Saptarishi
Saturday, April 15, 2006
  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Reservation Policy

In Godfather III, Michael Corleone gasps in frustration after failing to make the Corleone business activities go "legit" and surviving an assasination attempt by the men of Joey Zaza - "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back right in." I thought the reservation issue is no more a factor in the society because of the way Indian economy has performed and created opportunities for all and sundry across the board. Well, I was wrong.

As long as there is a gap in the supply and demand for the high quality higher educational institutions in a country like India coupled with historical injustices meted out to certain sections of the population, the bogie of reservation will resurface after every few years like the killer in the B-grade horror flicks. I am tired of this debate and the subsequent arguments that “Mandalisation” v/s education provoke during each revival cycle. Even if the current round of the reservation bogey fades, I am sure that this thing will resurface in the future. Of course, all this would not have been required if the Government of India had tried to create a level playing field for all the students irrespective of geography, caste, or class by providing quality basic school education to at least a significant percentage of the children in India. It takes persistence and objectivity to do this. Such a long term action plan does not get extra votes from the politically empowered lower castes in India in a short duration. Therefore, the middle class of India keeps facing this issue of reservations in educational institutes and workplace every ten or twelve years. I specifically used the word middle class as it is based on economic indicators and not on caste lines.

Most of the arguments against reservations that I have scanned through in the blogs, essays, and the newspaper editorials are centered on the concept of appreciation of the talented and meritorious individuals in a society. Socialists and communists, a breed that seems as indestructible as poverty in India, really do not care about this type of arguments. By definition, these ideologies categorize every individual as equal and refuse to draw distinction between people based on their abilities. Therefore, all the arguments about who is more eligible than the rest is meretricious in the eyes of the pink and the red brigade. You lose them once you start talking about the power of individualism in transforming a society and how important it is to reward individuals who add significant more value to the society than the others.

On the other hand, the reality is that none of us have seen a true meritocracy in this world. Working towards a meritocracy is as much a utopia as working towards a classless society, so dear to the socialists and the leftists. Probably, United States society in its present avatar, has come somewhat close to the word “meritocracy”. However, there is enough evidence to disprove the previous statement. I admit that there are lots of factors other than merit that is responsible for the success of an individual in a society – family background, religious background, social networking etc. etc. This is a significant topic for the sociologists to ponder about. In order to explain what I meant above, in simple words, I can say that I would not have been motivated for my PhD had my family not stressed the importance of education from my childhood. Moreover, my family never needed me to earn money in order to support them. I had the luxury of spending six years for my graduate education in United States without really worrying about how my family is dealing with financial responsibilities back in India.

We are a democracy. It means that the government tries to achieve what the majority of people want. The upper caste population is a minority in India. Most of us hardly go out to vote during the elections. Nobody hankers after our votes. In brief, we are politically expedient. The only time the middle class community comprising mainly of upper castes or well-off other castes in India becomes important to the government is when it comes to collect taxes and fund poorly regulated extravagant social programs that eventually line up the pockets of the babus who are, ironically, part of the middle-class too. Of course, since the dawn of civilization this exercise has been done in the name of fighting poverty.

I can confidently say that because the middle-class is truly politically expedient on account of its small size; it will lose the battle over reservations eventually. It might not happen during this round of the fight but probably in the next round of the fight. Therefore, it is pertinent that people like us be prepared. If we can accept that we are going to lose this fight, we might give in at the right time and extract as much mileage as we can from the negotiations. Let us get whatever concessions we can before it is too late for even small mercies.

The upper castes belonging to the middle class are resourceful enough to know which side their bread is buttered. They and their children know the value of education. They are also blessed with the power of money as compared to the other downtrodden Indians. Many of them will figure a way out of this mess by the demands of the market. Investment in creating their own educational institutions for training their children in foreign countries with open policies is a distinct possibility. As a result, more children of the middle class will emigrate out of India for other countries. Eventually, the money of the middle-class will also migrate to these places.

This loss will be quite acceptable if the individuals produced by the system of reservations are able to pull up their socks and replace the fleeing wealth without letting the economy go off the rails. They should also be able to not only generate wealth but also provide entrepreneurial leadership. If the policy of reservations manages to achieve that, it will be something quite unique in the history of this world. Imagine the markets for services and goods for such a prosperous society. Both the socialists and the capitalists stand to gain from this.

However, if the policy fails, no big deal! History is quite used to the fact that we, the Indians, have repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot when it came to pulling our people out of marginalized existence. Another chapter added to this record will be conveniently forgotten by the rest of the world. But, I being an incorrigible optimist always try to look at the brighter side - in the failed scenario, all the castes, irrespective of whether they are higher or lower, can eat grass together. This will satisfy the socialists and not the capitalists. This might, to an extent, satisfy the utopia of a classless society too.

My close friends from higher as well as lower castes who made it in this world because of studying hard and having a hunger for success must be dismayed after reading my positive stance for reservation. I can only say this in my defense. I have already reaped the benefits of, the excellent but limited to few, education system in India. I have, fashionably, become a citizen of the world now. You have to declare this nowadays as nationalism is so “not cool” any more. If I handle my career in a right fashion and earn enough money, my children might not depend just on the geographical location of India for their education. They will be free to choose wherever they want to study. Therefore, I do not care about what happens to the other upper caste Indians who are poor and depend on fair educational opportunities to raise their standard of living. It is too bad that they were born in upper caste families that do not have the financial muscle. They should also be happy that they sacrificed themselves on the altar of the collective progress of India – small price to pay for the sins of our forefathers.

 
Comments:
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? "
 
Thanks a lot for the appreciation. Read through your blog too. Liked the contents of the post - "Is morality incompatible with personal freedom?"
 
Nice Blog Aninda. As eternal optimists we should hope for the end of 'Licence-quota Raj' in education. This might make the supply curve intersect demand in higher education.
As of now, my concern is less of saving meritocracy and more about the incessant efforts by political powers to perpetuate the caste system in the name of education. Previously I thought marriage is the greatest perpetrator of caste system, but now I think politicians equal that.

btw my recent blog is 'spicy' enough to interest you!
http://udtipanchi.blogspot.com/
 
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"Saptarishi" in Sanskrit means the Seven Sages or rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and other Hindu literature. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion. The constellation of Ursa Major is also named as Saptarshi. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saptarishi)

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