Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Lunch Anybody?

Think about this scenario for a moment if you will. Let’s say that you’re the financial head of a corporation and the chap in charge of R&D comes up to you asking for an increase in the budget for a project that’s been in progress for over 55 years with ever-increasing budgets. What do you think your most likely response would be?

Frankly, my first instinct would be to question the existence of the project itself. Surely if 55 years have failed to show any results, the project should be shelved! That however is clearly not the way the current Congress government sees things. Particularly not Arjun Singh and there doesn’t seem to be any political party that has the will to stand up for logic either!

Yes indeed, I am talking about the recent proposal of Arjun Singh and the Congress to increase by 27% the reservations in the top Indian education Institutes including AIIMS, the IITs and of course, the IIMs.

If you desire a pointer to the national sentiment on this issue, the survey results in the morning papers today said a lot. Over 97% of people across the country actually support the doctors who have been on strike over this issue for 4 days now! This in a country which condemns doctors and criticizes them roundly whenever they even threaten to strike! What a change…and that is purely because of the grounds for the strike. As of yesterday, the students of IITD have also joined the stir. I hope that the protestors win this war…for a war is what it is.

I’d like to deviate a bit from the normal issues that are debated when this issue is brought up. I think the issue of merit has so many proponents that nobody with the slightest shred of sense would argue that on grounds of merit, all that reservations do is to ensure that sub-standard and Low IQ people are promoted at the expense of more deserving people, wrecking lives, households, morale and of course damaging greatly the economy and the image of the country.

What I examined the other day though was the logical construct for having reservations in the courses for higher education, even if I do – though I don’t – the logic for reservations in schools and junior colleges.

Let us therefore assume that these castes are so underprivileged (despite over 55 years of reservations) that they can’t actually afford to give their children money and a proper environment for education and therefore require reservations at the school level. Let us extend this hypothesis further and say that these reservations are also required at the junior college level.

But what after that? After all, surely this is where this crutch should be taken away! I mean, this person who availed of these reservations has now been educated to a fair level. Surely now it should have brought this nitwit to the same level as those peers of his who used their own merit and not a crutch to rise!

I’m an Engineer and I refuse to accept that any person at all who has cleared his XIIth is so underprivileged that he/she needs reservations to be at the level of those that are ‘more privileged’. The only reason I see that could make anyone ask for this is that the reserved categories are inherently less meritorious and I don’t think they would like to be considered as such.

Moreover, if they are – for whatever reason – less meritorious, they shouldn’t be in the best Institutes competing with the brightest minds. Apart from demoralizing the meritorious who fail to make it to these Institutes due to these undeserving people, it would also be devastating for these people who would, quite understandably, lag behind the rest (DNA in Mumbai carried an article to this effect and actually quoted reserved category students echoing these sentiments).

After my XIIth, I remember standing at VJTI leafing through sheet after sheet that listed the candidates who had made it to the best Engineering Instituted and I remember the helpless rage that coursed my body when I saw tons of students with more than 10% lower than me who had made it to the best Institutes in the first list while I had not. As things turned out, I didn’t need those seats anyway, but I have nothing but sympathy for so many that must have lost out just like I nearly did…and nothing but pure hatred for those that created this system.

BR Ambedkar is often vilified as the person who created reservations and he is eulogized by the Mulayams and Lallus of the world for creating reservation, but that is one of the biggest lies of the 20th century. BR Ambedkar, by all accounts was vehemently opposed to reservations!

His contention, along the same lines as those of the present-day opponents of reservation, was that reservations would be a crutch to the depressed classes and would give them an incentive to become lazy and not attempt to rise. He wanted it ensured merely that there was an equal opportunity in terms of access!

The detestable duo though – none other than Nehru and Gandhi – ensured that they forced reservations on Ambedkar and the nation and condemned the nation to decades of mediocrity that show no signs of drawing to an early close…sad…so damned sad but true.

Think about these questions. Have 55 years improved anything? Are the poor any closer to quality education? Does caste really have anything to do with economic welfare? Is caste or money a bigger barrier to education? Would you consider taking your family to a doctor that you knew was a ‘quota’ candidate?

Finally, I’d like to just point out the biggest irony of them all. As per the Indian Constitution, the caste system stands abolished and discriminating on the basis of caste is illegal. Ironic then that discrimination on the basis of caste is exactly what reservations do!

PS: Reservations, when written into the Constitution were (at the behest of Gandhi) time-bound and were meant to be reduced as the years wore on till they were abolished. As it stands, every ten years the vote-hungry governments pass Constitutional Amendments to increase the term of reservations and also the castes, sub-castes etc included in the purview…not to mention the damned percentages of the quota…a practice started by the biggest natural disaster of them all – Jawaharlal Nehru…

PPS: With the proposal to force reservations on the private sector on the anvil as well, please treat this as an entreaty and an advertisement… I am a Business Consultant…any vacancies in Vegas? ;-)


surya said...

why reservations only in Engg and Med colleges? why not in fashion, print media, bollywood and finally in politics? Why cant Arjun Singh give his seat to some oppressed politician?

That says it all....

Anupa said...

Yes! Was hoping I would find a blog on this! ( I mean on your site. There are lots of other blogs, I know , and I have put my opinions across there too)

Great points about the failure of such quota systems. I want to probe into two things here. One is the concept "access". That's the main thing: access. Social backwardness, lack of access to food, education and health care keeps the "lower caste" people marginalized. Agree that they get ultimately left behind and fair poorly in the competition. So, the question is, how do you make "quality education" "accessible" to these people? I think the Government schools they go to is a joke. And the teachers do come from the same strata , and unlike the "privileged" folk who get so much handholding at home from the parents, ( and in India , grandparents, and the extra-extra private tutorship etc.. ), they lack the help at home too.

Very rarely I see people who want to touch upon the fundamental changes one can affect regards to that. Of the 97% of the public surveyed, did anybody touch upon that? Was anybody even asked on that matter? Did anybody directly write to "Arjun Singh" ? I want to.. hopefully I will at some point of time. Now, don't give me "but that's not our job" line, we are all discussing and debating, why not discuss the other side of it too...?

Darth Midnightmare said...

@Surya: I agree oh so much, but keep your voice down...they may start reservations in the Cabinet!!! On a serious note though, there are already reserved constituencies etc etc. So in a way what you suggested is already in place.

@Anupa: You're right. I have thought about that too actually. Will actually address that in another post. In short, I back economic-criteria-based aids, but not reservations even then...not in the top institutes!

Vishy said...

mike, the time for the logic of reservations is past. if you havent already, catch the karan thapar interviewing arjun singh. text on my blog.

And then u realise why all arguments about merit or creamy layer or the extent of reservations are futile. There really is no way but to apply real pressure ... not by peaceful protests but by lobbies that threaten to cripple and the judiciary.