Pentagram - Voice / My Letter to the Open Page, Hindu

The video (acknowledging Sarvesh's contribution,,he gave me the link to the video ;) ) reminds me of this mail that I sent to The Hindu on 25th May 2006, thinking they would publish it in Open Page. But I think it was a bit too much to expect :-)

a case against reservation

In every nation’s history there do come occasions when the entire population engages in a debate – active or passive- and when the outcome of such a debate holds key to the shape of the country’s future. The topic of reservation being deliberated today at various levels is one such turning point for India.

A lot of learned people have presented facts, figures and graphs in support of reservation. At the risk of sounding naïve I take up the task of presenting my case against reservation.

Is reservation a panacea for all socio-economic problems?

There are a lot of countries which have tried their hands at facilitating a more equitable representation of their populace in various institutions. From their experience we can learn that reservation, though one of them, is not the only one. We do not have reliable figures that can quantify the benefits accrued to the targeted classes by way the past 50 years of reservation. Why are we not talking about greater empowerment of the unprivileged classes to ensure equity? How many students are able to acquire the minimum qualification required to gain admission to the higher seats of learning, which we propose to bring within the ambit of reservation? How many of the deserving students are unable to join because they do not have the financial wherewithal? What has the government done to help students, irrespective of caste, take these exams with better chances of securing a good rank? Why is the government not interested in taking a bottom-up approach by ensuring accessibility to and quality of education at basic level and then move upwards? Such an approach will ensure that students from all walks are able to assert their right to quality education rather than remain at the mercy of government intervention at every stage. On second thoughts, why should the government do so? Doesn’t it suit the government to actually make the population dependent on it? It does not want permanent solutions which take a longer time to fructify. It believes in the power of short term decisions which can bring them back to power.

Do the unprivileged or underprivileged belong only to the lower castes?

The dispensation of the day rightly assumes that socially backward classes form a bulk of the population that has suffered from discrimination over the years. Social discrimination leads to economic stagnation which again leads to social discrimination. Now, this vicious cycle needs to be broken. Problem lies in the fact that the government is trying to break the cycle at the wrong place. The case for reservation on the basis of caste, consciously or otherwise, ignores the fact that one of the most prominent reasons for inaccessibility to education is socio-economic in nature. If the government is able to ensure that no land tiller needs to withdraw his kids from school and make them work in the fields, it would be a giant leap towards ensuring education as a means of empowerment. The government should ensure unmatched quality of the education being given to students in government schools. That the curricula of these schools are themselves suspect, given their dependence on the government of the day, does not help matters. We need to ensure education for everyone up to 12th standard. Any student interested in joining an institute of higher learning should be extended facilities to equip himself with skills to face competitive exams.

Here is one innovative way to achieve this. Economics of scale work well in a country like India. The government, centre or state, can join hands with respected coaching centers and ensure that they provide training to deserving students at a subsidized rate. This training could be provided free too with the government and the coaching center pitching in with the money. The issue of coaching centers required to gain entry to institutes, itself, is debatable but as long as such a situation prevails let us work with it.

We need to think out of the box to find solution to situations like these. Even if reservation works, why not find a solution that doesn’t hurt anyone. After all the upper caste of today shouldn’t be persecuted for something their forefathers did or merely witnessed hundreds of years ago.

Does a beneficiary of reservation necessarily give back to the society?

AN ASSUMPTION BETTER TREATED AS AN ASSUMPTION. I guess one of the peripheral, if not the main thoughts our leaders had while introducing reservation was that it would have a ripple effect and one day it would not be needed. Though this does not seem to be happening, politicians like Arjun Singh are relying increasingly on such issues to hold on to their positions and vie for higher ones. We do not have statistics that identify any ripple effect though one-off instances do exist. The IITs/IIMs could call on their alumni and ask them to do something in this direction. The Indian government doles out dual citizenship to the Great Indian Diaspora. May be it could come with a rider that a person who receives such a dual citizenship should have given back to the Indian society in terms of providing opportunities to the underprivileged.

In a country of more than a billion, there will be no dearth of issues. What we need to understand is that with so many people we will not have dearth of ideas too to tackle these issues. Why resort to a palliative like reservation, which is barely able to address the symptom, and hail it as the solution to all socio-economic ills.

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