Sunday, November 12, 2006

Reservation for the Muslims

The controversy on granting reservation for the OBCs at the institutes of higher learning has hardly died down. There is a new controversy going on about granting some reservation for the Muslims. It is not yet clear where and how much. I mean is the reservation going to be in scools and colleges, or in govt jobs or somewhere else?

There is no doubt that Muslims are lagging behind average Indian in every sphere of life.

The reservation policy, however, is not going to work. Even more so for the Muslims. There are several reasons why a reservation for the Muslims is not desirable:
  1. Catapulting into some institution is not of much help, as the student, terrible underequipped compared to his classmates, will struggle with the course. Neither is reservation in jobs anything of help. The unskilled man/woman will struggle with his/her own job, let alone going back and helping his/her people. I have noticed that people, who get into places where they do not deserve to be, when asked for help, are generally not helpful to others. I believe this comes from insecurity.
  2. Mostly the rich and powerful among the Muslims (the so called creamy layer) are going to benefit from such policy.
  3. The right wing parties will use it( footnote 2) as another pretext to sow discord among Hindus and Muslims. They will be more venomous in this case compared to the one of SC/ST/OBCs, because atleast the SC/ST/OBCs are mostly Hindus. We shall see further confrontation of the Muslim and the Hindu society.
  4. It may be unconstitutional( footnote 3).
The solution does not lie in this. Rather I think the urge and effort has to come from within the Muslims. More organisations like BIFT has to come up. Tegore once said "(a person's) need is a lot stronger than (another's) sympathy."

The government too can do a lot (not by something like offering reservation) by some assertive actions like building up more schools in Muslim dominated areas, granting scholarships to needy students through the Waqf board and by including Urdu in the list of languages offered in good goverment schools like DPSs, KVs and others( footnote 1). There is a clear trend of many government school administration denying admission to student from Muslim muhallas. The govt can take action against such administrations. And it should stop trying to rob the few Muslim institutions their special status. They are like oasis for the Muslims.

A very important thing that the goverment can do is to clear the Waqf of the corrupt people it has got. If they do that, the situation is bound to look up within some time.

Related read:
2. Under-representation of the Muslims in India and Their Upliftment: Some Thoughts
3. Muslim quota? The debate is on

1. It is not that they don't offer Urdu, but many schools don't and even in some that does, there is shortage of teachers.

2. A recent news points out that the BJP does not like the idea of granting reservation for the Muslims. That is quite expected. It is not from good will twards Muslims, but because of their policy of hatred.

3. Few days back a supreme court order has declared reservation on the basis of religion as unconstitutional, in response of Andhra Pradesh government's decision to grant reservation for the Muslims.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Beyond Caste

Why only caste? Reserve seats in educational
institutions on the basis of schooling, gender and
family income. That is the affirmative way to ensure
social justice. Purushottam Agrawal opens a critical

Purushottam Agrawal

The Indian government~Rs intention of introducing caste
based quotas for the ~SOther Backward Classes~T in
centrally funded institutions of higher learning and
the prime minister~Rs suggestion to the private sector
to ~Qvoluntarily go in for reservation~R, has once again
sparked off a debate on the merits and demerits of
caste-based reservations. Unfortunately, the
predictable divide between the votaries of ~Ssocial
justice~T on one hand and those advocating ~Smerit~T on
the other seems to have once again camouflaged the
real issues. It is necessary to take a holistic and
non-partisan view of the issues involved.

The hue and cry about ~Ssacrificing merit~T is untenable
simply because merit is after all a social construct
and it cannot be determined objectively in a
historically unjust and unequal context. The idea of
competitive merit will be worthy of serious attention
only in a broadly egalitarian context. But then, caste
is not the only obstacle in the way of an egalitarian

After all, economic conditions, educational
opportunities and discrimination on the basis of
gender also contribute to the denial of opportunity to
express one~Rs true merit and worth. It is interesting
to note that in the ongoing debate, one side refuses
to see the socially constructed nature of the notion
of merit, while the other side refuses to recognise
the multiplicity of the mechanisms of exclusion with
equal vehemence.

The idea of caste-based reservations is justified by
the logic of social justice. This implies the
conscious attempt to restructure a given social order
in such a way that individuals belonging to the
traditionally and structurally marginalised social
groups get adequate opportunities to actualise their
potential and realise their due share in the resources

In any society, particularly in one as diverse and
complex as the Indian society, this is going to be a
gigantic exercise and must not be reduced to just one
aspect of state policy. Seen in this light,
caste-based reservation has to work in tandem with
other policies ensuring the elimination of the
structures of social marginalisation and denial of
access. It has to be seen as a means of achieving
social justice and not an end in itself. By the same
logic it must be assessed and audited from time to
time like any other social policy and economic

Can we say that a pupil from a panchayat school in
Bihar is equipped to compete with an alumnus of Doon
School on an equal footing, even if both of them
belong to the same caste?
Hence, it is important, to discuss reservation in the
holistic context of much required social restructuring
and not to convert it into a fetish of ~Qpolitical
correctness~R. Admittedly, caste remains a social
reality and a mechanism of oppression in Indian
society. But can we say that caste is the only
mechanism of oppression? Can we say with absolute
certainty that poverty amongst the so-called upper
castes has been eradicated? Can we say that the
regions of Northeast, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh are on
par with the glittering metros of Delhi and Mumbai?
Can we say that a pupil from a panchayat school in
Bihar is equipped to compete with an alumnus of Doon
School on an equal footing, even if both of them
belong to the same caste group? One of my students
once remarked that he was regularly compelled to swim
across a rivulet in order to reach his school, and the
rivulet in question did not distinguish between
Brahmins and dalits. Incidentally, this young man
happens to be a Brahmin by birth! Can we also say that
gender plays no role in denial of social
opportunities? After all, this society discriminates
against girls even before they are born. What to talk
of access or opportunities, they~Rre denied birth
itself. Such discrimination exists across religious
and caste lines.

Moreover, the question is: do we want to eliminate
caste as a factor of social relations and political
processes or do we want to perpetuate it forever? Is
it not true that by treating caste as the only medium
of oppression and hence by focusing all remedial
measures on caste alone, we have only added to the
longevity of caste as the determining factor of social
identity? Individuals have been virtually turned into
the epitomes of the caste of their birth ~W denying the
multiple identities that every individual perforce
carries. This also helps the powerful amongst the
generally disempowered sections to corner most of the
benefits of caste-based reservation. Caste, which in
reality is only one of the features of identity at the
individual level and the manifestation of an abhorrent
social order at the social and structural level, has
been turned into the essential identity of individual
citizens. Such a situation helps only those
politicians who are in search of shortcuts to power.
It is harmful for the cause of a modern social
democracy as well as to the cause of individuals in
need of social justice and related affirmative action.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead
public opinion by projecting caste-based reservation
as the only form of affirmative action. Affirmative
action has to ~Saffirm~T the social will to rectify
unjust structures and practices in existence. Any
society has a multiplicity of such structures and
practices. Any programme of affirmative action has to
tackle all these factors and not elevate any one
factor to the level of a political ~Sfetish~T.

I hereby propose a model of affirmative action that I
will call miraa ~W Multiple Index Related Affirmative
Action. As the name suggests, this model will take
into account several factors when a candidate is
considered for admission or employment.

In the specific situation of our country, miraa will
consist of the following indices:

1. Caste/Tribe
2. Gender
3. Economic status of family
4. Kind of schooling received
5. Region where candidate spent his/her formative
6. Status as a first generation learner/educational
achievement in the family

Let me explain how this system will work. There will
be no pre-fixed quotas. miraa will be operative on
hundred percent of the available seats for education
or employment. Suppose there is a 100-mark scale for
entry to a college/organisation. These 100 marks can
be distributed amongst entrance test, interview, and
academic performance as per the wishes of the
institution in question. First and foremost, all
candidates would be ranked on this hundred mark scale,
depending on their performance in the entrance test,
interview etc. Then miraa would be applied and each
candidate irrespective of their caste can potentially
benefit from it, due to the different indices, which
make up the system.

The maximum points a person can get under miraa are 30
and the minimum is 0. Now the candidate~Rs miraa
subscore is added to the score s/he achieved in the
admission process described above. This will be the
total score. The candidates whose total score clears
the cut-off for a particular subject/job will then be
offered the position. (see boxes on facing page)

Hence, this system does take into account both the
qualification of the individual as well as the demands
of social and economic justice. Unlike the
quota/percentage system which confines the social
justice mechanism only to a fraction of the available
vacancies, miraa brings each and every seat under the
ambit of social and economic justice.

This proposal doesn~Rt take into account the religion
of the applicant, as it is based upon the realisation
the ubiquitous nature of the institution of caste in
Indian society. Hence, the members of marginalised and
disempowered communities across the religious spectrum
will get due benefits.

For example, a Kidwai or Raza Muslim will not be
awarded any points under caste index while an Ansari
or a Salmani will get points in accordance with obc
status. The same logic applies to Christians and
others as well. I request the reader to think,
consider and react to miraa.

The writer teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University,
May 13 , 2006

More about Reservation

Reservation or No Reservation
It has become a big dillema. But we shall say that giving advange to the downtrodden is human and leave it at that. The most important question is not that, at present. The most important question is is 50% 'unfair, fair or not fair enough?'.

The numbers game
51% of India's population belong to backward class(Though I did not verify that number). And the proposed reservation is said to be 50%. Isn't it obvious that it is too much?

Higher Education or Primary Education?
We still have so many illeterate people in our country. Instead of spending millions of crores on defense, we can spend that on primary education. Apart from creating many good citizen, it will give us a lot of employment as well.

Centers of Excellence
The IIT's the AIIMS and IISc are premier research institute of the world. Quota can not really help in these places. Rather it will degrade the quality. These institutes are very expensive, so fiddling with them is not very good idea. I do not believe in quota in higher education. I have seen that bad students can slow down a class a lot. And at the end those who really wanted to learn will learn too little because the class had to slow down. For some who were not fast as rest of the class. There are a lot of things in life that too few people will be able to understand. It is a foolish idea to push those who are unable. I do not really like the idea of forcing a rather unintelligent person with the General Theory of Relativity, or maybe the Standard Model or whatever. It will be torture on him. Good teaching ability will be wasted. Any normal human being will laugh at the idea of quota based Scientists.
(The germans are again a lesson to remember. They expelled a great many scientists from their country because they were Jew. And started taking 'Aryan scientists'. We have an equivalent situation here.)
Science is quite undemocratic. Too often one person had been right, most wrong. And then think how quota in scientists will fare.

About Reservation

Our prime minister has promised that the quota will be implemented with due justice. Taking care that the number of seats for the general category students intact. Well this (keeping general seat intact) came after the protests. So we really cannot 'trust' his (their) intentions.
It is not a question of keeping the number of able students intact, it is a question of keeping the quality of education intact. It is no mystery that some students are quick to learn and some are slow. Now what we call as centers of excellence primarily consists of the fist kind. If some slow students are introduced into the class, the class is bound to become slow. To add to it, it will become very boring and uninteresting to the able students. Which means he will not be able to gain as much as he would in normal circumstances. The slow learners, unfortunate but true, can never contribute to the nation as a professional, as much as his smart classmate would do. Everyone will suffer at the end. It will mean we will not make the best out of the best men (and women). So the benefits they could offer to others will also be lessened, and the quota beneficiaries will also suffer in the long run, if not him, his siblings surely.
I am, on the other hand, in favor of reservation in schools and colleges. In fact, I think there is severe dearth of the first kind of institution. And until we can build sufficient number of them, reservation may stay to enable the unprivilaged to get in. I have seen that family background, ethnic background etc. matters for getting into a school. In the sense that those from a sound financial backing can afford to have tution who help them in their preparation for the entrance exams. Here I would also say, that in my experience, for the case of higher education, for example getting in for a PhD into a premiere institution, it does not matter so much.
Here is one more thing to consider. The same family is taking the advantage of reservation one generation after the other. But this was probably not the stated goal of the policy. So here we need to improve upon. Maybe we could say that those who have taken the advantage reservation, their siblings will not be eligible for further advantage. But this has a inbuilt weakness. For some reason the family may fall back into poverty. Then they will be denied justice because they will not be able to use reservation, even thought they would then need it. So the best thing to do is to base the reservation on economic condition. There are many general category students who suffer from the same problem as the backward classes. So this reservation accordint to caste is an injustice to them as well.
We want the whole concept of caste abolished. It has done enough damage to this part of the world.
Here is one suggestion for our Prime Minister. We are the students of science. There are many students in medicine, arts, etc etc. Many of us will take up career in teaching. Many will be doctors, many others will be in top positions in the country. We shall come in contact with thousands of people,everyone of us, and will, expectedly have considerable influence over them. If you do lose our trust, Mr. Prime Minister, in the long term you are going to lose out. We shall make you lose ground.