Reservations impact study

Social justice through inclusion: the consequences of electoral quotas in India, Francesca R. Jensenius, Oxford University Press; Rs.408  Pages 228

Caste-based quotas, whether in education, jobs, or electoral positions, are routinely vilified for lowering the quality of the space they are applied to, because of the belief that those chosen through quotas are inherently inferior to those selected on open, or non-quota considerations. This widespread belief transcends the boundaries of academic arguments and popular perception.

The only way to assess the validity of the ‘lower-merit’ argument is to analyse it empirically, in a rigorous manner. Collect data on the outcomes of interest (e.g, productivity of enterprises in which part of the workforce is selected through quotas, or various educational indicators for colleges etc), and assess if quotas have resulted in lowering the average (or shifted the distribution) for the particular outcome being assessed.

This is easier said than done, even when there is inclination on the part of researchers. Most researchers (what to speak of journalists or lay persons) take the ‘lower-merit’ argument at its face value, and not worth researching. If something is as obvious as daylight, why spend time and effort investigating it? Thus, for instance, the spate of essays and commentaries produced by well-known academics in the aftermath of the MandaI Commission announcement in 1991 took this for granted, and deplored the quota mentality, viewing it through the prism of vote-bank politics, i.e, politics of appeasement, where quotas was one more instrumentality to secure more votes. 

Fortunately, that tide has started to turn during the past decade, certainly among academics. There is now a fair amount of empirically grounded, quantitative and methodologically rigorous research, a great deal of this from economists, but also from quantitatively-inclined political scientists and sociologists, which evaluates whether reservations, or affirmative action has made a measurable impact in India.

The challenges in this field of research are testing. For one, because of the pre-independence history of quotas, there is no clear-cut and unambiguous ‘before-and-after’ data, which would allow neat identification of the incremental effect of quotas, after accounting for other changes that would have occurred in the interim. 

The volume under review, based on the author’s Ph D dissertation, is a very welcome and important addition to this branch of enquiry. She uses publicly available data (combining detailed data from the 1971-2001 censuses of India, with reservation status), and a clever empirical strategy to produce a nuanced, in-depth and solid treatise on the effect of electoral quotas at the constituency level over three decades. What adds value to her work is the fact that she supplements her study with more than 100 in-depth interviews with Indian politicians, civil servants, activists and voters from four states (Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka) as part of her qualitative fieldwork to understand the mechanisms that produce the results that her data reveal.

As Francesca Jensenius shows, politicians in India spend most of their time in their constituencies, with a very small amount of their time taken up by attending legislative assembly sessions. If Scheduled Caste (SC) politicians are ‘weak’ or ‘inefficient’, we should expect to see less overall development in constituencies reserved for them. Also, if SC politicians systematically try to benefit the SC community within their constituencies, we should expect to see more redistribution to SCs in reserved constituencies than in comparable general (non-reserved) constituencies. 

Jensenius examines both — changes in the overall level of development, as well as the distribution of resources between SCs and others — in each constituency. Her data set includes estimates of development indicators of more than 3,100 state assembly constituencies from the 15 largest Indian states between 1971 and 2001, making it possible to examine development patterns in reserved and general constituencies over a 30-year period. She finds no negative developmental effects of electoral quotas, i.e, development indicators are no worse in reserved constituencies, compared to non-reserved constituencies. 

Additionally, there have been several positive outcomes as a result of quotas, going beyond standard development indicators. She finds that quotas have contributed to breaking social boundaries by bringing a marginalised and stigmatised community into positions of power — a cultural and social shift that needed to be realised. This has also contributed to reduction in caste-based discrimination in reserved constituencies.
These findings are very valuable and in line with other empirical literature that estimates the impact of quotas. The author concludes that apprehensions of increasing inefficiency are not backed by empirical data.

Ashwini Deshpande (The Book Review, March 2018)


Virtue of forgiveness

Radical Forgiveness, Antoniette Bosco, St. Paul’s, Mumbai; Rs.150, Pages 161

As we move through life, it is inevitable that we will suffer pain and hurt inflicted upon us by others. While we aren’t always in a position to control how people behave with us, we can determine our response to their hurtful behaviour. Most people choose to nurse old wounds, making them worse by refusing to forgive those responsible for them. We feel that forgiving them might be translated as condonation of their actions or projection of ourselves as weaklings. 

The only sensible way to deal with life’s many hurts, says Antoinette Bosco, a well-known 87-year-old American writer, is forgiveness. This book is based on her own experience of terrible trauma — the murder of her son John and daughter-in-law Nancy by an 18-year-old boy and the suicide of another son, Peter. Only by forgiving John and Nancy’s murderer, and Peter for his suicide was she able to heal.

In a poignant account of the two tragedies that scarred her life, Bosco writes that she realised she would have been totally lost had she remained in the darkness that traps the unforgiving. Acts of forgiveness, she recognised, were for her own good, a spiritual exercise which would begin the process of her own healing. 
However, it’s worthy of note that Bosco’s forgiveness was rooted in her religious faith. Exemplifying true Christian values which prompted her to respond this way, she was convinced that to earn God’s forgiveness for our failings, we need to forgive others. And, as she began the long and difficult journey of acceptance and pardon, she discovered the goodness that emerged from her pain. It prompted her to reach out to many people who, like her, had suffered torment and needed support.  

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to those without belief. But if one’s religious tradition stresses its importance, as does Bosco’s (Church of Rome) faith, it can provide the inspiration for doing what might seem impossible. Forgiving John and Nancy’s killer didn’t diminish her anger towards the deed; nor did it mean condoning the heinous act. But honouring Jesus’ teaching of loving one’s enemies overwhelmed her and led her to an act of faith. 

Forgiveness “has to be a continuous way of life,” rooted in the awareness that forgiving others is good for ourselves because it liberates us from the bitterness that would otherwise destroy our own lives. Rather than being a sign of weakness, it is evidence of a strong soul, she argues. “When I would turn on the television news and hear about killings and retaliations between different groups — Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia, Arabs and Jews in Israel — I would strongly feel that I was hearing the same message: that we hang on to our hate in order to feel powerful, that it is some kind of compensation for our lost power. It was all so obviously wrong, and so contradictory to the message of Christ,” she writes.

In a compelling message, Bosco says that in hating those whom we don’t want to forgive, we, ironically, become like them. This is true of individuals and entire nations as well. She cites George W. Russell who, in Evil and World Order (1976), writes: “By intensity of hatred, nations create in themselves the characteristics they imagine in their enemies.” 

Moreover, drawing lessons for world peace based on her own personal experience of compassion and forgiveness, Bosco writes: “If we are ever to have peace in this world, it must begin with the recognition that we need to change a long-established mindset that makes people of one country adversaries of another. We have to stop thinking of others as enemies and start seeing them as truly our kin. Only then, can we acknowledge that they are loved by God just as we are, and that we should all be cherishing one another.”

Books on forgiveness and similar virtues are plenty, but Radical Forgiveness is particularly introspective and inspiring, because it’s the outcome of an author who has practiced — and continuous to practice — what she preaches.

Roshan Shah