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?


Unknown Indian said...

Very well argued. The most pernicious impact of reservations in IITs and IIMs is the damage it will do to the brand equity of these institutes. If half the grads from IITs / IIMs are mediocrities, why should recruiters waste time going through the truly painful process. If this comes through, as a recruiter, I'd rather focus on ISB. For more on this perspective, please see my blog

vivek_2502 said...

Where do you think all this is going to lead? I've put up my perspective on

P.S., Read the disclaimer on my blog after you read the post.

Ashutosh said...

Great post! I completely agree with you. Ambedkar would have been ashamed of 'his people' if he had seen the extreme shenanigans they are perpetuating today.

Anonymous said...

We must investigate the term "merit".Is "merit" just a score in entrance exams at age of 17?

Take the claim of "merit based" entrance to all IIMs and dozens of other institutes.

The CAT exam is based on the SAT exam in the USA . It has been proved beyond doubt that the SAT test is culturally biased . Blacks and hispanics do poorly at it year after year .

If a student who is eligible for admission to IIM on the basis of his CAT score, were to take the same CAT exam in which he/she cleared in a language that he/she did not understand then he/she would be at a disadvantage compared to someone who was schooled in that language . Not knowing that language does not mean you lack the capacity to clear that exam.

Approximately 25 % of CAT test is about English! Another 25 % is about English Comprehension!!!! There you are !!!! About 50 % so called aptitude test is a hoax for someone who is from a non-english speaking background .

This is how the CAT like the SAT is discriminatory .

See the full form of SAT …Scholastic Aptitude Test . The problem is aptitude testing is not so simple . There is no test on earth which can reliably tests aptitude .

Aptitude tests such as the SAT have a historical tie to the concept of innate mental abilities and the belief that such abilities can be defined and meaningfully measured. Neither notion has been supported by modern research. Few scientists who have considered these matters seriously would argue that aptitude tests such as the SAT provide a true measure of intellectual abilities.

It was found that people could be coached to better their scores at SAT . The name SAT …Scholastic Aptitude Test could not be correct . So under such valid criticism the name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test, since a test that can be coached clearly did not measure inherent "scholastic aptitude", but was influenced largely by what the test subject had learned in school. Even the College Board which conducts the SAT has beaten a hasty retreat.This was a major theoretical retreat by the College Board conducting SAT, which had previously maintained that the test measured inherent aptitude and was free of bias.

About ten years back , however, even the redundancy of the term assessment test was recognized and the name was changed to the neutral, and non-descriptive, SAT. At the time, the College Board announced, "Please note that SAT is not an initialism. It does not stand for anything."

The framers of these SAT tests assumed that intelligence was a unitary inherited attribute, that it was not subject to change over a lifetime, and that it could be measured and individuals could be ranked and assigned their place in society accordingly. The SAT evolved from these questionable assumptions about human talent and potential.

More and more people are questioning the validity of SAT . In the past MENSA used to accept high SAT score individuals . For the past decade it has stopped accepting SAT scores .

The whole exercise of deciding merit based on CAT scores discriminates against those from lower socio-economic status.

Though many non-IIM institutes have started accepting CAT scores, the application fee of these institutes is still inexplicably high.

The CAT is primarily an exam of Math and English. Logical and Analytical Reasoning is nearly absent (except for some verbal reasoning which again depends on knowing English well!!!!).

CAT is a clever way to keep those from lower socio-economic strata away Institutes funded with tax payers money .

So claims of “Merit” based on CAT scores is hollow and discriminatory against those of lower socio-economic strata.

Dhirubhai Ambani had a poor command over English . He would not have made it through CAT. So what "merit" are we talking of?

Vivek said...

good arguments.

It seems we all make similar arguments against reservation; if only the politicians were listening

Sriram said...

Thought will correct something in your post. Ambedkar was among the first to propose reservations in a formal manner and though it is said that he talked about "phasing them out" over time, never did formalize any such thought, thereby, leading to the anarchy at present.

As far as I know, I thought Nehru was also "in-favor-of" reservation camp - though it definitely was not as extensive then as it is today. For example, the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court ruling that reservation was unconstitutional was overturned by an amendment passed by the Nehru led Parliament by an amendment and paved the way for reservations for SC/ST and backward castes by law.

One may argue what Ambedkar, Nehru and the other (surprisingly) "turning in their grave" politicians had in mind when they passed such amendments, but I can only judge by what is on paper and the laws they have passed, and nothing suggests to me that their deep slumber in their graves is very much undisturbed.


Vivek Gupta said...


Dr. Ambedkar was an exceptional scholar and leader. He also was the architect of India's constitution, the same constitution for which Madras high court ruled reservations of any form "unconstitutional" in 1951. If reservation was deemed unconstitutional for the constitution he was the father of, I would think that the great man was not in favour of explicit reservation system.

It could be true that Nehru was in favour of reservations atleast during first few years of India's independence when the educational system was not developed at all and perhaps reservation was the only way to empower people of backward castes. However he evidently changed his mind during his later years as this letter written to all the chief ministers of India in 1961 clearly shows. In this letter he forcefully argues that extending reservation policy is only going to make India a second rate country. Clearly, none of the politicians both in Congress or non-Congress have paid any heed.

It does not matter whether the founding fathers of India were in favour or not in favour of reservation system. They certainly neither intended nor foresaw it to be a political weapon in the hands of bigot politicians. One thing I can be sure of is that this sad reality of India's politics is not providing any comfort to their souls.

Sriram said...

You might want to check your facts on Ambedkar. He is known as the architect of reservations in India. For example the very concept of caste based reservations in jobs, educational institutions and the like. The SC struck down the case in 1951 since it was not clear cut in Article 16 that reservations were legal, but in other Articles they were(I can find the references if you want). So the parliament passed an amendment that clarified Article 16 with an extra clause under the aegis of Nehru.

Again, Nehru opposes only reservations in the Services in his letter. Quite clearly so, in fact. Though he does not suggest in clear terms, but, he hints at various ways of reservation in education in the same letter. Again we should judge a man by his actions not by his word. On that count, I am sorry to say, Vivek, he disappoints.

Obviously I am not the expert on constitutional law or Indian history. But I disapprove of deification of Nehru, Ambedkar and the like. Or maybe I just dont see their contributions as so monumental when analysed with what was possible and what was achieved in the 60 years(almost) of independence.

Sriram said...

And when did Ambedkar become Dr. Ambedkar? That in itself is quite an interesting factoid to know:)

Vivek Gupta said...

Ambedkar was awarded a PhD in economics by Columbia University in 1916, D.Sc. by University of London in 1920s in addition to a couple of honorary doctorates in Law awarded in 50s(source: Wikipedia). I guess these are more than enough reasons to call him Dr. Ambedkar :).

There may have been some provisions for reservation policy for short term when Indian constitution came into being. Considering that India was a newly independent nation with a deeply entrenched division along caste lines, a short term reservation policy may have been justified and I would not doubt the intentions of leaders of that time in this regard. I have great regard for Nehru as a person. He truly was a great man who wanted to make India a developed nation even though his legacy as a leader or a statesman towards that goal is not flattering at all.

Memoryking said...

Read your blog.Liked it a lot.Here is mine
"You say, if a student knows a seat is reserved for him he is not going to work towards it. Ask yourself- If a person knows Education is subsidized for his kids, food items are subsidized for him, is he going to work? Isn’t it harming the Economy? Isn’t the highly subsidized education we avail a classic example of social injustice? "