"Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections. The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation."
- Article 46 in The Constitution Of India 1949, Central Government Act
The Prakash Jha 2011 film Aarakshan: India vs. India, tells the story of university professor and principal Dr. Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan), his family (Tanvi Azmi and Deepika Padukone) and his students and teachers (Saif Ali Khan and Prateik Babbar) as they deal with issues that arise as a result of implementing and responding to "aarakshan".
"Aarakshan" or "reservation" is a form of quota-based affirmative action. It is the process of setting aside a certain percentage of vacancies in educational institutes and government jobs for members of backward and under-represented communities based on caste, gender or religion. Economic status is not a test used for reservation.
Enrollment in educational institutions implement reservations based on a variety of criteria. The quota system sets aside a proportion of all possible positions for members of a specific group. Those not belonging to the designated communities can compete only for the remaining positions, while members of the designated communities can compete for all positions (reserved and open).
For decades, there was a 22.5% reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). In 2008, the Supreme Court of India upheld the 1980 Mandal Commission recommendation of creating an additional 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC). As a result 49.5% of the available seats in higher education are reserved. This policy has created some discomfort - especially in the middle and upper middle class who are concerned that those with talent and merit may not obtain seats.
In addition, because of reservation, there has been a commercialization of education. Those who have the money can get educational assistance through commercial and coaching institutes. Those who don't have money can't take advantage of these training opportunities.
According to a SiliconIndia.com interview, director Prakash Jha believes an inclusive society with equal economic affluence would be able to minimize or remove the need for reservations:
"It's difficult to eradicate it from our society - gender bias or caste are two paramount problems of our society and not easy to handle. What we can try to do is to make a more equitable society. To remove this bias, there has to be inclusive growth."
While the film doesn't clearly take sides for or against the reservation system, Aarakshan highlights some of the opportunities and challenges of implementing a quota system in higher education and is a film worth watching for both the story and the questions it raises.
The following video playlist includes a conversation about Aarakshan and the system of reservation with the director Prakash Jha and cast members Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, and Prateik Babbar (via IBN Live). This is followed by the trailer for the film.
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