April 8, 2006

A Pernicious Proposal.

The Union Government's proposal to reserve 27% seats in central government educational institutions (IITs, IIMs, Central Universities) for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) is appalling. This proposal, if implemented, will make almost half the seats in these educational institutions filled based on the basis of caste, and not merit (22.5% seats are already reserved for Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes).

I am not opposed to reservations as a principle. In India there was (is?) a systemic denial of opportunities to certain classes of people on the basis of their caste. This is a fact no one can deny. As such this represented a deep-rooted sickness in the society and many sound theories that held for a healthy system needed to be modified to cure this sickness. It is true that opportunity to pursue higher education should be given solely on the basis of merit, just as it is true that a human being should eat nutritious and wholesome food. But when a man or woman is sick, that general principle should be suspended temporarily. Similarly, when a society is sick, as India was 60 years ago, it was imperative that some general principles were modified to regain health. As long as a college principal or a factory manager denies me a chance because of my caste, it makes sense to implement reservations.

Reservations then are an eminently temporary fix. Moreover, their existence can be justified only on the basis of a systemic denial of opportunities.

When we got independence in 1947 and wrote a constitution, certain castes were deemed to have suffered unspeakable injustices and we as a nation agreed to take steps to rectify those injustices. The idea was that these castes would join in as equal players in society after a finite period of such steps.

Nehru wrote,

So these external props, as I might call them, the reservation of seats, and the rest — may possibly be helpful occasionally, but they produce a false sense of political relation, a false sense of strength, and, ultimately therefore, they are not so nearly important as real educational, cultural and economic advance which gives them inner strength to face any difficulty or opponent. [Link]"

A cruel joke on our society, which would be funny if it were not so tragic, is that far from achieving the said equality, the class of "backward" castes kept increasing with increasingly sophisticated classification - subcastes, sub-subcastes, groups of castes and so on. Now we reached a point where reservations became an end in themselves. Pandering to these "backward" people became the main political tool of the rulers, and claiming "backwardness" became fashionable among the subjects. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we pursued the policies of reservation.

The question is: are the Other Backwards Castes facing any systemic denial of opportunities that justifies this proposal? The answer is definitely "No". I am not claiming that there is no systemic denial of opportunities. Surely it is still widespread in parts of the country and steps need to be taken to address that. This proposal will not only fail to achieve that, it will further the spread of the rot that is eating away the education system in India.

This is an extremely well-argued article on this issue by Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

2 Comments:

At 2:41 PM, April 09, 2006, Blogger anuj_nsit said...

I see your location as United States. Still you looks to understand pretty well the rots in our current education system.
Good that atleast ppl like you do not remain entirely passive and do something starting from expressing their opinions online.
Nice,balanced post

 
At 7:43 PM, April 09, 2006, Blogger Krishna said...

Anuj, thanks.

 

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