Do the Rich Face Discrimination? An Examination of the ‘Creamy Layer’ Principle

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


Should reservation in education and employment exclude the prosperous among the backward classes?  


On 26 September 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the “creamy layer” principle could be used to exclude the affluent from caste reservation benefits. The judgment has its critics who argue that excluding the creamy layer among the backward castes reservation quotas could lead to upper-caste homogeneity in institutes of higher education and government employment. The quota system was introduced as affirmative action against caste discrimination, which is unconnected to economic status.


In 2006, S Subramanian’s article addressed this issue by creating a model to prove that a reservation system that considered both caste and economic status was an effective measure to provide social justice. In response, K Sundaram and K Ravi Srinivas, in their respective articles, questioned Subramanian’s model that justified including the creamy layer in reservation quotas. Instead, they argued in favour of the group’s exclusion, maintaining that economic privilege entitled the creamy layer to their fair share of opportunities.


Subramanian responds to both criticisms, saying that his theorisation was only meant to convey the logic of a particular line of reasoning, and should not be considered as a literal representation of reality.



Click on the icons to read excerpts from the articles.

A few other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this discussion:
1. The ‘Creamy Layer’, Pradipta Chaudhury, 2004.
2. Myopic Oversight, EPW, 2006.
3. Policy Changes Needed on Reservations, K D Saxena, 2007.

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Economic Affluence and Social Exclusion.”
[Curated by Kieran Lobo (]


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