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Quota provides backward classes opportunity which evades them due to structural barriers: SC | Kalvimalar - News

Quota provides backward classes opportunity which evades them due to structural barriers: SC- 21-Jan-2022

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said if open examinations present equality of opportunity to candidates to compete, reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that backward classes are equally able to benefit from such opportunities which typically evade them because of structural barriers.

It said that the high scores in an examination are not a proxy for merit, which should be contextualised and re-conceptualized as an instrument that advances social goods like equality. 

“This is the only manner in which merit can be a democratizing force that equalises inherited disadvantages and privileges. 

Otherwise, claims of individual merit are nothing but tools of obscuring inheritances that underlie achievements”, the top court said. 

The court, which upheld 27 per cent Other Backward Classes reservation in All India Quota seats in the NEET for UG and PG medical courses, said that the binary of merit and reservation has now become superfluous once this Court has recognized the principle of substantive equality as the mandate of Article 14 and as a facet of Articles 15 (1) and 16(1) of the Constitution. 

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said, "if open examinations present equality of opportunity to candidates to compete, reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that backward classes are equally able to benefit from such opportunities which typically evade them because of structural barriers".

It said, "High scores in an examination are not a proxy for merit. Merit should be socially contextualized and re-conceptualized as an instrument that advances social goods like equality that we as a society value. In such a context, reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers its distributive consequences".  

The bench added that an open competitive exam may ensure formal equality where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. 

"However, widespread inequalities in the availability of and access to educational facilities will result in the deprivation of certain classes of people who would be unable to effectively compete in such a system. Special provisions (like reservation) enable such disadvantaged classes to overcome the barriers they face in effectively competing with forward classes and thus ensuring substantive equality”, it said.

The bench said that the privileges that accrue to forward classes are not limited to having access to quality schooling and access to tutorials and coaching centres to prepare for a competitive examination but also includes their social networks and cultural capital (communication skills, accent, books, or academic accomplishments) that they inherit from their family.

“The cultural capital ensures that a child is trained unconsciously by the familial environment to take up higher education or a high post commensurate with their family's standing. This works to the disadvantage of individuals who are first-generation learners and come from communities whose traditional occupations do not result in the transmission of necessary skills required to perform well in the open examination. They have to put in the surplus effort to compete with their peers from the forward communities”, the top court added.

It said that a combination of family habitus, community linkages, and inherited skills work to the advantage of individuals belonging to certain classes, which is then classified as ? merit reproducing and reaffirming social hierarchies.

“This is not to say that performance in competitive examinations or admission in higher educational institutions does not require a great degree of hard work and dedication but it is necessary to understand that ?merit is not solely of one's own making. The rhetoric surrounding merit obscures the way in which family, schooling, fortune, and a gift of talents that the society currently values aids in one's advancement”, it said. 

The top court added that while examinations are a necessary and convenient method of distributing educational opportunities, marks may not always be the best gauge of individual merit. 

It said that at the best, an examination can only reflect the current competence of an individual but not the gamut of their potential, capabilities, or excellence, which are also shaped by lived experiences, subsequent training, and individual character.

It added that an opposite paradigm of merit and reservation serves to entrench inequalities by relegating reserved candidates to the sphere of incompetence and diminishing their capabilities. 


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