Saturday, April 08, 2006

Quota Raj all set to become reality

It seems that proposal of introducing 50% reservations in India's central universities is going to become a reality. With no political opposition in sight, India's "government" is all set to see through their nefarious designs. Our 'honourable" Human Resources Minister Mr. Arjun Singh has already said that quota decision is final. To say that Congress government is playing a dangerous game is the understatement of the year. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any sense of rage against it in the Indian media, atleast not in the online editions. This coming proposal is the single most outrageous piece of legislation in the history of independent India and there is not even a whimper of protest against it. If this proposal becomes a reality, we will see a new and far worse India, where people are by law discriminated on the basis of caste and religion. If this doesn't call for a show of outrage then I can't imagine what will.

Update: Rashmi Bansal of JAM magazine has a scholarly article on the subject. It is a long, but enlightening read.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Quotafication of India

No matter who is in power in Indian Governments they can always be relied to do the wrong thing almost all the time. Coming close on the heels of a constitutional amendment to allow for reservations in private engineering and medical colleges comes the monstority of a proposal where government is "considering" almost 50% reservations for "backward castes and muslims" in IITs and IIMs. India's premier educational institutes are being sacrificed at the altar of caste politics. Architects of a free and united India Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar must be turning in their graves. What they envisioned was an India where caste, creed and religion doesn't matter, instead we are looking at a India where caste, creed and religious discrimination is going to be institutionalised. Whether one likes it or not in this new India, the surname matters and matters a lot.

Nobody can argue that the disadvantaged groups of the society do not need a helping hand. Affirmative action is a notion which is employed quite successfully in USA, without an explicit quota system. The disadvantaged sections of the society deserve help, but this should be done the right way, by making them competitive enough so that they can cross the bar on their own. What Indian government is doing is that they are lowering the bar for them, while keeping the bar same for those unfortunate(or fortunate) to be born with the wrong surname . By compromising on excellence and aptitude, the government is not only lowering the overall standards of quality, it is also doing those very sections of society a disservice whom they are claiming to help. Just an IIT or IIM name tag is not going to make anybody a successful engineer or manager. It sure would open some doors, atleast initially, but over the long term they have to have the skills and aptitude necessary to succeed in the real world. If they do not have the right training, no amount of spoon feeding is going to help them in their chosen professions.

A dangerous potential consequence of this retrogade and foolish decision is going to be rise in social tensions among different groups of society. With thousands of castes, sub-castes, religions already in place in India, our great nation has already been divided into many pieces based on "birth defects" of caste and religion . The last thing one needs is hostility between them. Government, instead of encouraging social harmony, is giving people another reason to hate each other by institutionalising discrimination. Imagine if somebody lets say Mr. Pandey gets 95th percentile in IIM exams and is denied admission whereas lets say Mr. Yadav with 75th percentile gets the coveted IIM-A seat, Mr. Pandey is surely going to forever nurse hostility against Mr. Yadav. Furthermore, there is going to be groupism in the campus itself, where people who have made to the campus through general exam will have one group and people with quota category will have another group. It is obvious which group is likely to perform better academically and which group would be looked down upon by faculty and capable students. The seeds of permanent hostility have been sown from an early age itself. Even in the campus recruitment, a company executive would be reluctant to hire somebody who is there mostly because of his caste and creed. Clearly, seeing the name Mr. Yadav in a resume would make him highly suspicious of Mr. Yadav's credentials even if that particular candidate is there because of his hard work and competence. In this globalized world, where companies fight for talent, no executive would knowingly want to hire somebody with questionable ability. It is also not doing any good to Mr. Yadav as well who would have benefited much more from the right training rather than from the act of charity by the government.

This kind of blatant casteism can lead to some very interesting situations. Imagine a situation, where parents of a newly born child in the "wrong caste" are afraid that their child is very disadvantaged. Being good parents, they want to give their child every possible advantage they can afford. One possibility for them is to give-up their child for adoption in the "right caste" or better still if they are well-off, buy the "right caste" for their child by paying someone to give their surname to their "wrong caste" child. Now, the child born to be Mr. Pandey is converted to Mr. Yadav, and has every advantage which any Mr. Yadav has. To take this argument even further, in our enterpreunarial times somebody can actually make a profitable business out of selling caste names. All that enterpreuner has to do is to find people willing to adopt babies on paper , give all "wrong caste" babies a surname with the "right caste", charge the "wrong caste" parents a whole lot of money, pay the "right caste" person some money and pocket the rest as commission or profit. He could probably advertise his company called 'Caste Away' with a tagline like "Cast away your Caste". There could be different rates for conversion to different castes, an OBC may demand the highest premium, a mere BC may have a little less and a marginally backward caste may be the cheapest. So if a "wrong caste" parent has 3 children, one is very dumb, other is marginally dumb and the last one is marginally smart, the parent may decide to convert the first one to OBC, the second one to BC and since he bought two castes, he gets to convert the third one to "only a marginally backward caste" for free. I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of all kids are born with surnames Yadav and all Pandeys disappear, become extinct. That is one caste less for politicians to exploit.

Consider another scenario where the "wrong caste" people think (rightly so ) that they are being wronged. Now, we being a democratic nation, these "wrong caste" people also have a vote and hence political power. How can they exercise this power and avenge their wrong? By choosing "the right party", which promises that they would also get a slice of the reservation pie if "the right party" comes to power. Sure enough someday "the right party" would come to power and they will have to fulfill their promise. The "wrong castes" will be righted and they will gain their rightful place in society, by being added to the list of backward castes. Soon enough we will have a situation where all people in the country are officially backward. That would be the day when we will achieve true parity with each other. All of us would be officially backward, a true and lasting equity would be achieved.

If the scenario depicted above seems far fetched, then be aware that they are not. I am personally aware of some cases, where by bribing the right people , higher caste people have got their wards converted to lower castes.

Making a section of society competitive enough to let them rise up to the challenges is a far harder task but is the one which is going to have lot of benefits for not only the groups being helped but for society as well. Indian politicians(or politicians in general for that matter) have neither the foresight nor the willingness to make policies for the long term. Afterall, long term planning takes vision and courage and may not necessarily pay in the next byelection. On the other hand, reserving seats is easy, has the apperance of helping a section of society and ensures vote banking by playing one caste against another (e.g. Laloo Yadav) . Our corrupt politicians are employing the british raj tactics at a much broader scale to lead India towards a long term disaster. If things continue, the day is not far when India will be a "quota society", where everybody is granted a reservation, a society where merit takes a back seat and your birth largely determines your fate. Such a society is unlikely to be very competitive in a globalized world even more so because smart and talented people would leave this society for better opportunites abroad. What we are going to see is a resurgence of a caste-based society, a casteist society, something like a Bihar or UP where caste is everything. Is this the legacy we wish to leave for our children?