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The Reservations Issue - My Perspective

What with almost every other site being choc-a-blog with the reservation issue, though my primary concerns are about the rural poor and primary education, and not the debate on higher education, I still felt compelled to participate on some of the blog-based discussions on this issue.

Sepia Mutiny is one of the sites I have started frequenting of late. Some good posts and some quite ordinary ones.The perspective is avowedly Desi American, though on most posts, it comes across as more American than Desi, excepy may be in Amardeep's posts.

Ok..I just logged a comment on Abhi's post on Sepia Mutiny. So, thought I will put my comment down here as well.

Link to Abhi's post


While I fully understand that your perspective as a US citizen would be different from that of an Indian citizen, especially on matters such as this reservations issue, since you were any way blogging about the issue, you could have done better than depend on TIME magazine's perspective. As you very rightly mentioned, there are many better places to read about this issue.

I wanted revenge against all the people that think being part of the Brahmin-caste actually means something, or is worth mentioning in casual conversation.

May be those people are as much victims of the caste politics as the Dalits are? In your travels in India, have you interacted with sanitary workers, construction workers, taxi drivers, and other manual labor from the Brahmin community? Or has your interaction been limited to software engineers, MBAs and other such white collar types?

The labor market in Delhi and Mumbai is full of migrants from UP and Bihar, many of them Brahmins from the rural areas - no education beyond sixth or seventh class, no money to afford private education, no scope of getting government jobs because they belong to 'upper caste'. And when it comes to voting, they vote the same as poor people all over India - based on who pays more for their vote on Election day.

IndianoGuy commented about his SC friend working in an IT company now, and if he was not educated through the reservation system, this would have never happened. Great ! This is exactly what the policy aims to achieve. So, thanks to quota system, today, IndianoGuy and his friend both are in the same economic and social class. And yet, some years later, IndianoGuy's daughter has to score over 95% in an entrance exam for a professional or higher education, while his friend's daughter has to score only the qualifying marks. What's more, IndianoGuy has to bear the cost of education for his daughter, where as the Govt. would fund the cost of education for his friend's daughter.

Now, I want to ask IndianoGuy and others who support the current regime of reservations, who should ideally be the beneficiary of the system? The children of one who has already benefitted from the quota in the past (and thus joined the creamy layer) or other deserving and poor Dalit children?

If we read the dozens of blogs and print media articles on this issue, one common solution that emerges is to increase the focus and budgets on primary education. If we provide free and quality education for all students till the age of 15-16, there will be no need for any quotas in the graduation and post-graduation levels. But the politicians do not seem to want to improve quality at the primary education level and thereby make it tough for the private school franchise industry in the urban and semi-urban areas of the country.

I can still understand the logic behind the quota system for access to education till under-grad level. But why in higher education? I can also understand the logic behind quotas in Govt jobs.But why quotas for promotions as well? It goes to show that just like Brahmins and Kshatriyas of yore believing that certain occupations and priveleges are their birth right, the creamy layer of today's India feels that a quota system in every aspect of life is theur birth right. And this is hurting the real Dalits of India - the rural poor of all castes and communities. And the truly meritorious students.

One of the unfortunate by-products of reservations, is the increase in the number of private medical and engineering colleges, where one could simply buy a seat, by paying capitation fees or simply pay more through NRI quota. A friend of mine, who belongs to the creamy layer and is obviously a staunch supporter of the quota system every where, asked me once: "You guys cry hoarse that merit is compromised when an incompetent Dalit/OBC student gets into medical college. Then what about the incompetent, non-meritorious children and cousins of NRIs who come down to study medicine in Karnataka and Maharashtra? They will not be able to pass 12th class science paper in India. And yet, they become doctors and build huge hospitals.What about all the rich kids who pay huge donations and buy a medical or engineering seat out right? Isn't merit getting compromised there? If its alright for a rich kid to buy his seat, why is it not alright for an OBC/Dalit kid to sneak in with the help of quota system?"

I can't disagree with my friend. But where does this leave the quality of education in India? If we increase the number of seats, will it help assuage the demands of the non-reservation castes? What will it take us to provide compulsory, free and world class primary education to all children? What will it take us to make higher educational institutions be independent from govt interference? Can they ever follow the model of western educational institutions and learn to survive through industry-academia linkage?Why should the rural poor be made to bear the burden of these thousands who get subsidised higher education, and then leave the country?Can we expect students to start paying for the cost of their higher education through education loans?

Questions and more questions. We could discuss these issues to death and yet find that we are no way nearer to the answers. And if there are any answers, they are not tough ones.

Like Abhi says, yes, societies may also have collective Karma.And the Indian society may have to go through its collective Karma Phal, before redemption comes. If Indians and people of Indian origin do just one thing right - focus on primary education, primary health care and nutritious food for the rural poor, the individual and collective Karma will then ensure that all the other social ills will be gradually taken care of.

Jai Hind.


TMB said…
"In your travels in India, have you interacted with sanitary workers, construction workers, taxi drivers, and other manual labor from the Brahmin community? Or has your interaction been limited to software engineers, MBAs and other such white collar types?"

Actually on my last visit I spent two months teaching children from the slums around Delhi where I lived with a middle class host family. I don't know any software engineers, MBAs, or White collar types in India.
Kumar Narasimha said…

I take it you are Abhi. If not, then I am sorry. In any case, good to know that you have spent 2 months teaching in slums. As you are from NASA, what do you think about the film Swades? May be you should blog about your experiences in India. Also, read your profile. I think you should write a series of novels about a man who goes to Mars, comes back, becomes President, and then wins the war over poverty and inequality in India. I am serious.Any thing is possible in fiction, right? And who knows? Your books may inspire some people.