Sharma lecture on tertiary education disparities
In India there are also many disparities that were divided into seven pillars: (1) rural and urban; (2) inter-state; (3) inter-caste; (4) inter-religion; (5) male-female; (6) occupation group and (7) poor and non-poor. Dr Sharma said that in spite of sixty years of efforts, access of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (which could be compare to a certain extend to previously disadvantaged groups in South Africa) to higher education was low.
She looked at the caste system into which people are born and stated that caste factors were undoubtedly important but other factors such as occupation, gender, poverty and the disparity in the rural and urban areas of development were equally important. She said that the whole issue of quotas was intensely political and that the ethical foundation of extending reservation (affirmative action) for certain classes seemed ambiguous and was perceived to be largely politically motivated.
She stated that the case for affirmative action for disadvantaged groups could be made both on account of historical deprivation as well as for persistence of disparity and continuing discrimination. Dr Sharma is of the opinion that compensatory policies can be designed for these historical wrongs, but over time they become highly contentious and gradually may not even reach the targeted groups. In the end it seems to benefit only a few people from these groups.
There is also evidence to suggest that the current economic and social systems perpetuate patterns of group based disparities in all spheres of life, education, occupation or work, income or consumption, or health indicators. This is seen in the access to schooling that the underprivileged have and their poor rates of success.
She said that a diversity index generally becomes a set of secular indices to target the most needy and devise policies accordingly. She concluded that it could be more effective and more nuanced and also less contentious as it targets needy individuals rather than groups merely based on caste or religion.