Monday, May 21, 2007

OBC quotas- permanence is the vexed issue

I noted in an earlier post (More on OBC quotas, May 9) that one reason why reservations arouse so much hostility is that they are seen to be permanent, not a temporary measure meant to enable some sections to overcome long-existent handicaps. You have the classic position of the oppressed turning oppessor and dominant groups within reserved categories reducing reservations to a naked grab for spoils.

In an article in today's ET, Bodhisatva Ganguli touches on this point:

Much more relevant is one of the questions posed by the SC’s division bench, as to whether reservations can continue indefinitely and whether the government has unfettered power to reserve any percentage of seats. The question to be answered is whether this amounts to a violation of the fundamental right to equality for those denied the benefits of quotas. Not even the most sophisticated pro-reservation argument is willing to clarify whether reservations will eventually end, particularly in states where they have been in place for many decades, or are they part of a stable permanent arrangement. Clearly, some indeed see it as a semi-permanent arrangement as revealed by remarks that OBCs have ‘waited’ 56 years for their due. But there has been no legal bar on OBCs competing on merit. Indeed, one striking aspect of the debate is the lack of data on how many members of the OBC communities have made it on merit to IITs and IIMs in the past.

Incidentally, Ganguli thinks that the chances are that the SC will eventually uphold the policy of OBC reservation in educational institutions.

1 comment:

Krishnan said...

Just recently I started following the discussion/debates on changes to university admission systems in India and note with alarm that a significant percentage of "seats" in the IIT's and the IIM's will be reserved for what is called "OBC's" (Other backward classes). The oppressed have indeed turned the tables and are beginning to look like oppressors. When pushed to a corner, at times there appears to be an acknowledgement that these quotas will be "temporary" - till the inequities are resolved and the historically disadvantaged are given the opportunity like everyone else.

My response? Yea, right. If anyone believes that such "reservations" will be temporary, they are also gullible to believe that the Taj Mahal is for sale for a measly 1 million dollars (a discount if paid in cash).

Right now, the IIT's (maybe the IIM's) reserve a portion of the seats for "SC's" (Scheduled castes) - Have those reservations gone away? My guess is Nope, no way, never ever, it's permanent. Have there been any metrics defined for How anyone can figure out IF past discrimination has indeed been addressed? How does anyone know IF the SC's are indeed "disadvantaged" today or not? How will anyone figure out when (if at all) the "OBC's" can be removed from the "quotas"?? Nope, it will not happen.

Yes, it is quite true that for generations, the SC's and OBC's and (fill-in-the-blank) have been systematically disciminated against (like the African Americans in the US, descendants of slaves) and I am certain that the "evil" within the hearts of many/all - to evaluate a person by who their parents were and NOT what they have achieved, will continue - perhaps forever. So, yes, we MUST make sure that meritocracy rules, everywhere. We must define ways to determine if we have redressed the concerns of the truly disadvantaged and make sire that indiscriminate discrimination does not happen - but to allow the children of the children of the children to oppress the children of the children of the children of the oppressors makes no sense, it is in fact dangerous for the entire societal structure and for the well being of all. Where will it all stop? Are we prepared to destroy merit in the name of compensation?

What is truly tragic is that I see the exact, same things happening in the US - though the country (including a significant chunk of the historically disadvantaged) as a whole is waking up and asking "What are we doing to ourselves?" There is really no way to truly compensate for the horrors inflicted on millions of men, women and children who were systematically discriminated against and the entire system of government (local, state and national) conspired to keep them where "they belonged" - but even though things HAVE changed, significantly, there is political capital to be gained by playing the race card in the US (and the caste card in India).

Several years ago, I got a call from a reporter from a newspaper in Texas - asking me to comment on something he had heard at a Graduate Student recruiting conference for engineers and scientists. He told me that he had heard from some (several?) students that minority students were deliberately discriminated against for admission/financial aid to graduate schools in the US - with such positions going to foreign students. I said "Nonsense" and proceed to tell him as to how difficult to impossible it was to fill available positions with minority students - since a) many did not apply or b) they did not have the grades or GRE scores that were necessary but that many foreign students did and they came from excellent universities that many of us were aware of. I told him, in addition, often funds for minority students go unclaimed - there are simply not enough students who want to go to graduate school.

It is true, I told him that many mnority students do graduate from sciences/engineering (not enough, but many do) - but given that employers are also under the gun to hire more minorities, they snap them up ... luring them with higher and higher salaries and that is often too much temptation to resist. Universities play such games also - to fill some imaginary quota, they resort to raiding other campuses OR worse, make compromises that tend to create enormous resentment or illwill among other faculty members.

The cycle has to stop. The pendulum has to stop swinging like this. We cannot start discriminating to stop discrimination. It is indeed a sad state of affairs.