Thinking out loud

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On reservations and national progress

Gurcharan Das, in his book "India Unbound", laments the fact that India has failed to become a tiger, moving forward in leaps and bounds, but is instead more like an elephant, lumbering ahead slowly, occasionally even taking a step backwards. Well, we just took one step backwards and there is talk that there will be an even bigger one soon.

One of our esteemed national leaders with all his intelligence and social goodwill has announced that he plans to allow reservations for the OBCs in the so-called higher centers of learning. This will take the percentage of reserved seats to just below 50%. This certainly should be good news. The backward classes will now have access to higher learning. They will use this higher learning to get better jobs and use their new wealth, position and influence for the emancipation of others of their own lot. This is good; very good. Only there is a problem - the problem of equity. As grown-ups, we are expected to understand that some sacrifices have to be made for the overall development of this country. This itself is a difficult task but wait, the problem is worse. Consider the plight of an 18 year old, who does not get admission to IIT because of this high reservation. Try explaining to him why a student with much lesser ability is eligible to go to the dream institute while he is not. Its easy to explain meritocracy; its not easy to explain caste-based discrimination. To him, it is an opportunity lost because of an individual from another caste. It is difficult to see how it leads to healthier feelings among children of different castes. I see this system fostering bitterness - that's all.

To overcome this problem, it has been suggested that the number of seats in these institutes be increased so that the actual number of students from general categories need not be reduced. This sounds fair but lets not rush to conclusions. What this proposal means is that the intake into these institutes should be increased by over 50%; i.e. for example, an IIT should increase its intake from around 500 students each year to over 750 students a year. This increases its total student population from 4400 to 6600 students. A noble thought; unfortunately extremely short-sighted. These institutes are barely managing to provide the quality of infrastructure that their peers in other places are providing. "India is a poor country. We cannot afford to provide those facilities. We have to first focus on bringing everybody at par". This is how the argument goes. In my opinion, if we spend all our time "bringing everybody at par", we will never move to the next phase.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that students among the SC/ST/OBCs are not capable. I'm saying that they should be provided support at primary and secondary levels. Tremendous support. I'm all for it. However, should we do it at the expense of other students? Probably not.

As if it is not bad enough that they are pushing reservations our institutes of national pride, they now want to push it onto private companies. To my mind, this is an outrage. Companies become profitable because of meritorious/talented people. Also, companies (typically) do not indulge in caste based discrimination while hiring. They look for talent. When they find it, they hire it. Having been given all the opportunities (read reservations at every level of education) if a student does not manage to raise his capabilities to work usefully for a company, is it society's responsibility anymore? People like Narayanmurthy apparently support such reservation. Naturally. They don't care. They have tonnes of places where they can absorb less-skilled people - they have call centers. On the other hand, consider the case of Google or GoldmanSachs and the like. As soon as such a rule is passed, these companies will wind up their business and run off in a jiffy. Their businesses are incredibly mobile. They offshored to India. They can offshore to China (or Taiwan, Singapore, Japan...). At a time when such companies are generating so much economic activity (and even perhaps revenues) in the country, can we afford to lose them?

I love this country and hope to do my bit. However, if this hare-brained scheme for "bringing equity within the country" ever makes it to the law-books, I will lose hope. I'm sure many like me, and more capable than me, will lose hope too. Perhaps then it will be time to leave in search of other lands....

6 Comments:

  • Nice succinct article :)
    Basically if the govt wants to really make some impact on community, they have to start at grassroots level. If they strive to improve the schooling further, then maybe you won't need something like reservation at some point of time. IITs should be a paragon of meritocracy, no matter what, and this kind of politically appeasing moves should be condemned.

    By Blogger Kartik, at 12:13 AM  

  • Hey ,
    that was really nice .But govt must think this if you have 50% students in a batch coming from the reserved class, it will be stressful on the teacher to equally judge them and teach..and what if we have international faculty teaching and he comes to know that 50 of them could not undertsand what he is saying ???...my god its a stress on reserved students as well as on the faculty.Then these students will shout for the tough course contents . then we have agitations for easing the syllabus and iit will become iti.

    By Blogger Nelsi, at 1:15 AM  

  • Nelsi,
    it is indeed a very real concern. Faculty at these institues are anyway usually more concerned with research and teaching is more of a chore, which they have to do to retain access to good facilities. If this obligation is made even more gruesome for them, I have a real worry that they might consider leaving for the promised land (or other places) where people will readily accept them, given their great skills... We will then have only ourselves to blame.

    By Blogger Parijat, at 1:53 PM  

  • very good article bhaiya.

    This arjun singh is a bl**dy b*stard and is fu*king our future. kill the b*stard and may his all future generations birth out handicapped. to hell with a person who shud take sanyas not only from politics but also from his life. KILL THAT B*STARD ARJUN SINGH . i have a plan . just need a gun. anyone interested? reply on :

    saynotoreservation@rediffmail.com

    By Anonymous sumeet seth, at 6:47 AM  

  • > Its easy to explain meritocracy; its not easy to explain caste-based discrimination. To him, it is an opportunity lost because of an individual from another caste. It is difficult to see how it leads to healthier feelings among children of different castes. I see this system fostering bitterness - that's all.

    That's insightful.

    > ...if we spend all our time "bringing everybody at par", we will never move to the next phase.
    Nice way of putting it. The best people must be given all the opportunities, not necessarily those of a particular socio-economic group.

    By Blogger Kartik Vaddadi, at 9:23 PM  

  • The worst effect of reservation - it has sent the communists on an overdrive.

    By Blogger barbarindian, at 9:47 AM  

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