The Supreme Court said on Jan. 20 that if open exams provide equal opportunity for candidates to participate, reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that underprivileged classes can benefit equally from such opportunities that they typically avoid because of structural barriers.
It said the high scores on an exam are not an indication of merit, which must be contextualized and re-conceptualized as a tool that promotes social goods such as equality.
“This is the only way merit can be a democratizing force that equalizes inherited disadvantages and privileges. Otherwise, claims of individual merit are nothing but tools to obscure legacies underlying achievements,” the Supreme Court said.
The court, which upheld 27 percent of the reservations for other backwards classes in the NEET medical school seats at UG and PG in the All India Quota, said that the combination of merit and reservation has now become redundant once this court rules on the principle of material equality as the mandate of Article 14 and as a facet of Articles 15 (1) and 16 (1) of the Constitution.
A bench of judges DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said: “If open exams provide equal opportunities for candidates to compete, reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that underprivileged classes can benefit equally from such opportunities that they normally would. avoidance due to structural impediments”.
It said: “High scores in an exam are not an indication of merit. Merit needs to be socially contextualized and re-conceptualized as a tool that promotes social goods, such as equality that we value as a society. In such a context, caveat is not at odds with merit, but furthers its distributive effects”.
The bank added that an open competitive exam can ensure formal equality where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
“However, the widespread inequalities in the availability and access to educational facilities will lead to the deprivation of certain classes of people who would not be able to compete effectively in such a system. Special provisions (such as reservation) enable these disadvantaged classes to overcome the barriers they face to compete effectively with progressive classes and thus ensure substantial equality,” it said.
The bank said that the privileges accruing to prior education are not limited to access to quality education and access to tutorials and coaching centers to prepare for a competitive exam, but also their social networks and cultural capital (communication skills, accent, books, or academic achievements) they inherit from their families.
“The cultural capital ensures that a child is unconsciously trained by the family environment for higher education or a high position that is appropriate to the status of the family. This works to the detriment of first-generation learning individuals who come from communities whose traditional occupations do not result in the transfer of the necessary skills needed to perform well in the open examination. They need to make extra efforts to compete with their peers from the progressive communities,” the highest court added.
It said that a combination of family habit, community ties and inherited skills works to the advantage of individuals belonging to certain classes, who are then classified as ? deserve the reproduction and affirmation of social hierarchies.
“This is not to say that performance in competitive examinations or admission to higher education institutions does not require a great deal of hard work and dedication, but it is necessary to understand that? merit is not only of one’s own making. The rhetoric around merit obscures the way family, education, fortune and a gift of talents that society currently values aids in one’s progress,” it said.
The Supreme Court added that while exams are a necessary and convenient method of allocating educational opportunities, grades are not always the best measure of individual merit.
It said that at best an exam can only reflect a person’s current competence, but not the range of their potential, abilities or excellence, which are also shaped by experiences, subsequent training and individual character.
It added that an oppositional paradigm of merit and reserve serves to entrench inequalities by relegating reserved candidates to the sphere of incompetence and diminishing their capabilities.