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Ashutosh Sheshabalaya On Indian Issues
Caste Surprises From India
by Ashutosh Sheshabalaya

Response to March 2005 article in The Financial Times, London.
Sir, Buried halfway within Quentin Peel's analysis about India being "held back by a raj of regulators", FT, March 17), is an observation about the country's "well intentioned quota system". This, he states, reserves "almost 50 percent of administrative jobs for the lower castes - untouchables, tribals" and others.

For Europeans and Americans, nurtured from their earliest school years to compulsively associate "India" with a pernicious and pervasive "caste system", this little item of information ought to have been the article's headline, all the more since the Indian quota system is the world's oldest and most ambitious affirmative action program, ever.

Meritocracies have never been built on gaping political inequities; there are enough examples of this right across the world. In spite of its faults, India's reservation system is hardly a downright failure, as obvious to anyone aware of the composition of the Indian federal and State legislatures, or its powerful civil service.

Already, India's lower castes are making their presence felt across growing swathes of business too. Indeed, the philosophy of the quota system may be the only way to continue making sure that the "growing prosperity at the top trickles down to the poorest". Rather than being the greatest challenge for India, as Mr. Peel concludes, this may in fact be the world's only way to break down the Berlin Wall between inequity and poverty on the one hand, and wealth and opportunity on the other.

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