Thursday, June 22, 2006

Quota Issue Revisited

A lot has been said and a lot has been written about the issue of OBC reservations in institutions of higher education in India. And now, when the World Cup fever has gripped the world, I finally choose to write on this wasted topic. Absurd? Well, last night I was reading the interview with the Dean of Student Affairs on Scholars’ Avenue, and I can’t help sharing some comments.

The dean’s stance was as expected. He chose to stay away from figures and showed full support for the government. I don’t blame him as an individual. He is a government stooge. But if the deans and directors of all the IITs and other institutions came together and voiced their true thoughts, it surely would make a difference.
However, there is something else that bothered me more. I was browsing through the comments posted by students, and that is what really disappointed me. Except for a couple of them, the comments were anything but constructive. It reminded me of this article that many of my friends from Kgp had forwarded to me. After all that has been happening, the outrage about Arjun Singh being the chief guest at the upcoming convocation in KGP is natural. But dissipating the anger in form of swearwords doesn’t help. It doesn’t lead anyone anywhere! You would expect the so-called “cream of the country” to be great thinkers.
People have suggested demonstrations and mass boycott. There was this one suggestion about everyone applying for Degree in Absentia. It would be simply beautiful if students were to come together and make this happen. No ill conduct, no rules violated, yet the voice of the students will be heard.
Before wrapping up, I’ll share some random thoughts on the reservation issue. It’s obvious that if something should be done for uplifting the backward sections of the society, it should be at the primary education level. Here are some things that could be done:
1) The pay of primary school teachers could be hiked to attract more qualified people toward primary school teaching.
2) High school teachers could be encouraged to volunteer to teach some classes at the primary level.
3) This may sound crazy, but it actually makes more sense to have quotas in the primary and high school level in public as well as private schools rather than to have quotas in places of higher education. True, most good private schools are in the cities and the majority of the backward population is from villages. But this way at least the poorer sections in the cities could benefit.
4) Coming back to the issue of quotas in colleges and universities, we want the government to be able to specify timeframes at the end of which the quotas will disappear and to stick to these targets. It shouldn’t be difficult to come up with these targets given that the quota issue has been experimented with for decades now.
Of course, there lies the fundamental question whether quotas in colleges have been or can be of any help at all. And to answer that, I can ask another question that arises from a simple analogy. How much did India benefit from the policy of restricted trade that lasted for decades?
I can go on and on. That’s the reason I was refraining from writing on this topic all this while. :-) Comments are most welcome. If you find any of my ideas faulty or half-baked, please elaborate your views.
On a final note, the hatred generated amongst various sections of the society as a result of these recent happenings is depressing. So is the prospect of the caste system staying alive (with renewed importance) for many years to come.



9 comments:

  1. "Of course, there lies the fundamental question whether quotas in colleges have been or can be of any help at all. And to answer that, I can ask another question that arises from a simple analogy. How much did India benefit from the policy of restricted trade that lasted for decades?"

    Unfair comparision. Also, remember that the inclusion of multinationals _has_ caused harm to some sections of traders, alongwith the benefits.

    Reservation is good, but up to a certain level, on a proper [economic] basis, and upto a certain number of years.

    But guess what, the poor of the country do not vote based on who is helping the poor, they vote on the basis of caste. The middle class does not vote. So, what incentive do the vote hungry politicians have to implement sensible reservations? None.

    If the dean does not agree with them, they will appoint another one. There are votes at stake, and whoever can divide the population in the best possible way to secure their own votes wins. The games have begun... the results will be out at the next elections. Lets see how the couch-based-sermon-giving-middle-class affects the results.

    -A
    P.S. Nice to see ur views on this topic, and fully understand why you have been avoiding writing on this topic.

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  2. This is an interesting article and indeed it is nice to see someone taking time off to write on these issues. Whether or not reservation is right is a complicated question. However, it's easy to see that the basis is not right. Reservation, if any, must be based on economic status instead of caste- it is because of low income people cannot afford good education and giving more chance to them may be justified, however I do not see why anyone should deserve preferential treatment because of his/her surname. It's a little surprising to see no explicit mention of that in this article, though you do point to it in an indirect fashion : "...at least the poorer sections in the cities could benefit". Now, as we all know, there is no one to one relation between poverty and caste, is there? A somewhat valid counterpoint to this is that income certificates can be forged. But so can be caste certificates. Also, as far as I know, primary education is compulsory for ALL in India ( theoretically of course, like everything else!) so I am not quite sure what you mean by reservation in primary schools. Do you mean reservation at specified "good" schools? Finally, I completely agree that reservation is just another way of strengthening the notion of class difference and I am shocked to receive so many "jokes" from my otherwise intelligent friends targetting specified communities !!

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  3. Reservations......its a very sensetive topic used by POLITICIANS to get VOTES and WIN. This is what I would say, if you want reservations first have them in the election system, we should have some kind of conversion like if a Backward Caste candidate gets 70 Votes then it equals 100 votes got by an OC candidate. Propose this and all of this will vanish!!!

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  4. Mera Bharat Mahan
    Hindustan Times 8th July news carries the following:
    While there have been recent cases of students scoring 90 per cent and not getting into colleges of their choice, two All India Engineering Entrance Examination 2006 candidates who scored six on 100 have been selected for admission in the engineering course of Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra.

    Rajesh Kisku of West Bengal and Ashok Jambhule of Maharashtra (names changed) will study civil engineering and biotechnology respectively, thanks to the Central Counselling Board (CCB) of the AIEEE. Both belong to the Scheduled Tribe category. They aren't the only ones to benefit from reservation. Others with scores of 7, 10, 11 and 13 will also pursue engineering in this premier institution.

    They've got it made for now but there are many who aren't happy about it. "It is correct. These are facts," says BIT V-C Prof S.K. Mukherjee, blaming it on the CBSE norms. All-India seats are distributed state-wise and the same pattern is adopted while distributing SC/ST category seats. If a reserved category candidate with less marks opts for BIT in the CCB, he gets admission.

    "Such situations are a matter of concern. There should be a minimum cut-off mark," Prof Mukherjee says. On the pattern of the IITs, he says, marks/rank obtained by a candidate in a competitive exam must be linked with marks obtained in a conventional exam.

    What's more, things could get worse. "Reserved category candidates with lesser marks may get admission during the second round of counselling, " the V-C says. "Some 50 reserved category seats are still vacant. And chances are that students who scored 1 or 2 may be considered for admission," says a BIT professor.

    That means candidates who scored 270 would come last in the list of general category candidates granted admission. "It's not fair," says Samrendra, one such candidate. Admission over, the academically weak students find it hard to cope, says a professor of civil engineering.

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  5. Mera Bharat Mahan
    Hindustan Times 8th July news carries the following:
    While there have been recent cases of students scoring 90 per cent and not getting into colleges of their choice, two All India Engineering Entrance Examination 2006 candidates who scored six on 100 have been selected for admission in the engineering course of Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra.

    Rajesh Kisku of West Bengal and Ashok Jambhule of Maharashtra (names changed) will study civil engineering and biotechnology respectively, thanks to the Central Counselling Board (CCB) of the AIEEE. Both belong to the Scheduled Tribe category. They aren't the only ones to benefit from reservation. Others with scores of 7, 10, 11 and 13 will also pursue engineering in this premier institution.

    They've got it made for now but there are many who aren't happy about it. "It is correct. These are facts," says BIT V-C Prof S.K. Mukherjee, blaming it on the CBSE norms. All-India seats are distributed state-wise and the same pattern is adopted while distributing SC/ST category seats. If a reserved category candidate with less marks opts for BIT in the CCB, he gets admission.

    "Such situations are a matter of concern. There should be a minimum cut-off mark," Prof Mukherjee says. On the pattern of the IITs, he says, marks/rank obtained by a candidate in a competitive exam must be linked with marks obtained in a conventional exam.

    What's more, things could get worse. "Reserved category candidates with lesser marks may get admission during the second round of counselling, " the V-C says. "Some 50 reserved category seats are still vacant. And chances are that students who scored 1 or 2 may be considered for admission," says a BIT professor.

    That means candidates who scored 270 would come last in the list of general category candidates granted admission. "It's not fair," says Samrendra, one such candidate. Admission over, the academically weak students find it hard to cope, says a professor of civil engineering.

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  6. Absolutely Anonymous10:14 PM

    In Response to Anindya's,
    "A somewhat valid counterpoint to this is that income certificates can be forged. But so can be caste certificates"....

    Possible but not as easily.

    Example:-
    How many SC/STs in your batch were not actually SC/STs?

    Ans:- None that I know.

    How many MCM candidates were actually poor?

    Ans:- I doubt if its even 10-15%. I dont want to name names but remember a certain guy in Aerospace department owning a Cinema Hall and another in Instru whose both parents were doctors? Both got MCMs (Merit Cum Means Scholarships)There are many more...

    A country where even 5% people dont pay taxes, how on Earth can you determine true income? The gov. capitulated long ago. Remember the VDIS scheme?

    Economic reservations are a myth in India. Even countries like US struggle to find a proper metric for wealth status even though everyone has SSN# and Credit scores are available almost free.

    Now Joyita, it was a very simple and more or less apolitical post befitting the dignity of an educated person. Many have already commented upon on various aspects of the post. Now regarding apriori hiking of salaries of primary teachers. You may not know, according to latest UGC upgrade, full time Professors in universities are entitled a paycheck of approx 35-40k per month. Not bad.
    However, we all know, it seldom if ever reflects on the quality of university education. Drop out rate is high, and teaching quality even by third world standards is pedestrian. A proper and stringent monitoring system is needed with it.

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  7. Bhaskar Majumder2:06 AM

    Quota Issue Re-Revisited
    A Response to a Response
    by Bhaskar Majumder
    I was feeling middle class comfort by freeing myself from the political quota issue but for my niece Jayita Dutta who had been cruel enough to arouse my ‘killed conscience’ on social issues camouflaged as ‘political’. So I feel compelled to respond to what Jayita, an IITian from Kharagpur and pursuing Ph.D. from Los Angeles, California, wrote as a blog and posted on a website. On the supposition that most of us have not read what she wrote, I intend to present her views first and then add my comments on them. The purpose is to re-open (re-visit) an issue which unless addressed now and dealt with firmly at the ideological-operational level, may have serious implications for the society.
    Jayita who had just read the interview with the Dean of Student Affairs of IIT Kharagpur giving full support to the government, felt that deans and directors of all the IITs and other institutions should come together and voice their true thoughts about what they think about the reservation issue. She was however extremely disappointed with the reactions of the students of IIT who were anything but constructive. The ‘cream of the country’, instead of being great thinkers, chose to dissipate their anger in the form of swearwords. Some students suggested demonstrations and mass boycott while others suggested that everyone should apply for Degree in Absentia. Before wrapping up, Jayita suggested some steps that could be taken for uplifting the backward sections of the society, which she felt should be at the primary education level. Here are some things that could be done:
    1) The pay of primary school teachers could be hiked to attract more qualified people toward primary school teaching.
    2) High school teachers could be encouraged to volunteer to teach some classes at primary level.
    3) Having quotas in the primary and high school level in public as well as private schools rather than to have quotas in places of higher education. True, most good private schools are in the cities and the majority of the backward population is from villages. But this way at least the poorer sections in the cities could benefit.
    4) Coming back to the issue of quotas in colleges and universities, the government should specify timeframes at the end of which the quotas will disappear and to stick to these targets. It should not be difficult to come up with these targets given the quota issue has been experimented with for decades now.

    Before giving my own views on this issue let me start with a trauma that I faced in my early life when I was in Class Six in Cachar high school located in Silchar in the-then Assam. At that time in Assam high school started from Class Four. In the month of February, 1966 a well-built student Kaushik by name silently left the school. After a few months when I stood first the rest of the students started whispering that had Kaushik been there surely he would have stood first. I could not bring back Kaushik and neither could the school authorities. I did not have much idea then about ‘support income’ but came to know later that Kaushik was the son of a poor farmer and hence had to drop out to support his family. Can Arjun Singh’s government or the government under any other ruling political force bring back such drop outs and street children by ‘Quota’? Probably the answer is ‘no’.
    Let us set the problem in a bigger space. The twin forces of technology and institutions in a post-private property world have divided human society into at least two parts across all countries. These are the people at the bottom and the people at the top. The latter section is much smaller in number but it is the section that dictates terms, set rules, executes them and awards and punishes others. This illustrates the Darwinian notion of ‘survival of the fittest’, according to which those individuals who had the maximum initial advantage reached a credible height in the society. However, the people who remained excluded from the domain of protection-cum-privileges do not perhaps garland this concept because it is this section whose blood and sweat helped the present privileged and protected group to reach its position of power at the top of the society. Can ‘Quota’ demystify this Darwinian survival? The answer perhaps is ‘no’.
    I agree with Jayita’s suggestion of attracting more qualified people for primary school teaching. In the early 1960s when we used go to government schools in my village we found dedicated teachers even when they used to be occasionally sleepy and abusive (perhaps because of less energy). But now rather than sending my daughters to government schools with their poor facilities and incompetent teachers I send both of them to an expensive private school under CBSE in my city. The teachers are well paid because of the high fee structure. Belonging to the middle income group I have decided to send my daughters to English medium schools but I cannot imagine the people from the poor (income-assets-language) daring to send their children to such hi-quality schools.
    Suppose quotas are not there. The victim remains the victim and a section of the victims is often used against another section of the victims. I have reasons to believe that this happened in India many times. The fact is that all the actual and potential victims are not in a position to resist or raise voices of protest. The elite society that rests on the prevailing social norm that took the lead to build also does not approve of resistance. Unless and until the voice of protest is expressed forcefully, the elite remain silent. This silence is to be interpreted as a conspiracy of the privileged. On the other hand, the silence of the victim is her helplessness. There may also be apparent consent of the victim for further victimization, because the victim knows that the victor is also her saviour. A perception of ‘less oppression’ at present is preferred to a perception of ‘more oppression’ in future. It may also be that the potential victim is not aware of her processes of victimization or that she prefers the known enemy to an unknown one. Lest I create confusion, let me make my points brief. If I keep a section of the society retarded and like to run fast alone, I can do it but at the cost of the society. In the long run I do not succeed because the people at the back will be reasons to pull me back. If I put the retarded on my shoulder and run I shall be fatigued. The task then will be to get rid of my fatigue and to develop the individuals as healthy and non-retarded. This needs pushing the people at the back up. Permanent ‘state-imposed’ quota can not be a panacea.

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  8. Anonymous10:35 AM

    WELL ,HI,NICE TO HEAR SOMEONE WHO TALKS SENSE !!!

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK JOYI !

    U KNOW ME TOO WELL ....KEEP GUESSING.NEXT TIME SOMETHING ON MR. RAHUL DRAVID.

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  9. Sorry to intrude like this. Just thought to bring up some not-so-common-sense points people usually don't think of.

    You are probably aware of the fact that TN has had reservations (the highest in the country) for the last 2-3 decades. And guess what? It works!

    Despite reservation's morality and non-meritocracy, thousands have immensely benefited from it; resulting in much higher literacy and overall standard of living compared to the rest of the nation.

    Ofcourse, the fact that it benefits a lot of people doesn't justify well-deserving students not getting admission. But from my experience (schooled in a brahmin school), it has been a major factor in pushing FC students to try harder to get into even more elite institutions.

    What I'm trying to drive home here is that most of us (the educated ones) look upon reservation as an outright bad, evil political thing solely for fetching votes.

    In fact, that just isn't true. After all, the US of A implemented Affirmative Action a long time back benefiting thousands of american minorities.

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