Reservations are, and have always been, a sensitive subject in India, ever since they were introduced in the Constituent Assembly. Keeping that in mind, this post is going to be relatively lengthy. I know I must tread lightly, since most of my friends who are middle-class (and incidentally, upper-caste) are anti-reservation. So this post must start with a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I do not belong to the Dalit or Adivasi communities. I come from a Hindu family, but am not Hindu myself. So I don’t really belong to a caste. I have never availed of any kind of reservation, nor have I ever lost an opportunity because of reservations. I am, in other words, pretty much a neutral observer in this matter.
In this post, I will try to go through most of the arguments against reservations and examine them, given the science, history and socio-economics of Indian society.
A section of Indians believe that there should be no reservations at all. Not even based on economic status. The argument is that if a person is talented, they should get the opportunity, regardless of whether they come from rich homes or poor homes.
Prima facie, this argument looks sound. If a poor kid is talented, he/she should get admission to an institute, and if a rich kid is talented, he/she should also get admission. This ensures that the top talent gets the best opportunities.
However, when we take into account the science, i.e. the physiology and psychology of poverty, this argument breaks down.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine two clone babies. Exactly the same in their genetics, and epigenetics. Now we make one of them grow up in a rich household, and the other one in a poor household. For the sake of this thought experiment, let’s eliminate all other variables. They study in the same school, have the same friends, etc.
Now, pause when they both reach a certain age. Let’s give them a test. Any test. What do you imagine their scores would be? Equal?
All the science that has been done on this question, indicates that it’s highly likely that the poor child will score less than the rich one. The effect of poverty on the human brain has been documented, and it tells us that if you are poor, your brain becomes literally less efficient than a rich person. Memory, both long-term and short-term, language skills, cognitive control; all of these are affected by your socioeconomic status.  
How, then, are the poor to compete in a meritocracy? Given what we know, a meritocracy would make the poor poorer, and the rich, richer.
The solution, as is mandated in the primary schools of Delhi , is to make kids compete in separate quotas according to their economic status.
Poverty, not Caste
Now, another section of Indians believe that reservations are necessary, but the judging criterion should be economic status, rather than caste. Proponents of this belief would have been encouraged by the previous section, where it would seem I am advocating for an income-based quota.
Again, prima facie, this argument looks cogent. And I would have supported an income-based quota, had it been any other country except India. Lets examine reservations in India, in context of its history and socioeconomics.
In the first section I argued that for a meritocracy to function, you need some reservation for the economically weaker section of society. But India is not a meritocracy. India, as enshrined in our constitution, is a democracy. And what is important in a meritocracy is very different from what is important in a democracy. While a meritocracy places importance on talent or merit, a democracy places importance on representation, i.e. the right of people to be represented in government, and in government-related institutions.
Let’s go over this more thoroughly, since this is an extremely common misconception among Indians. Most people I have talked to, believe that the intent of reservations was to ensure economic upliftment of Dalits and Adivasis. That is, to bring them at par with upper-castes in terms of education and wealth. Instead, the actual reason was to ensure representation of Dalits and Adivasis in governmental institutions. And the hope was that, in time, when the forward and backward castes worked with each other, side-by-side, casteism would eventually go away. In fact, the word Reservation is a misnomer. The appropriate word for it used in the Indian constitution is Representation. It is not given to anyone in his/her individual capacity. It is given to an individual as a representative of an underprivileged community.
This fact about the intent behind reservations is sufficient to debunk another common argument against reservations. Summarily, this argument says that if a Dalit or Adivasi family availed of reservations once, and rose to a better economic status, then their kids don’t need reservations. This argument would hold value had the focus of reservations been economic upliftment. But as we know now, the intent is representation. And even though a Dalit family may have achieved middle-class economic status, they remain a part of the Dalit community, and hence would able to represent that community in government.
When I talk about representation, some people say: if representation is what you want, why not have quotas for all sections of society. Why just Dalits and Adivasis? I, too, have a right to be represented in government. Don’t I?
Yes. Yes, you do. But your community is most likely already represented in government without need of reservation. Reservations are required for groups that will be unable to get representation without them, such as Dalits. To understand this better, let’s examine a section of society where there is no reservation: the private industry.
Let’s look at the top 1000 companies of India. What percentage of their board members are from SC/ST communities, given that SC/ST comprise approximately 28% of the Indian population ? We know that most companies strive to create a meritocracy in their ranks. And obviously, no sane person believes that Dalits have less talent, or less intelligence than people from forward castes. So we would expect their percentage among company board members to be near about their percentage in the population. But what does the actual data say? A study done in 2010 found that only 3.5% of board members were SC/ST, while close to 93% were forward castes.  
But why? If these companies are sworn to meritocracy, why this discrepancy? Because no meritocracy exists in a vacuum. Indian companies exist within the context of India’s social structure. Even though recruiters would swear that they don’t even look at an applicant’s caste, biases do come into play. For instance, a randomized control trial done in 2005-06 found that an application with a Dalit name had only a 67% chance of being called for the second round as compared to the application of an equally qualified higher caste Hindu . Also, recruiters will freely admit to you that they favor candidates who have a good family background. Now, imagine a Dalit candidate who is the first person to receive education in their family. This criterion will, obviously, put them at a disadvantage.
Now, I am not advocating for reservations in the private sector, but you see how social biases can affect the recruitment process to the detriment of marginalized groups.
They eat up all the good seats
Another argument against reservations is that candidates of the general category suffer because they get to compete for less seats than are actually there. This is fallacious, given the population share of reserved categories versus the general category.
Scheduled Castes constitute 19.5% of the population. Their mandated quota in government is 15%. Scheduled Tribes constitute 8.7%, with their quota being 7.5%. OBC constitute 41% of the population. Their quota is only 27%. All of the people in the general category, combined, make up only 30.8% of the Indian population. Yet, they can compete for 50.5% of governmental opportunities. 
And even though candidates from reserved categories can compete in the general category, the number of such candidates is small and not statistically significant. So no, you are not being ripped off by the reserved category candidates. Rest assured that you are being represented by a fair number of general category people in governmental agencies.
There is no Caste
There is also, in a section of Indian society, a certain blindness towards caste-discrimination. There are people who actually believe that caste is no longer a factor in the lives of Indians. That we have truly achieved, what Dr. Ambedkar called, “the annihilation of caste”. Of-course, this is far from the truth.
In 2014, the India Human Development Survey and the India Exclusion Report documented that caste discrimination is very far from being history. According to a survey, 27% of households self-reported engaging in untouchability practices. Among Brahmins, 52% self-reported to not allow a Dalit to use their kitchen utensils, a common practice of untouchability. The findings on untouchability were particularly stark in some states where as high as 50% people across castes self-reported practicing untouchability. 
Two other key reports “Justice under Trial” and “Claiming Justice”, from 2014, also find serious obstacles to Dalits obtaining justice in crimes against them. In cases of rape, the conviction rate was found to be only 2% in cases where rape victims are Dalits, in comparison to a national conviction rate of 25%. Think about it. That means that when a Dalit woman is raped, she has a statistically insignificant chance of ever getting justice. In other words, she has nowhere to go.
In our daily lives, a cursory glance at the matrimonial section of the newspaper is enough to prove that caste is far from being a non-factor in the lives of Indians. Inter-caste marriages are still rare. In a survey conducted in 2014, merely 5% of Indians said they had married a person from a different caste. 
And of-course, there are tens of thousands of caste-related atrocities across India, every year. 
Just because we don’t encounter casteism in our city-dwelling, upper-middle-class bubble, does not mean that caste-discrimination has disappeared.
Reservations breed Caste
There is another peculiar argument I have heard. This one is from people who do acknowledge that caste-discrimination exists. It goes thus: these reservations are the reason that the caste system is still in place. It is the reason caste-based atrocities are committed. It is the reason political parties have caste-based vote banks that they exploit. If there were no caste-based reservations, casteism would have long been eradicated from the country.
Interesting. You do realize that even though there are no religion-based reservations in India, religious strife still exists. Riots still happen in the name of religion. Political parties still have religion-based vote banks.
Reservations exist because caste exists. Not the other way round.
The Annihilation of Caste
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India, had but one dream. It was, what he called, “the Annihilation of Caste” . He believed that there will come a day when every citizen of India, regardless of their family history will be able to live a life of dignity without fear of discrimination. He never lived to see that day.
But maybe we will. Because of reservations, and other affirmative action, Dalits and Adivasis have taken huge strides in social standing and economic status since the 1950s. Education has increased. Workforce participation has increased. Entrepreneurship has increased. Plenty of Dalits and Adivasis have lifted themselves out of poverty. Because of these policies. I know, they are still under-represented, but the differences have decreased.
But there is only so much that governmental policies can do. To truly annihilate caste, society itself has to change. We must get out of our bubbles, and see that there are other people worth meeting, who are not upper-middle-class. Make friends who are from Dalit communities. Have a conversation with them. Ask about their life experiences.
And finally, marry someone who is not of your caste. I know I will. Because only a generation of caste-less Indians will truly be able to annihilate caste from India.