First, let me say this much: I wish we lived in a world where there was no need for reservations. This wish informs the way I react to them. But of course, I know we don't live in such a world, nor do I think we will get to such a world any time soon. (I honestly wish, too, that I am wrong there). Therefore, all things considered, I think reservations are the best answer -- or the least bad answer -- to a thorny problem.
What is that problem? Put simply and baldly: A lot of people still face subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, solely because of their station in life.
Second, let's quickly deal with the arguments against reservations.
Third, in essence the point of reservations is this: give more people greater access to opportunity than they have had.
Think cricket. We celebrate the exploits of the Dhonis and Sehwags, young men from small-town India. Even ten years ago, their rise may not have been possible -- cricket was the preserve of the city-bred elite, Bombay being the dominant team. My theory is that this is why we have never been a true world power in the game. The spread of excellence in the game to our smaller towns and villages, the fact that players from such places are coming good, is the sign, I believe, that we can become dominant in cricket. Because many more people than ever before have access to the game, and we are able to tap into a huge pool of talent that we overlooked before. What a great thing that is. (And I wish it would happen with every other sport).
What's significant here is the point about access.
Think domestic airlines. Whether we had IA or later Jet and Sahara (and the now-dead Modiluft, East-West, Damania etc), airline travel in this country remained the preserve of the wealthy till recently. Fares remained high. It took the coming of an Air Deccan (and now its successors into the sky) to drives fares down. In some cases, they are now at least comparable with train fares. Why did this happen? Because Air Deccan thought of something nobody had seriously contemplated before: if the not-so-wealthy have access to air travel, if we get rid of the mindset that flying is for the wealthy, the potential for profits is huge (because the potential market is huge). So how do we do that? Answer: find ways to offer lower fares.
Again, what's significant is the point about access.
To me, this is the point of, the way to consider, reservations: to increase access. To break down mindsets. To tap into a huge pool of talent we might otherwise overlook.
Sure, reservations are not voluntary. Sure, they upset a lot of people. But they have the potential to transform this country in the same way the cricket team and air travel have been transformed.
It's worth not heat, but thought.
This is a follow up to some of what's being discussed at my post here.