The draft Reservation of Seats in Central Educational Institutions, 2006 is ready. If implemented in this form, upto 50% of all seats in 32 central educational institutions (IIT, IIM, JNU, AIIMs etc) will be reserved for students from scheduled caste/tribe or other backward class backgrounds..

The Cabinet secretariat has put it on hold for now. Not because its bad in principle. But because the move could technically violate the model code of conduct laid down by the Election Commision (EC). At least on the face of it. Elections in five states are coming up. The good news is that matters have risen to a desirable crescendo. The bad news is that no real alternatives or solutions are still on the table. Till that happens, this problem ain’t going away.

In my earlier post, I made a strong case to descend to the streets to protest the government’s move. Not because I am an alumni of any of these institutions. Rather, it’s a move that’s most unimaginative in concept and terrible in principle Thanks to the media, yes, the media (not sure our politicians and their advisors rise every morning and Google Search for what the blog world is saying) the issue is right up there. Yes, Salman Khan’s incarceration is also up there.

Silent Approval..Or Rejection ?

Arjun Singh’s defiance is matched by the deafening silence of most of the political system, notably his own party members. It’s a political weapon which Singh, with silent approval or otherwise, is carrying alone. The accompanying silence points to one thing. That there is a good chance the whole thing will either get deferred or even scrapped. Of course, that is the optimistic view. There is a pessimistic view too, but no point getting into it now.

What can now make the ghost of reservations go away once for all ? Very little. Because it is this writer’s instinctive view that there needs to be a a solution that will address both constituencies. The OBC students who possibly feel alienated from the higher education system and the politicians who want to find a quick fix solution like reservation.

We’ve had a great economic going for the last few years. Thanks to the BJP’s disasterous tryst with India Shining, no one dares use this term any more. But the fact IS that Urban India is shining. And how. The fact also remains that demographically, there are more young aspiring Indians out there. Many of them are students. Remember, this is a country with a median age of around 25.

Talking Higher Education

Just to put things in perspective. An student who is classified as belonging to OBC would have had to finish Class XII or graduation as the case may be. So as to apply for IIT or IIM. The school or college he or she would hail from may or may not be noteworthy but the fact is that there has to be one. So, we are not talking about people who’ve been denied primary or basic education. That’s a different lot altogether.

Now this lot has witnessed the last four years of glitzy growth pretty much the way you and I have. Their education and exposure allows them to experience, through mass media and the like. More importantly, it makes them aspire. Their aspirations would be the same as you and me again..graduation, B-School education, jobs in good companies and so on. Or if it’s a JNU, then a platform for a good career in academia, government. Or medicine in the case of AIIMS.

The glitzy growth I speak of does not embrace this class of youngsters entirely. At least not yet. Much of the growth has been jobless so to speak. And yet, the mass media impact of urban prosperity on these aspiring youngsters cannot be ignored. Its simple. Ten, twenty years ago, most aspiring young workers fled to the Middle East. Because they were not so poor or downtrodden that they could not have the basic education and skills. And they were not so lucky so as to hit the `mainstream’.

Euphoric Growth, But Does Everyone Benefit ?

It’s a little different today. There is as much euphoric growth in India, or parts of it, as perhaps many other corners of the world. Yes, Shanghai and Dubai are building and growing at stratospheric rates but a city like Bombay, with 55 new malls coming up, sea-links, Mercedes cars as common as normal cars were a few decades ago, is no less alluring, or puzzling. Or Gurgaon. The traffic-clogged roads are as much as a sign of prosperity as of the utter non-existence of urban planning.

Is Arjun Singh and the political class trying to address this class of young India ? Is he really concerned about them ? I don’t know and would defer to the experts. Does this class of young India stand to benefit with reservation ? Yes, in some way. In appeasement if not results. And that’s the politician’s solution. But the politician can retire (as Arjun Singh might, soon) but the ghosts will remain.

The aspirations of this class of youth will have to be met. In my mind, among the best people to do it are those benefited from the same state’s model of excellence. Alumni of IITs and IIMs need to put their heads together (as they’ve done admirably elsewhere) and come up with workable solutions that will address this constituency of India.

Bottom Of The Pyramid Approach To Education ?

They need to come up with a education and growth roadmap that will address, either with private or public-private initiatives, the larger aspirations of this young India. The IT industry often asks the government to build new townships. Because existing cities like Bangalore are creaking under their people-intensive needs. The Special Economic Zone solution, with all its tax holes, will address this in some way. And pretty soon.

A similar thought process needs to evolve for education. Industry can’t find all the solutions. Nor should it. Or the jobs even if the education system was strengthened. But industry has the brains and the ability to put its mind to it. It needs to demonstrate the desire. And show the way with real master plans and solutions to attack this issue head on. Whether with a new breed of colleges (for profit) or a bottom of the pyramid approach to education. Because industry and the economy will in turn benefit from a stronger workforce. Think about it. Because its not Arjun Singh’s problem alone. Its ours as well..


Rashmi Bansal said…
As you said, it's not Arjun Singh's problem, it's 'our' problem. Which means it's not just the problem of IIT and IIM alumni either. When we speak up it's seen as protecting our turf!

In any case, the proposed reservations are affecting a host of centrally aided institutes, so everyone needs to stop referring to IITs and IIMs in isolation. Delhi University is going to be one of the worst hit.

As far as solutions go, they're not lacking... But a solution has to be implemented, right? Eg Former IIT director P V Indiresan said on NDTV that for years, he has been appealing to the govt to set up a National Talent Scheme which will pick up and groom kids from disadvantaged backgrounds around the age of 10.

But such policies take years to bear fruit... By which time 3 govts would have changed. So which politician will bother?!

Also organisations like 'Pratham' and 'Akanksha' have been working really hard to create a more level playing field. Pratham in particular has a scale and national presence (in the last 9 years they have reaached out to a million children) Yet in a large country that's but a small drop in the ocean.

Lastly, solutions from IIT/ IIM alumni or even an independent third party will argue that caste based discrimination may still exist but perpetuating it is not the way forward for the country. Once and for all we must stop equating caste with class.

Once that is accepted as a matter of principle we can start seeking real solutions!!
Unknown Indian said…
The point you make is very valid. India clearly needs to find a way to tap the potential of the vast majority of children who do not get even a half-way decent basic education. There is plenty of evidence that even very poor people realize the value of education - my maid servant is struggling to get her kids educated in an English medium school in Bombay. What we need to do is help such people access basic education.

Further government spending on education in the current manner will not work - teachers in government schools merely take their money and cannot be held accountable. School vouchers may be a good solution - giving poor people (or SCs / STs / OBCs if the politicians insist) school vouchers that can be used in a school of their choice to pay for education may help get more kids into decent schools, and bring about greater accountability in other schools.

Reservations at the IITs and IIMs clearly are gimmicks. As someone pointed out, they will help a grand total of 600 OBCs get into in IIMs. (and probably much less if castes such as Jats, Kunbis etc. who already have decent representation are included in the OBC list). Unlike Rashmi, I am not concerned about bodies like DU or JNU - if Bombay University (including colleges like VJTI and UDCT) can live with 50% reservation, so can they. But calling for IIM alumnii to give up their cushy jobs to come out onto the streets is a bit much. The total number of IIM alumnii is not more than 35000 - you are not gonna get a material demonstration from them. Further, most of us are not personally affected except to the extent the brand equity of our alma mater suffers. So I guess we depend on posts in blogs (and guys like you who are in the media) to communicate our views to the powers that be.
Anonymous said…
Well done. Something needs to be done about this reservation nonsense. The IITs and IIMs which have an international reputation, along with other very reputable institutions, have been used for a long time as a base for politicians to get more votes. I am going to go to Kota(Rajasthan) to study for the IIT JEE Exam. But now, I am thinking, that it is all going to go waste, because almost all the seats in the section that i want(Computers), will be taken by some unworthy, undeserving people, who have got in on the SC, ST, OBC or any other quota.

When the quota was first introduced, it was implemented to raise the level of living of the so-called "backward classes". A true way to uplift the SCs and STs is just what rashmi bansal and unknown indian have suggested, not reservations. But now, with all the jobs, decent education universities etc. kept out of the reach of the "normal" people, it is going to lead to either a huge amount of brain drain, or utter unemployment for us. In the former case, it will lead to the Government again spending lotsa money to woo these NRIs back, and in the latter case, it will lead to these unemployed people becoming "backward". Then, there will be reservations for these "newly backwarded" classes, but then, the SCs, STs, and OBCs will scream, "discrimination".
Chiru said…
I am an IIT-IIM alumnus..

my views on this issue -
Bombay Addict said…
Broadly agree with your line of thought. On a separate note, this was a great line "The traffic-clogged roads are as much as a sign of prosperity as of the utter non-existence of urban planning." Touche.
Dilip D'Souza said…
Govind, oddly enough I just wrote something about this, perhaps coming from a slightly different angle. (Here). I'm tickled to find you have suggested it already...

Thanks. You always give me something to think about. Here, this line: Because it is this writer’s instinctive view that there needs to be a a solution that will address both constituencies.

One small point. You say: Remember, this is a country with a median age of around 25. And if I'm reading it right, your implication is that the median age is decreasing. Any evidence for that? My feeling is, our median age can't have changed too dramatically: if it is 25 now, it likely has been there or close for years. (You might want to look at this).

I did promise you something about ARA -- I haven't forgotten, one of these days!
barbarindian said…
Great blog!
Rashmi Bansal said…
From the latest issue of Outlook magazine, an initiative by IIM Kozhikode which I think should be duplicated across IIMs, IITs.

"Much before the nation began debating reservation in IITs and IIMs, a slow revolution had begun unfolding at the Centre for Excellence (CEx) in Kozhikode. Established in June 2002 with the support of the SC/ST development department of the Kerala government, CEx has been under the "incubation" of IIM, Kozhikode. It offers a five-month Certificate Course for Professional Development (CCPD), currently open only to Dalit and Adivasi graduates from Kerala. According to Damodaran Nampoothiri, programme director: "The course is focused towards imparting communication, IT and managerial skills, personality development and entrepreneurship.

CEx has a success rate of 35%. "It does in five months what others can't in three years."

The students then either opt for higher studies or get jobs in the public and private sectors." The Kerala government subsidises the project entirely and pays each student a Rs 2,000 monthly stipend.

In six batches till 2005, a total of 208 Dalit and Adivasi students have passed out of CEx. Of these, 37 have opted for higher studies, 34 have found employment, accounting for a 35 per cent success rate. Some students, such as K.R. Dilraj, have successfully taken the CAT and procured an MBA from IIM, Kozhikode. "Before joining CEx, Dilraj was a court clerk. Today, he earns Rs 8 lakh per annum as bank assurance manager with ICICI Lombard Insurance in Hyderabad," says Nampoothiri. ICICI Lombard recruited Dilraj not because he was an Adivasi. He was just good for the job. CEx believes merit is nothing but the availability of opportunity".

more here:
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?
Anonymous said…
@ Rashmi Bansal
You say stop equating caste and class .

I suggest the dynamic of the preindustrial caste system is similar to the industrial class system.

Will Azimbhai Premji announce that the next chairman of Wipro will not be his son? Will he make that decision on merit ? Why did Ratan Tata succeed Bharat Ratna JRD Tata ? Was he the most accomplished person in the Tata empire ? So you see the new industrial "cosmopolitan caste "reserves the topmost creamy posts to one of their own .These posts are very much “Reserved”
Anonymous said…
WE do not need caste based reservations where there is no discrimination on that basis,but where there is discrimination say in good number of private institutions there govt. can introduce caste based reservation.
By introducing reservation in elite institutes govt. pointing fingers at the entrance system hinting that there is discrimination on basis of caste which is simply not true. However reservation on basis of financial status is welcome upto certain extent.
I am of the opinion that merit today is a popularly mistaken concept.Merit simply means natural level of superiority of fitness of an individual to pursue a course.But today its mistaken for high scores in examinations where questions are repeated every year{In BOARD EXAMS,state level entrance tests}and coached{READ IT AS "DOPED"} candidate through this thing, so-called hard work scores high marks.What I intend to say is "ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE MEANS HIGH SCORES.BUT NOT ALL,INFACT MOST, HIGH SCORES MEAN ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE"
There are other entrance tests also for example IIT-JEE,which was meant for selecting the best brains of country, a couple of decades ago.But now see what's happening even idiots are dreaming of making it to an IIT and what's more disastrous is they are succeeding.THE KOTA and COACHING INFLUENCE IS SO HIGH THAT STUDENTS PACKED WITH RAW INTELLIGENCE AND JUST OUT OF SCHOOL FIND IT IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE IT TO IIT.If the JEE today is being called monstrous because of race between JEE paper setters and these coaching institutes three components of society are responsible for it.They are:
ALL this is resulting in creation of a crowd where it is impossible to distinguish between the powerful deserving and mediocre undeserving brains as the person who deserves to be in there must also go thru same process and in case if he chooses not to go to these rank churning cram schools,the undeserving idiot snatches his seat away.MAKING A PAPER TOUGHER IS NOT THE WAY TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN HAVE AND HAVE NOTS TILL THESE COACHING CENTRES exist. TO SUMMARIZE:"ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE MEANS HIGH SCORES.BUT NOT ALL,INFACT MOST, HIGH SCORES MEAN ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE"
Combining both
barbarindian said…
I see that your blog is getting spammed big time by the anti-merit brigade. I covered it in detail in my blog.
Anonymous said…

i think the best way is to set up seperate IIT's ,IIM's and medical colleges for reservation categories.
Anonymous said…
A better solution would be to help people from a community at a younger age, before they enter the IIMs and the IITs.

This is what the government should focus on and not on reservations.

As far as English being a crucial test in CAT, the fact is true but kindly ponder on the rationale.
1. Why take the example of CAT alone? 2. If this argument is true, then have reservations for those who study in vernacular mediums rather than for a class of people (who might have studied in an English medium school). 3.Even after reservations the candidate getting in would be a rich kid of an IAS office or a General Manager in a PSU, are you guys trying to say that this person had less oppurtunity than a poor so called called upper class boy?

Reservation promotes resistance to hard work and exertion. Of all the reserved students that I have seen during engineering and b-school I can count those who worked hard on my hands. The other treated the stay as a vacation, failed and got a job in a PSU. May of them were sons/daughters of rich parents - IAS officers, Engineers and Doctors. Did they need reservations? The best example was a girl in engineering. She was born and brought up in London and came to India when she was in the 9th and took a quota seat in Engineering. Did she need it?

Finally Mr Arjun, stop playing your dirty politics. If you have to gain votes, ask your concience "Is this the right method"? or should I win votes based on my merit ?
Anonymous said…
There is a new website that allows current students and alumni of IITs and IIMs to link up and there is also a national discussion board that is currently debate on the reservations issue. thought people might be curious given the spirited comments on this blog.
Previous Post Next Post