AR speaketh...

The questions, the answers, the thoughts, the ideas and the other crap that make me, well, me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reservations about the Reservations

Foreword: When the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were enforced, I was just a naïve schoolboy, way too happy at the unscheduled “holidays” to notice the grim reality. The mass self-immolation, the smuggled copies of “Newsweek”, the excited discussions of parents, everything told me that all was not right with the world. Now, as I look back, the piece of news that had created the stir was that certain opportunities were deemed beyond the scope of certain individuals simply because of their family name. With the recent decisions of the Ministry of HRD, time has come a full circle, and this time there is no school break to cloud out my sight.

India has always been a demographers nightmare: a veritable medley of humankind, practising unfathomable customs, following innumerable creeds and belonging to different castes. One common factor that unites us all is the stupidity that is associated with the masses. Perhaps, the one characteristic that sets Indians apart from the rest of the world is how individual brilliance translates into collective imbecility. The average Indian is genetically disposed towards an above average intelligence and the Indian populace has a predisposition towards being annoyingly foolish. Amidst all this, there is widespread economic inequity. And there in lies our biggest vulnerability.

One of the parameters of measuring the development a nation is making is the diversity in the economic status of the citizens. The narrower the gap, the closer the nation is to “social justice”. One way of doing this was aptly demonstrated by the USSR where most of the citizens crowded at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The same model seems to have inspired the government to frame the new set of reservation policies. Lets take the facts first. The union government is planning to increase the percentage of reserved seats in all central universities to 49.5%. The increase will be of 27 percentage points over the existing 22.5%, the beneficiaries in this case being the OBCs who make up 52% of the population in India.

Now lets examine these facts under the light of logic. By definition, the most backward classes are “scheduled” and no other section should be given more reservation than them. In such a case, if the quantum of proposed reservation is “explained” by the population of a certain section, it can only point to politics of votes. What these regulations mean is that now of all the seats available to the section of the population handicapped by not having (perceived) social handicaps, a touch over one third will disappear. They will go to the single largest section of the voting public: enough to grant an absolute majority to any political party that can gain their sympathies. Obviously, no party would want to let a chance like this go. Consequently, from now on, there will be students in what are arguably the world’s best academic institutions who have neither the mettle that is required to be there nor the talent required to complete the courses they have been pushed into. Obviously these candidates with their half-baked intellects will not be able to keep pace with the curriculum, which strains the brightest talent in the country. This will lead to frustration among them and may even cause them to drop out. In that case, through the new policies, we have succeeded in: a) keeping out genuine talent from the institutes, b) forced some others to do something their intellects are not prepared for, causing them needless distress and wasting a significant portion of their lifetime. One needs to understand here that these don’t only apply to candidates from the reserved categories. Any candidate who gets admitted to an academy that demands extremely high levels of proficiency without possessing it in the right amounts can only look forward to a bitter experience. That is the exact reason that these institutions have an entrance examination in the first place. Diluting this quality will eventually cause the standards of these institutes to dip, and we will have yet another set of mediocre institutions.

I remember reading a couplet in junior school years in which a gardener was advised to water the roots of his plants and not their leaves. Apparently someone in the government has not been to primary school, but then again, that is not exactly news. No clear thinking person can disagree with the fact that the downtrodden need to be accorded special privileges to bring them up to a reasonable standard of living. But the way in which these privileges are decided certainly merits closer inspection. Reserving seats for higher education for a particular community, ostensibly to uplift it, while primary education remains neglected is obviously not the right approach. If the government had been interested in anything but the votes, they would have made better primary and secondary schooling arrangements, so that at the end of their schooling students from these communities could qualify for these institutions in the regular way. Agreed, this approach is more difficult and requires more changes, but substituting an easy option for the right one does not make too much sense. An analogy comes to mind. Say, a certain portion of the engine of a rocket needs to be made of titanium, since it can withstand much higher temperatures. Now the same property renders its forging quite difficult. In this case if some wise guy comes up with the idea of using wood since its more workable, his intelligence cannot be appreciated enough.

One place where these knee-jerk reservations do make sense is the Parliament. If a large section of the country remains underdeveloped despite putting in special plans for them, it is time to seek that section’s participation in the policies governing them. Hence the only place where these reservations make sense is in the ministries. Besides, that is the only job that can be done with abysmal levels of education.

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