider the Patels or Patidars of Gujarat who are an economically and politically dominant community. Given that the Patels have worldwide presence as entrepreneurs and NRIs, it seems ironical that they are demanding caste based reservation for their community.

5. Existing reservation policy has failed: Caste based reservation has failed to assimilate SC and ST within the mainstream.

6. People from majority communities are facing unemployment too- Lack of jobs despite a model of development that promises unparalleled growth is a reality in India, regardless of which political party is at the helm. Over the past few decades, India’s young working population has risen while the number of jobs have fallen. Caste based reservation in favour of the creamy layer has proved to be discriminatory for those belonging to the general category. General category students are being denied jobs and admissions because of the caste based reservation system.

7. Educated youth will get better benefits: The poor, educated youth will benefit from income based reservation and get a chance to access a brighter future.

8. Caste based reservation was only a temporary provision to start with: Reservation policy was initiated as a temporary provision for only 10 years in the Indian constitution in 1950s and it was never meant to be a permanent feature of national policies. Vote bank politics sustained the system rather than genuine consideration for the poor and oppressed in society. The caste based reservation system has failed to include the people at the lower end of mainstream society and economy.

9. Non poor seen as beneficiaries of reservation will promote caste divide: Agitations such as the Patidar stir are just symptoms; eventually the malady will spread to promote divisions in society based on caste and even contribute to caste conflicts.

10. Caste based reservation has not prevented ill treatment of Dalit and lower castes: Discrimination is still rampant against members of SC and ST community especially in rural areas. Reservation in the name of caste has done nothing to prevent this.

11. Deprived deserve a reprieve – Income based reservation will ensure that the creamy layer does not make off with a majority of the benefits while those from poorer sections yet belonging to minority communities are left on the sidelines.

Case for Caste Based Reservation

1. Reservation based on caste attempts to root out longstanding social inequality: Economically weaker sections of society are also those belonging to the minority community. Reservation will help students from backward castes to access better opportunities, something that they have been denied for years now.

2. Reservation system opens doors of opportunities: Caste based reservation is a positive step forward to remove social and economic disparities in society

3. Affluence should not become a criteria for reservation: This will only serve to prevent those from socially excluded classes from accessing government jobs and education caused by caste system’s discriminatory dynamics for a long time now.

4. Caste based reservation is the best cure for the bigoted caste system: Reservation on the basis of caste will be beneficial to undo the social dynamics of a bigoted caste system. Including or excluding castes for reservation based on income level will only lead to the reversion of the dominant upper caste and create imbalances in society

5. Affirmative action programs are meant to address social inequity: Even in the US, affirmative action programmes and Equal Opportunity policies are not done away with for the richer class because doing so will end the representation of race and people for whom the affirmative action programme is intended. Candidates from minority communities are currently underrepresented in education and government jobs. Preventing caste based reservation from continuing will only come in the way of legitimate affirmative action.

6. Reservation provides social inclusion if it caste based: Caste based reservation aims to enable education and employment representation for social groups that have even been excluded from the same for many years.

7. Attitude change will only come about if there is caste based reservation: Caste based reservation will serve to empower Dalits, SC, ST and OBCs and ensure that the majority stop holding discriminatory attitudes towards them.

8. Very poor may not be educated enough for jobs: Another moot point is that people from extremely deprived and marginalised sections of society may not have the education to survive in a government job. Reserving jobs only for them will not solve the problem. Unless education reaches poorer sections of society, income based reservation will remain an incomplete solution for society’s ailments

9. Economic upliftment is only possible through financial aid: Just as caste based reservation is meant to address social inequity, subsidies are meant to help those from economically weaker sections of society. Income based reservation will not solve the problem of poverty. In fact, it may exacerbate it.

10. Reservation on basis of income cannot solve the problem of poverty: Only a welfare state and pro poor policies will be able to remove the curse of poverty and free India from its vicious cycle.


Caste or income based reservation?….the issue is a thorny one. There are complexities associated with each form of reservation. In the ultimate analysis, caste based reservation can only succeed in uplifting members of the minority community if there is an income component to it as well. Excluding the creamy layer from benefits would be a positive step to help those who are really marginalised and poor and from SC/ST/OBC background. Income can be a criteria for reservation alongside caste and those facing social as well as economic inequity can then get the upliftment they so urgently require. Till then, people will continue to have reservations about quota system, whether it is income or caste based.

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