Reservations unlimited – 24.05.2006

So another old post I’ve dug out. I used to do a lot of current affairs in the good old day. I notice that has dwindled. Anyway, be gentle. These are old posts.


Reservations unlimited

And another viewpoint on reservations by Purushottam Agrawal. Here’s yet another article I loved by Amit Sen Gupta in this week’sTehelka. And since you need to subscribe to it to read it, the only way I can get it to you is to paraphrase some of the points he makes.

To begin with, how many of those protesting actually plan to stay on in the country? From the IITs to the BHUs to the little universities tucked away in Punjab and Tamil Nadu… almost every student is taking examinations to go abroad. So they don’t want to give seats, they want to study in colleges that are subsidised by tax payers’ money and they want to take this education abroad to benefit others?

Next, exactly how do you define ‘merit’? By your ability to study in the best schools and attend the best coaching classes that teach you to beat the system? I don’t think that would be right.

Moving on – the next argument is that Indian educational institutions will lose their competitive edge. Oh but that would be terrible! We wouldn’t want to lose out on all the brilliant research and inventions that the IITs and IIMs give us! And we certainly wouldn’t want Silicon Valley to lose out on the steady flow of worker ants they get from India. No sirree. We just need to keep subsidising higher education with our taxes, sending our children to coaching classes to find a way to “crack” the entrances and then send them off to the land of milk and honey to benefit the white masters. And we certainly wouldn’t want to send those who don’t make the cut.

Something I had no inkling of – The southern states have a much higher percentage of reservation for backward classes and they seem to be doing better than the BIMARU states who are vociferously objecting. Valid point I must admit.

The inability to cope is equally valid. The system needs to be sensitive to those taught in the vernacular. Almost every educated Indian speaks three languages. Everyone of us has a mother tongue that is not English. So why not take that into account?

He makes many more valid points but those are also part ofPurushottam Agrawal’s write up. And my oldest favourite AnilThakraney and his piece on The warring students.

Having said that. I would still oppose reservations because simply, they don’t really achieve their purpose. And the scope for screwing up in this corruption ridden country just increases manifold. All it gives us is a few more students starving to death and a beautifully divided vote bank.



27 thoughts on “Reservations unlimited – 24.05.2006

  1. Reservations may do some good to the deserving candidates. But such cases are rare and there is a limit where you draw the line. I remember reading in newspapers years back that a student who got negative marks in one of the medical entrance tests could join the medical college in the name of reservation!!! I myself was a student aiming for medical college at that time and could not believe it. You have really nailed it in the last para.

  2. Small technicality….there is only one BHU.

    And I’m sorry for hogging your comment space here. (I think I say it every time I comment…maybe I should go get myself a blog!)

    As someone who has studied at one of the institutions you mentioned and seen those who got in w/ reservation flunk one course after another, all I can say is it’s not easy on them either. So really WHO is benefiting at all?!! Give them the tools to compete with the rest earlier on. Ensure good education for them at the school level. Create incentives for people to WANT to be government school teachers and do a good job at teaching. Don’t just give them a seat into an institution/course where they’ll feel worthless and learn nothing. Not that that’s exclusive to them and everyone else learns a lot….but it was hard to miss just how bad they had it. ALL of them (the ones I knew/was friends with).

    So in the end they all get the same stamp as everyone else. But they lose their confidence.

    (Some of them were also kids of alumni. So your parents are alumni who got in w/ reservation and yet you need reservation to get in! Aren’t you “privileged” enough by this point?!)

    To me IITs/IIMs are about nothing but the respective stamp and the network….but I feel similarly about Harvard as well. And any other undergrad or MBA program at any reputed school anywhere else in the world. Really exclusive clubs and all you’ve got to show for them are the membership cards that you nearly killed yourself to get.

    Research isn’t done at the undergrad level ANYWHERE. Or in MBA programs. It’s done at the PhD level and we all know how many takers for PhD programs exist in India. Constant complaint of all IIT/IIM profs I’ve met. They’ve got no grad students to work on research projects for them. No director – let alone professor – at any IIT or IIM can earn more than what the Chief Ministers earn ON PAPER. The result is that profs live in near poverty and noone wants to be a prof. And corporate funded research in India has a long way to go before it can motivate people to enroll in PhD programs. I’m hopeful the economic growth will make it happen in the next decade. Government funded research….let’s just say I don’t think I’ll see it happen in my lifetime. Way too much corruption and way too many – and more urgent – needs for what remains. Research is a long-term and very risky investment and you only get into it when you’re good on all other fronts.

    So if these students have to end up doing the same jobs that people with UG/MBA degrees do, why would they spend 5 years of their life doing a PhD? As you can see, it’s a vicious circle. One that most 16 year olds I grew up knowing either didn’t know of or didn’t understand. At that age, all you can think of is: “I missed out on so much fun to slog my butt off for this exam and this other dude in my class got in because he was born into a certain caste.”

  3. “To begin with, how many of those protesting actually plan to stay on in the country? ”

    This seems to imply that the only way to help India is to stay there, a sentiment i *strongly* disagree with. You can contribute as much, if not more, back to your country when you’ve seen the world outside.

    1. Indian engineering schools are great for undergrad, but post-grad education in India is not on par with the us. You need people who’ve been to the best schools in the US to go back home and fix that – it won’t happen if all our professors have only ever been to Indian schools. You need professors who have collaborated with Stanford and MIT professors, who have ties with the industry and have seen the academic environment in the US. The best professors I had in my undergrad were the ones who had been in the US for a while, and they helped both my and my institution a lot.

    2. Not going back does not equal not contributing. Organizations like Asha are almost entirely funded off NRI contributions (which I believe does way more to help the education issue than reservations). Indian Silicon Valley success stories are what drive the Bangalore IT boom (no, it’s not just cheap labour).

    3. Is education only about helping your country? What about the global community as a whole? Should we not be proud of Indians who drive water purification efforts in Africa, or do path-breaking research at CERN?

    4. “We wouldn’t want to lose out on all the brilliant research and inventions that the IITs and IIMs give us” – the sarcasm in this statement irks me. IITs *do* give us brilliant research. Yes, a lot of it is in Math or CS, where the impact isn’t as obvious as ‘a cure for cancer’. That does not make it less valuable. Can I ask if you’ve actually evaluated the quality of research papers that IITs publish before you wrote this?

    See this as an example of why staying in India isn’t always the best way to give back.

    I apologise if any of this comes across harshly. Reservation is a sensitive issue with interesting points on both sides, but all too often the debate ends up needlessly bashing our best educational institutions and students.

    • okay
      1 – these are 4 year old posts and only brought out to air, so…
      2 – i’ve already argued most of these very same points to death and so…
      3. Since I was then SAHM to one child and am now working mom of two kids with maid problems, i sadly no longer have the time to debate passionately and fight you to death.
      4.. hence, we shall entertain all view points and anyone who wants to, is free to address them
      5. and yes, it is a little harsh, but hey, how can you be passionate and not harsh?
      6. Finally – the post is actually me paraphrasing a piece I read and couldnt link up to. So a lot of the questions directed to me are pointless. they need to go to the original author!

  4. Will apologize for the long comment before I start: My parents studied in “taat patti” government schools in Lucknow in Hindi medium and while growing up firmly believed that sky was the limit, with time they knew that their optimism was not unfounded. Unfortunately today children studying in the same schools know that most probably their future is doomed, they will never be able to compete with their private school english tutored peers. And that is what needs to be addresses, I have matured enough to realize that reservation or any sort of affirmative action is needed but that is the easiest action any government can take. What is absolutely necessary however is reform at primary and secondary education levels and reforming the way we value our teachers.Unless that happens reservation can never work.

  5. I’ve learned reading this post that If I had practised mind reading religiously all of last year and planned my short trip to madras at x’mas time instead of just after new year I might’ve bumped into my bloggy celebrity crush-The mad momma and her family. Woe is me!! Seriously, you better give subtle hints of where you and the tykes are likely to be at thruout this year.

    Anyhoo, I’m back to the bay area and all such longings shall have to wait till the next trip. Sob….

  6. Not everyone who goes abroad stays there, people like me do come back and make “contributions” (ltd as they may be) back to the country.
    I agree with the comment that reservations work at basic education levels, I would even go as far to say that there should be reservations based on economic levels in professional courses.
    Also in south India more and more upper class kids are leaving to go abroad right after school since reservations upto 85% in some cases leave them very little wiggle room.

    I’ve described the issue as I know, but to be honest have no easy answer!

  7. As said earlier by some of the commenters, reservation is needed at the elementary levels which hleps the students compete at a higher level. Also a lot of these reserved seats in IITs are never filled and the ones in private engineering colleges go on sale for abnoxious amounts.

  8. I would love to fight against the said “merits” of reservation.

    But, since I see that you are also against it and in no mood to argue, it doesn’t make any sense to do that. 🙂

    However, it would be nice if you could post the counter-comments as well on your post instead of just in the comments section…

  9. Happy new year MM.

    Not being greedy here but just a bit curious…wasnt there supposed to be a proud momma post? 🙂

  10. Interesting write-ups by both the authors. Clearly these debates are timeless and people yet feel about it passionately. So many things are wrong and right at the same time.

    I don’t believe that reservation is a solution for any problem related to providing an equal opportunity for everyone. Yes it is unfair that brilliant children cannot go to school like ‘regular’ children due to money problems and the solution to that is the Government providing free primary education to ALL children (irrespective of caste, gender, background) . Once that is done , there is the challenge of ensuring that the education (books, teachers, classrooms etc) is of good quality and not poor quality simply because its free. Those who can afford it, can go to the private schools.
    N as far as higher education is concerned there shouldn’t be any reservation but there also shouldn’t exists seats that can be bought with money.’coz really when a rich kids gets a seat in a college ‘coz he pays for it….it is a case of reservation of seats for money OR worse still…a case of bribery for which the one who demands money and the one who pays should be punished!

  11. I think reservation is similar to the pill that brings down the fever but doesn’t address the underlying cause of the fever. The reason is that it’s very easy to implement reservation, needs to work other than specifying quotas. Guaranteeing a quality high school education to all the citizens of the country irrespective of income is far harder which is why no one wants to talk about it. That is really the only thing that would fix the inequalities in Indian society. And while I don’t think reservations are the answer I have seen first hand how they can help people who are able to avail of them so doing away with them without providing an alternative isn’t a solution.
    As far as the IIT students leaving India goes, I don’t think anyone can prevent people from choosing to leave the country and people should be free to do so. But I don’t think that Indian tax payers should be subsidizing a pool of talent for foreign universities to handpick from. The students should be made to pay for their education and loans or subsidizes could be offered at low interest rates for people who cannot afford it.

  12. MM, this is a good post and thanks for digging it out and posting.
    I also liked JP’s comment (#6) – very valid arguments, albeit not ‘gentle’ :). Curious why you chose to evade answering / brushed it off for being busy with kids etc.. aren’t you opening up the debate again if you’re allowing feedback? Or what are we readers interested in writing comments missing here?

    • because it will not end. it will go on. the posts are old and the topic is old. for JP its a new post. for me its old and stale. simple! i have time to respond to new posts. or short comments. not lengthy answers. which doesnt mean you guys arent free to comment. go ahead – knock yourselves out 🙂
      i’m only posting these posts because people asked. sometimes the words make me smile. on issue posts such as these, you tend to run out of enthusiasm and hence cant make the point you might have earlier made. others are full of enthu though, so its unfair to not let them have their say

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