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NEET UG results have a loud and clear message: Dominant castes can’t continue old tactics

NEET UG results have bust the caste-merit myth. But dominant castes still have an 'anxiety' about unreserved seats.

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The results of this year’s National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Undergraduate, or NEET UG, for India’s medical aspirants have sent a very loud and clear message. Students from the Other Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are coming in massive numbers to occupy educational institutions in India and the status quoists will have to find some or other tactics and strategies to stop this floodgate. Not just NEET, they are staking claim on government jobs as well.

Let’s begin by checking the results. The Telegraph analysed the results released by the National Testing Agency and found that over 83 per cent of the OBC candidates, more than 80 per cent of the SC candidates and 77 per cent of the ST candidates have scored more than the 50th percentile cut-off meant for the ‘General’ category.

Check this data numerically to understand the “problem.”

This year, a total of 15.44 lakh candidates appeared for the NEET-UG, of which 8.7 lakh passed the exam. Out of these, almost 1 lakh candidates will get admissions in various MBBS and BDS courses across India.

In this exam, 7.71 lakh candidates cleared the cut-off set for the unreserved (UR) and Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category, that is 50 percentile marks. Now, the surprising part is that out of these “meritorious” candidates, 4.52 lakh or 59 per cent are those from OBC, SC or ST groups. Only 3.18 lakh General category and EWS candidates were able to pass this threshold. Actually, more OBCs (3.29 lakh) cleared the general cut-off mark than the General and EWS category students combined. This busts the widely propagated idea of there being a correlation between caste and merit.

Also Read: Reactions to OBC medical quota are exposing Indians’ flawed merit argument all over again

Other examples of OBC merit

Take another data set. In the Civil Services Exam 2020 results, as many as 75 candidates from the OBC, EWS, SC, and ST categories performed better to make their way in the unreserved merit list. This is almost 10 per cent of the total selected candidates. Out of these 75 candidates, 55 were OBCs.

Reserve category (especially SC, ST and OBCs) students breaching in the unreserved category is becoming a big “problem” and cause of “anxiety” for the dominant castes, not only with regards to central government jobs and admissions but also at the state level.

As in the case of recruitment of basic teachers in Uttar Pradesh, the National Commission of Backward Classes has, in its interim report, said that more than 5,000 OBC candidates cleared the exam in the unreserved category, but their names are appearing in the OBC list, thus denying 5,844 seats to the OBCs. If the correct procedure is followed, then they will cut into the unreserved seats.

Breaching or encroachment in the unreserved category happens mainly through three routes. One, where some of the SC, ST and OBC candidates perform well and find a place on the unreserved merit list (as cited in the three cases). Their numbers are substantial in many of the recruitments and admissions. Two, where the OBC creamy layer candidates are considered unreserved candidates and also make their way into the General category (many see this as Savarna category.) For example, Lipi Singh, daughter of Union steel minister R.C.P. Singh, became an IAS officer after passing the Civil Service exam as an unreserved candidate. She is born in a Kurmi family, but since she is in the creamy layer, she is considered as an unreserved candidate, and rightly so. And three, when a reserved category candidate applies for a job in some other (non-native or non-domicile) state, they need to apply as an unreserved candidate, enlarging the pool of unreserved aspirants. For example, in Delhi, there is no ST list, so if an ST from any other state applies for a job in Delhi, they have to do so as an unreserved candidate.

One may argue that since SCs and STs constitute around 25 per cent and OBCs constitute no less than 52 per cent of India’s population, it should not be a matter of any concern if they get some seats in the unreserved category. After all, unreserved seats are by definition, and also by the judgments of the Supreme Court, for everyone. After promulgation of the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act, which gives 10 per cent reservation to non-SC/ST/OBC poor candidates in government jobs and education, all social groups in India are within the ambit of reservation policy. After the amendment, 40.5 per cent of the seats are open and everyone is legally and theoretically entitled to get those seats.

But this is easier said than implemented.

Also Read: NEET isn’t about merit at all. It’s about elimination of students

The ‘common sense’ of the ‘dominant caste’

General, open or unreserved seats are, as common sense dictates, considered seats for non-SC/ST/OBC candidates. This “common sense” has a historical background. In the British era, government jobs were mainly taken by the ‘upper caste’ Hindus and Muslims. After Independence, SCs and STs were given a 20 per cent reservation. At that time, SC and ST reservation was carved out without much resistance only because this idea came from a historical arrangement called the Poona Pact and also because these social groups were considered too meek to challenge the hegemony of the oppressor caste groups. The rest of the 80 per cent became “General” seats and, as data proves, most of them were grabbed by the dominant caste candidates.

The 2nd Backward Class Commission, popularly known as the Mandal Commission, collected data from all central government ministries and departments and found that the number of OBCs in first-class jobs was only 4.69 per cent. [The Mandal Commission Report, 1980, Chapter 9, clause 48] This also underlines the domination of the ‘upper castes’ in central government jobs.

Implementation of the Mandal Commission report in the early 1990s unsettled the ongoing equilibrium and was grossly unjust. But it was the normative idea of that time. The Mandal Commission took away 27 per cent from the kitty that was considered the exclusive domain of the ‘upper castes’. In 2006, this provision was extended to central government educational institutions. These acts were challenged in the courts but failed to elicit the desired results. With some tweaking, like creamy layer and taking Institutions of National Importance out of the ambit of reservation etc, the OBC quota was by and large implemented.

If you look at it from the perspective of the dominant castes, 49.5 per cent of central government jobs and seats in the educational institutions became out of bounds for them. Thus, the challenge for the dominant caste power structure was, and is, to save 51.5 per cent of the cake.

These are some of the strategies being applied to achieve the goal of saving unreserved seats.

Also Read: Supreme Court just destroyed the ‘merit’ argument upper castes use to oppose reservations

Strategies of the dominant castes

The first tactic is to not fill the vacant positions. Let the status quo continue, which is in favour of the oppressor castes. According to the latest reports, around 9 lakh central government posts are vacant. If these are filled, at least half of the posts will go to SC/ST/OBCs.

The second is to fill the unreserved seats with mostly dominant caste candidates and if some candidate appears for the SC/ST/OBC seats, then find a way to declare them NFS (Not Found Suitable). After a few months or years, mark the seats as unreserved, as there was no one from SC/ST/OBC to fill those seats. Or make that position contractual, and make the provision for reservation ineffective.

Third, if a candidate applies as SC/ST/OBC, don’t change their category even if they qualify as an unreserved candidate. In many instances, this strategy has resulted in reserved category cut-off going higher than the unreserved category (recruitments in Rajasthan, Railways, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are some examples). This is happening despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that “every candidate belongs to the General category, irrespective of the fact whether s/he is an SC, ST or OBC.”

The fourth strategy is to ensure that the SC/ST/OBC candidates who got selected on open merit go back to their respective categories. NEET and JEE do this by offering better colleges, and UPSC and DoPT do this by offering better services. It is no surprise that JEE and NEET came into the picture only after the OBC reservation in higher education was implemented. The UPSC, on the other hand, maintains a consolidated Reserve List of candidates under Rule 16 (4) & (5) of the Civil Services Examination Rules 2020, which serves this purpose. This rule also came after the implementation of the OBC quota.

The fifth is to ensure that if SC/ST/OBC candidates take any relaxation in age or qualification at any stage, then it doesn’t matter if they secure the top rank in the final merit list, they will still be regarded as a candidate of the reserved category. This happened in the case of Tina Dabi, who secured top rank in the final merit list of the civil service exam, but was considered an SC candidate for clearing the prelims exam based on the reduced cut-off for SC candidates.

Sixth, the EWS quota is also an effort in the same direction as it ensures that at least part of the 51.5 per cent unreserved seats are kept safe for dominant caste groups.

The “anxiety” is that if SC/ST/OBCs grab seats in the unreserved category, what will the Savarna kids do? The second argument is that if SC/ST and OBCs are so meritorious that they are grabbing seats in the unreserved category, then why are they availing reservations in the first place?

In the coming days, we will see many more such strategies and conspiracies to protect the unreserved category for ‘General’ candidates.

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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