18 April 2006

Quota Raj vs Meritocracy – The fight continues

Last week, our minister of human resources fielded the proposal of introducing reservations for OBCs in IITs, IIMs and other centralized universities like JNU, DU that receive part or full government funding. Now, this is one issue, which I quite strongly feel about, just like millions of other non-BC educated Indians like me who have been at the receiving end of this menace of reservation since the day they were admitted to their kindergarten school.
The oft-cited argument of the politicians in favor of reservations is that they are a step towards of social equitability. Now, it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to figure out the sinister political intentions behind these measures – to appease a particular section of society for electoral gains – vote bank politics in normal parlance. This is a political reality which even technocrats like Dr. Manmohan Singh are not in a position to ignore. Majority of our parliamentarians are from backward classes who get elected and re-elected by playing caste-based politics again and again. So, it is hardly a surprise that ministers like Arjun Singh will roll out such populist measures but what about Manmohan Singh. He is referred as the most highly educated Prime Minister India had since Nehru. But when it comes to real life politics, the economist in Dr. Manmohan Singh takes a back seat. That’s something sad.
The original purpose of introducing reservations in 1950s was to merge the backward classes, who have been socially and economically oppressed since ages, into the mainstream. It is true that large masses of humanity in our country have been and continue to be deprived of opportunities of economic and social development. But the whole point is, after 56 years, have the benefits of reservations reached those for whom they were meant in the first place?
Rashmi Bansal’s blog provides an interesting perspective to this problem.
The biggest paradox is that the original target population of reservations have hardly benefited from them. The oppressed continue to remain oppressed. The uneducated, impoverished and deprived of the rural hinterlands and urban ghettos have failed to merge with the mainstream even after 55 years of reservations. Even the post 1991 economic boom has left them hardly untouched. There are a very few social scientists who have conducted studies to show quantitatively how much have the people (for whom reservations were originally meant) have actually gained from them. Even the census doesn’t have the data to show how many people have climbed up the ladder of development index with the help of reservations. Rashmi’s blog gives reference to a few such studies which have considered samples of population from states like UP to come at a conclusion that 56 years of quota raj has not only failed in its original objective but its real beneficiaries have been a class of society whom the government refers to as ‘creamy layer’. They belong to the so-called backward classes but are in no way impoverished. Economically speaking, these people don’t need reservations. They have had access to the best educational facilities. At least they have the resources to do so. So, why should they be given any special treatment at the time of getting jobs or admissions into institutions of higher education? This is precisely the reason I advocate reservations but purely on the basis of economic standing and not on the basis of social standing. If you are poor, didn’t have the access to good education facilities, then you are eligible for reservations irrespective of whether you are a Brahmin or a chamar. The primary purpose of reservations, as I understand it, is supposed to provide an even playing field to all the people who come from diverse economic standings. So, the above argument of reservations on the basis of economic standing is perfectly rational.
It is insane and illogical when your dad is pretty well off, you have been to best schools and colleges and you get through IIM (any for that matter) with a measly 80 percentile and I fail to get even a call with 98 percentile, just because some of your forefathers were oppressed.
According to the objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, ‘Men are not created equal and there is no reason to treat them as if they are equal’. Every individual is different in terms of talent, inherent capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. This is the underpinning upon which the concept of individuality is based. Favoring somebody over other is an insult to the individualities of both the individuals.
In terms of reservations, at least the way they stand today, we need to provide equal opportunities to everybody but not undue favoritism to somebody.
What’s needed is good and equal opportunities of quality primary education and not some percentage based quota system. Our HRD minister will get more appreciation if he directs his energies and resources to the abysmal state of primary education in villages and municipal schools which are perennially plagued by the lack of quality teachers, pathetic infrastructure et al, rather than indulging in such appalling measures in the name of restoring social equitability.
The IITs, IIMs and IISc are probably the last bastions of excellence in education of this country. The students coming out of the portals of these institutions are respected and appreciated throughout the world. They have proved their mettle, time and again, at the global arena, on a global scale, by competing with the best in the world, whether in corporate boardrooms or university research labs. These are the institutions that make India proud and their alumni are the reasons due to which the world has started noticing India with a mixture of respect and awe. If the current proposal of hiking the reservations in these institutes gets passed, then we can rest assured that these last islands of educational excellence in India will soon end up like the thousands of other institutions of this country which are not even mediocre by global standards. It will be a sure shot way to lose these havens of excellence in the swarm of mediocrity.
The newspaper reports are warning about the mass exodus of bright students into foreign universities, considering the global village we live in, the aggressive wooing of students by foreign universities and the easy availability of educational loans. However, I don’t believe that this is going to be the case simply because every ‘bright’ student can’t afford to study abroad just because the educational loans are easily available. The ‘brain drain’ of late 60s and 70s was due to a different set of reasons. Even today, going abroad to study still remains an option only for the rich and the economically secured upper middle class. The rest are simply left to strive and beat this mindless competition or simply settle for something ordinary, mediocre and much less than what they actually deserve.

I would like to end this post with a recent comment of one of my friends that despite liberalization and the growing middle class, India is increasingly becoming a place where in order to survive you need to be either rich, powerful or exceptionally brilliant. If you have none of these three then get ready to be grounded and crushed by the ‘system’. The future does not seem very bright for we, the ‘strivers’.


Sagar said...

I agree with Raj completely. Regarding Ayn Rand i am a firm believer of many of her philosophies and agree with most of her views. The best question the politicians can ask is "Equality !! What is this ? " The only mantra to rule this world is each man get what he deserves. No man is gr8 and each man is unique. So there is no purpose by this senseless reservation. The next exodus will begin from this country not because there was lack of opportunities but just because which self-respecting individual will want to compete with an IIM grad who has got in by the sheer right of his birth and not merit. Personally it would give me a greater challenge in life to fight with people more capable than me not less.
Regarding the article very well written and comes across pretty strongly.

Amit said...

Well said Raj. Quite a well worded and effective post.

I too am among the crores involved in blaming the government and all the parties who are standing united on this front. But isn't it time we ask ourselves some questions - WHAT HAV WE DONE TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM?

Forget this. We talk about primary schools and raising the level of education. How long can the government do that alone? How many of us have taught even one child or adult? Don't we have a responsibilty towards the society?
If each one of us teaches even one SC/ST or BC students or even contributed to their studies, we would not be facing such a big problem. The fact is some ppl need this reservation, not all. But to monitor who ll get in and who ll not is not very easy logistically. And believe me, the govt. has many other important things to do.

Still, the recommendation by Arjun Singh definitely needs a rethink overall.