Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Life

No reservations?

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 01 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:0709305
  1. Rob Hallifax, final year graduate entry medical student1
  1. 1University of Oxford

Some medical students in India are angry because the government wants to raise quotas for students from lower castes. Rob Hallifax reports

“Quotas: this cure is worse than the disease,” stated the poster on the wall of the medical students' hostel. Little did I realise on arriving for my obstetrics and gynaecology attachment in January that the hospital and medical school in Delhi would be at the centre of a big political dispute. The campaigning group Youth for Equality had put up similar posters around the All India Institute of Medical Sciences campus, declaring their opposition to the “increase in reservation quotas.”


Most students and junior doctors had been active in recent strikes at the hospital. The reason was the Indian government's decision to raise the number of places at medical schools that are reserved for students from lower castes, reducing the general allocation of places that is based solely on performance in exams (box).

Although this concept already exists, increasing reserved places to include people from “other backwards castes”–further lower caste groups–has been the main point of controversy. Advocates applaud the move to redress the under-representation of and previous discrimination against these castes. Critics argue that many of these people are richer than people who are considered upper caste and so well enough equipped to compete in the general allocation.

Caste and destiny

The Indian caste system is an ancient and traditional hierarchical system of social division, originally based on Hindu scripture. This system pervades all of Indian society, affecting entry into education from primary school upwards and the perception of social standing. People are categorised by the caste of their parents and are expected to marry within their own caste. India is a political democracy, and the caste system is gradually declining, especially in urban areas. But in daily …

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