Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Reservations

Sensitive topic , and so I am not going to try to take sides here inspite of my inherent bias.
From my point of view , there are two things that most people tend to miss : the motivation behind reservation , and the goal of reservation.

The motivation is pretty simple and when it was espoused , a very critical need for a fledging India : upliftment of the underprivileged - which was a large section of the Indian populace.
In my opinion , there are various factors which contribute to sections of society being underprivileged ... caste was percieved to be a dominent factor : though equally important are the economic conditions , the education levels , the opportunities available , the profession , local state of economy and society , etc.
There were a flurry of programs initiated in free India including land reforms , various welfare schemes , co-operative societies , PSU's , emphasis on primary education , etc - most , if not all are aimed at upliftment of the society as a whole and providing opportunities : a consorted effort at betterment of the Indian society.
Reservation was one of the many : it was never 'the solution' to a problem , but a means to an end : let me rephrase that , one of the 'many means' adopted to an end.
The noble end being , eliminate discrimination along lines of caste , creed or religion - equality.

In my opinion , the thinking was that if the said sections are given a little extra help , they will be able to get over the social and economic 'drawbacks' they face and gain a moderate advantage , enough to give them an even playing field when compared to the 'privileged'.
Given effective equal opportunities the candidates will in the end be able to achieve a standard of living higher than their current levels and so better themselves and their dependents : slowly achieving upliftment of the society.
To summarily dismiss reservation as a failed ideal would be injustice - it has had its part to play in the upliftment of Indian society : in giving adequate opportunity and in allowing a large cross-section of people to better their own.

But like all things , it is a measure with diminishing returns : we already have seen repeated discussions of 'creamy layer'. These are sections which are affluent enough that they should be taken out of the blanket of reservation - they dont 'deserve' the benifits of reservation : and essentially are taking away the chances of the needy.

But let us revisit reservation : it was a means to an end - so the amount of reserved opportunities should be an exponentially declining function , not a strictly monotonically increasing one that it has become now ! There should be constant re-think and feedback into the various aspects of reservation : whether it is brining the society closer to the goals of giving an even playing field to all , whether it is achieving the ideals of equality.
Let us not forget that by reservation , we are skewing the playing field by giving an extra advantage to some candidates : if it is not having its desired benifits , it would be better to cut back on it so that merit plays its appropriate role in selection.

In any given society , there is going to be inequality : utopia is a noble goal in itself, but practicality tells us that it is a dream goal - something we can aspire to achieve , but should be sensible enough to admit is an ideal condition.
'All are equal - some are more equal than the others' : we are in a democractic capitalistic society (inspite of what the Left parties want to believe ;-) ) and so we should accept the realities associated with that. There is always going to be disparity - like based on economic conditions , etc : heck , even the so called developed societies have them (not using as a justification - just observing).

After nearly 55 years of independence, if the Indian govt. wants to increase the reserved quota by bringing more sections of the society under the ambit of reservation , it is indeed a sorry state of affairs. It is in a way conceding defeat about the various other schemes that are/were implemented. I believe this is gross injustice , reservation had its role to play : but it is time to reverse the trend , not keep increase it.
There should be adequate oppurtunaties given to students from all sections to excel , not give them a 'seat' on a silver platter : at the end of the day , all candidates has to work atleast comparatively as hard and should be almost as deserving - else we end up with mediocrity. Reservation should be a way to decrease the disparity in social and economic conditions , not the skew drastically the amount of effort required.

This brings us to an extremely interesting point : reservation in private institutions amd institutes higher of learning. In both of these , the only criterion is performance and merit. There is a level playing field - aspiring candidates already have sufficient opportunities to pursue alternate paths and achieve comfortable levels in society (social upliftment is achieved).
I dont see any reason why reservation should be advocated for these : there is no discrimination based on caste/creed/religion and there are adequate scholorships (for education) in place to take care of economic disadvantages : so why this demand ?
The usual line of argument is pretty vapourous and essentially goes along the lines of extrapolating the benifits from already existing reserved categories. Other than by accepting the inferiority of candidates from a section of society (which is a laughable proposition) , demanding reservation does not have any merits : all other things being equal , candidates should be judged solely based on their merit. A very competetive selection process should not be an excuse to claim reservations !

The main problem comes in when successive governments try to use reservations as populistic means to practise divisive politics : be it along the lines of caste , creed , religion , etc. The basic idea is 'vote bank' politics (since these sections are 'significant chunks' of the society - with a single 'policy' , the ruling party will become their 'messaih' and garner a votebank which will stand them in good steed for the next (and successive) elections).
The first such messaih who threw all decency to the winds for purely political reasons was V.P. Singh : out of the many recommandations in the Mandal commission , V.P Singh sought out the most 'lucrative' one (from an electoral point of view) and implemented that. The many other sensible ones were given a blind eye - this is a really sorry state of affairs.
Inspite of the huge hue and cry , the said decision became law and a large chunk of the 'general quota' went under the 'reserved category'.

The latest such messaih is Arjun Singh. He plans to take another HUGE chunk and put it under reserved category.
He knows he is one sure political grounds. The protesting students , doctors make almost no electoral impact : fraction of the voting population and too intelluctual to be swayed by political scheming. For the very same reasons , we are not seeing any political party coming out in support of the striking medico's. It would be political hara kiri to admit support - after all vote bank politics works !
I bet that whatever be the decisions taken in the next few days/weeks , it will be a stop gap measure to let people cool down sufficiently enough. The law is going to be here to stay.
As long as we do not have visionary leaders who can raise above partisan needs and vote bank politics , and have enough 'political will' we are never going to see any reversal in this trend.

Maybe , in the distant future , we will see an India where the goal of equality has been achieved to a resonably high degree and reservation has finally been abolished ... foolish hopes for the latter :-(

PS1 : I am not a thought leader in this subject - I do not have the qualification , experience or the knowledge/information to be one. This is a summary of my current line of thinking and is to be taken as a purely personal point of view.
PS2 : Flames accepted , but please dont get personal and excessively abusive :-)
PS3 : I know that it is not a very coherent , informative or enlightening prose , just something I jotted down after watching the current state of affairs on TV which as been repeating for past so many days now. So please read it with a pinch of salt.
PP4 : Too many PS's ?! :-P

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written dude.. Fali

5/16/2006 07:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the things that can help in removing the *need* for reservations (in the educational sector) is for the government to actually provide quality education in "underprivileged" areas.

That way, the ground can be levelled by a more "fair" means.

5/16/2006 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Mridul said...

@fali
Thanks man , appreciate it - after all , I was part of fourier's ;-)

@Anonymous
Sounds interesting : but when do we decide that the govt should stop this provision ?
Unless there are very strong economic motivations , is it possible to give high quality education to all ?
Also , reservation is for sections of society that are impacted , not regions.
Will just basic schooling be sufficient ?
Ofcourse it should be remembered that in India the govt. is still struggling to provide primary education to all !
Reservation is field of education is under the rationale that the benifits of a good education extends far after schooling is completed : potentially allowing for the economic and social upliftment along with higher quality of living for not just the direct benificiery , but through them many others too.
The cost-benifit ratio is extremely loaded in case of education - and so an easy prey to reservation policies.
I am not justifying reservation in education sector ! But it is possible to provide some defence for it.
I dont claim to understand all the issues - only few of them : that too marginally , and I am sure there maybe compelling "reasons" and "justifications" that can be presented by both 'sides' for each point of view :-)

The only thing I can hope for is that I do not laugh at all that I wrote about this subject 5 or 10 years down the line :-D

5/18/2006 02:17:00 AM  
Blogger Mridul said...

Clarifying : "Sounds interesting : but when do we decide that the govt should stop this provision ?"
At what level of education this should be stopped (primary , secondary , 10th , 12th , bachelor degree , etc).

5/18/2006 02:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know when it should be stopped or to what level it should be provided. Perhaps there should be assistance for non competitive situations (primary education) but none for competitive scenarios (jobs, IIT entrance tests).

Most of the resistance I've seen to
reservations are in the fields of higher education (mostly professional) or jobs.

In order for an underprivileged person (sometimes it's because of religion. Sometimes because of race. Sometimes even just because of the geography of the place they're from) to compete with other people in these (higher education and job) scenarios, they need to have the same foundation (basic education). That's what the government might be able to help with. A smart underprivileged person and a dumb rich person will then have a level platform on which to compete.

If you provide only basic schooling, people will remain at the "basic school" level. No one will even consider going for a higher degree ("I can read so my education is done").

As for the "struggling to provide primary education". Yes it's true. The govt. needs more resources if it has to implement this whole thing I'm talking about. But the drive to provide education to the masses has resulted in some increase in learning. Imagine what would happen if the govt. had the resources to do it at all levels and did it.

The Indian population is really huge. If the percentage of this that's educated and can actually contribute back to the society (not just financially but also intellectually and culturally) increases, it's a good thing I think.

Of course none of this is going to happen so I'll just sit back and pontificate.

5/19/2006 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Mridul said...

Nice comment anonymous2 , appreciate it !
The possibility of the 'lowering' of quality is a real problem that everyone has to worry about.

And the current proposal to 'solve' it ? End to end reservation so that mediocrity is not weeded out (if it enters the process that is) !
Reservations starts from education, to higher education , and then carried on to jobs (private and public), etc.

Instead , necessary support should be given in my opinion - but then let the students/candidates take it up from there.
Dont know if this will *ever* happen though :-(

5/20/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Memoryking said...

Liked your blog.Here is mine http://emotionalzombie.blogspot.com/

"One Billion people.6 IIM’s, 7 IIT’s .Close to 200 seats in a typical IIM and 500 in a typical IIT.One group stands for senseless establishment of quotas. The other group senselessly opposes it. What is going on? Have we lost all our marbles? "

6/14/2006 10:56:00 AM  

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