April 13, 2006

Case for, contd.

Responses to various points raised as comments to my post The case for, thought they would do better as a post rather than as another comment.

1) Primary education. As I said briefly before, of course we need to make an honest effort to provide primary education to all. Where is that effort? Where is the agitation towards demanding it? Reservations were put in place for a period of ten years, and we all wished they had been removed in that time, which they were not. But the Constitution also directed that within that same ten years, we should have primary education for all (compulsory and free, etc). We don't have that, nearly 60 years on.

Let's make that honest effort, yes. For sure. Please.

2) When do the disadvantaged "need" their access, early in life or later or when? Well, I don't see that there's a whole lot of difference: once you put reservations in place, where you draw lines becomes politically hard to set in stone. Unfortunate, but that's part of that price to be paid.

3) Really, why do we assume that quota admissions will all be poorer students? I think of my own example: I got into a private college (no reservations except for board exam toppers) on my own steam, thought I was simply hotshit because of my school-leaving exam performance, and proceeded to have the pants beaten off me by guys of every possible sort who had scored far less than I had in their school-leaving exam. They were simply highly motivated to do well and make the most of the opportunity they had.

It taught me that the best indicator of performance is not an exam result, but that motivation.

4) Why would people taking advantage of reservations give it up after some length of time? Without an incentive to do so, they won't. But consider two things. One, for example there are successful and thoughtful beneficiaries of affirmative action in the US who sometimes argue for an end to AA. (I may be completely wrong, but I think Randall Kennedy is one, if I have the name right). Two, the programme of reservations can have built in incentives to achieve just that: perhaps the quantum of reservations decreases over time, something like that.

5) What about the examples of people, like Mumbai Monsoon, denied their own chance that they earned by their own hard work? Well, it saddens me too, such cases. There will be people who will abuse the system, there will be casualties like Mumbai Monsoon.

I think one way to address that is for the Mandal recommendations to be modified to say that even though they are 52% of the population, the additional reservations they get is not 27% (over the SC/ST 22.5), but a smaller number, let's say 10.5%. And that the total of 33 (22.5 + 10.5) is now open to SC/ST/OBC. So you have an increase, due to Mandal's recognition that some OBCs need help; but at the same time, it's not proportionate to their population, and it also simultaneously effectively decreases the SC/ST fraction. So in effect, you have a level of competition for those 33% reservations, with less of an impact on the open category.

Naturally this needs to be thought through some more, and sold politically. But it's one answer that comes to mind.

All I have time for now, will get to the rest when I can.


Anonymous said...

and how many bloggers are dalits?

Anonymous said...

PEople giving up by themselves may happen in an ideal world but not in the real one, there may be exceptions of course of good hearted ones, but they are exceptions and not the rule.

May be the better way to do this will be if a family has benefited from reservations for two successive generations then they are automatically out of that quota bracket or something like that, unless the Government has a plan of how to correct this situation and when the situation will be corrected, like a 20 year vision or 50 year vision, as far as Im concerned is just vote bank politics.

scribbles said...

Dilip, I appreciate the debate you're trying to set off on your blogs. And I very much agree with you here - as on most things.
It's interesting how the perceived injustice of higher-education reservations sets off these passionate appeals to 'merit', 'justice', 'real equality'. I wonder what might happen if victims of slum demolition had access to newspapers and the blogosphere? Contradiction in terms, I suppose.
I also wonder where the assumption, made by many of your detractors,that most beneficiaries of reservations are not 'needy' comes from. An actual head-count? I doubt it. I've also heard people say that most rape cases are fabricated, on the basis of a couple of adjudged fabrications. It isn't a precise analogy, of course, but it's telling. I also quite like the image of non-needy beneficiaries of reservations: presumably most SC/ST beneficiaries drive big cars, smoke expensive cigars and dine at the Hyatt. And if they're from rural India, presumably they run the Ranvir Sena.

Obviously this is partly a caricature of arguments, and there's been a lot of serious debate, a lot of serious as well as ridiculous anti-reservation positions. So polemics apart, I'd like to pose a couple of questions.

First, do you think the debate around reservations has changed since the days of VP Singh? Is there more of a real debate happening, or is that too optimistic? Is it possible, just possible, that at least a fraction of the wealthy and powerful in our country, of that microscopic minority that represents itself as 'the voice of the nation', has come to acknowledge the existence of social injustice, and concede, at least in principle, that the idea of affirmative action can be spoken about in polite circles? If this is so, then we've come a long way from the repulsive elite hysteria of the initial anti-Mandal frenzy.

Second, the question of whether caste or class is the determining principle behind the reservations policy. You're absolutely right, of course, that the Mandal Commission is more complex than a simple blueprint for reservations along purely caste lines. But conceding, for the sake of argument, that it is, what would that mean? Would that make it illegitimate? Believing that it would implies believing that caste is not an independent issue in and of itself, that it doesn't need to be addressed independently of illiteracy and poverty, that caste discrimination is reducible to economic deprivation. Many of your critics, and many objectors to reservations - the less rabid ones, that is, the ones who're actually ready to reason and argue - seem to believe this. What do you think?

One last observation. Critics of yours elsewhere on the blogosphere have issued a fatwa on anecdotes, but I'll plunge ahead anyway. When I was still at school, and we discussed these issues with much heat and less light and much confusion, and I used to mention that I supported the idea of reservations, I got a single, standard response, over and over and over again. 'Why don't you carry shit on your head, then?' Which is why, when people earnestly argue that caste prejudice really IS a thing of the past, and would have been put to rest if these nasty Mandals and VP Singhs hadn't raked up the issue and made it live again, I feel like laughing, and then crying, and then laughing again.

This was once a regular blog but, after six said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This was once a regular blog but, after six said...

Hey, my friend, I appreciated the attempt to look anew at this, and really wanted to be convinced. Like others have pointed out, I'm not sure the analogies hold. Or the case for.

How about more institutions? More IITs, some with reservation and some without, to see how it works.

As far as I know, affirmative action in the US also led to a drop in standards. It led directly to grade inflation. Since the black students weren't getting as good grades as the white students, given all the factors around lack of opportunity that led to affirmative action in the first place, university officials thought the grading system should reflect that and the black students were graded less stringently. Eventually, since this was so blatantly unfair, grade inflation was extended to all students at those institutions. Can't you see this happening in India even faster, even more rampantly?

So what...maybe "devaluing" the IIT/IIM education is also a price worth paying for equal access? Maybe it is...but once that happens, once standards slip, then the IIT/IIMs won't be the best of the best anymore. More private institutions will come up, with higher standards, the cream will go there to study, employers will go there to recruit instead of the IIT/IIMs...and then you're quickly on a slippery slope downhill.

Or maybe not. Harvard is still Harvard, despite the widespread belief that the hardest part of the Harvard education is getting in the door. Same for Brown, another Ivy with deplorable undergrad standards. [I'm not saying anything about the grad school so don't get tetchy on me :-)]

I have a somewhat opposing personal experience than yours regarding college. I worked my ass off (was highly motivated!!) in a top-class college - equal to any in the country - without grade inflation and although I knew that my GPA was worth more than a similar GPA at, say, Harvard or Brown, at the recruiting table, the Harvard grad always had the edge over me.

The same could easily happen in India. Now is that a price worth paying for reservations? Maybe...but what about the 73% whose educations have suddenly become less valuable?

Tough, tough, choices. And I've rambled on long enough. I think you've made some good arguments but I don't think they can be successfully implemented in the long-run, in this country. The old saying "if wishes were horses..." becomes a little more poignant in this case, doesn't it?

Sarah said...

I might sound like an ignoramous.. rightly so..
But why do you need a reservation system? Why isn't there an equal playing ground?
India gained independence nearly 6 decades ago and there is still no level playing ground?

Anonymous said...

You said that in an ideal world selections/admissions to IIT would be solely on merit. But we don't live in an ideal world.

Do you then think that the JEE is not an exam which judges people solely on merit? Could you please elaborate how?

I support the reservations in IITs and IIMs but for a different reason. This is why -

American universities have a stated objective of diversity. They say they want diverse batches. And they often select candidates from various backgrounds because they believe this diversity makes for a better student body and even a better learning experience for everyone involved.

Similarly, reservations will ensure a diversity in our institutions too.

I think insisting that Merit is not the only criteria in IITS and IIMs, even in this non-ideal world, is wrong and fallacious. JEE and CAT are as merit-based as can be, with not a hint of discrimination possible.

My position is that Merit should not be the only criteria. And that is the argument us supporters of reservations should be making instead of easily refuytable arguments like "oh but merit isnt the norm anyway" and "is merit solely the preserve of brahmins?".

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tejal, there have been some studies on, for example, safai-karamcharis in the BMC, etc. I think I have one of those somewhere in my papers. I need to go dig in my papers for something else, so I'll see if I can find this.

Hari, some such policies do exist in some cases, though I don't know full details. They should be more widespread, and be implemented more widely. That's the only route I see towards eventually ending the regime of reservations.

Scribbles, thanks for your thoughts. I think the debate has changed since 15 years ago in this respect: OBC reservations have been put in place in various ways. So they are less of an abstract notion, thus perhaps less of an undefined threat, than they used to be.

It's a good question you ask, what if Mandal was about OBCastes. I think it is about classes very deliberately, because the word caste is one more of those red flags. I've just been trying to correct people who think the "C" stands for "Caste."

But I don't think it is illegitimate if it is about caste at all. Caste is fundamental to this country, for better or worse. It has to be addressed in some way, on its own -- or at least, it deserves to be so addressed. You can't wish it away.

Roshan, I'd like to see a study that connects grade inflation to affirmative action. I've never seen this connection made. Also, why should IIT/IIM remain the best of the best for all time to come? If other institutions come up and surpass the standards of these, it can only be a good thing.

Brown has deplorable undergrad standards? Must be a change since when I was there. The undergrads I ran into -- took classes with, had to teach, that sort of thing -- were some of the sharpest people I've ever met.

The thing about suggested solutions is, they've at least got to be suggested. So let's see how to take them forward, why not?

Immigrant, a lot of people here do, indeed, feel there isn't a level playing field.

Neela, well, let's find a better selection procedure then. I don't know off the top of my head what that might be. What Is ee is more and more colleges opting for an exam, and steadily trending towards a multiple-choice exam. Do the SATs work in the US, you think?

IIT/IIM admission systems are indeed less corrupt, I believe; but just a few weeks ago we travelled with a IIT prof returning from conducting an exam somewhere, and he spoke about increased opportunities for subverting the exam. Surprised me.

Mayank, I think that (diversity) is an admirable goal for our colleges to reach. I think my college had it in substantial measure when I was there, and yet it could still have stood to have more. I certainly think JEE judges people's abilities well, meaning on merit. I said somewhere else, I think that it is possible to have both excellence at the IITs and reserve a certain fraction of the seats. I don't see those as mutually exclusive goals, and it's worth trying to achieve them.

Doctor Bruno said...

Reservation need not be given to children whose parents have enjoyed the benefits....

That is ......... If Mr.A has got MBBS seat or a Govt job by reservation, his children have to compete is Open Quota ONLY.......

We have ample proof to say (see the admission list in Tamil nadu in the link given at the top of this post) that Once you give an oppurtunity to backward class, the next generation are able to be on par with other people

Dilip D'Souza said...

Eswaran, I was waiting for someone to make that point, and I'm glad you did. Of course it's really a question of how much we are willing to take. There are other ways to look at the admission process into the IITs too: for example, the guys who finish at the top of the JEE seem to be guys who have gone through the Kota-type coaching class regime. Does that truly produce the best students; does it compromise on IIT excellence? Well, at least some in the IIT system are concerned about just that, and are trying to do something about it.

I think the spread of coaching classes -- with all its ramifications -- is a greater concern than reservations. But that will have to wait for another day.

Unknown Indian said...

Dilip - I am truly amazed - you manage to collect all the right data and then draw the wrong conclusions.

I guess a huge number of guys have pointed this out wrt your Air Deccan and Dhoni examples. And you now want to crack down on coaching classes - and I am sure also on private unaided schools. (the vast majority of which incidentally cater to the lower middle class)

Coaching classes, and the private sector in education is the only hope for the poor. There is ample evidence to show that government spending on primary education is being vasted. And I can tell you from personal experience that the poor want their kids to attend private English medium schools.

What guys like you should be thinking about is increasing access for the poor to private school education. Directing government spending towards school vouchers, that can be used to pay for private schools is a possible idea. Agree with one point though - we desperately need to focus on improving access to education for all our people. Or else all the great growth hopes built around India's demographic dividend will grind to a stuttering halt. For more on this, and how school vouchers might help, you could look at this post

This was once a regular blog but, after six said...

Dilip, I saw a study once. It was on the bulletin board of the Psychology Department at Davidson, from one of those academic Journals. It was done by a Harvard prof, if I remember right, but I couldn't swear to it. Sadly, this was over 5 years ago so I don't remember the author or Journal.

And, although this is unrelated to the subject at hand, I once had lunch with a Brown prof who'd come to lecture at Davidson. He said that Brown students had it easy compared to Davidson students, in terms of what's expected from them. Maybe he was just playing to the crowd, but he gave us some examples how. And I'm not saying the students aren't the sharpest - remember 'the hardest part is to get in' quip - but that the expectations of them are not the highest.

And I'm game to see how to take them forward, but I have my reservations. (hehe)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Unknown, Dhoni/Deccan were analogies, to give you something to think about. If they meant nothing to you, fine with me.

If coaching classes are the "only hope" of the poor, I'm seriously worried about this country. Among many things, about the kinds of things people will learn.

I have nothing against private sector education. I am worried about coaching classes. It worries me that you would be sanguine about them.

Roshan, I struggled to get reasonable grades at Brown. Perhaps times have changed in the 79 years since I was there.

Anonymous said...

I agree in spirit, if not in letter, to most of the arguments and points you make. Some excellent points have been made in the comments as well that help demystify reservations - thank you all.

I wanted to challenge one point that detractors of reservations take for granted, and one that seldom seems to get challenged (atleast I haven't seen it)

I don't buy the point that introducing reservations in IITs compromises "excellence". Here's why. I think there are tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of individuals every year who have the background, interest and skill level needed to become capable engineers in their field. However, IITs DO NOT admit people based on evaulating them on their individual basis, which is how it should be, IMO (i.e., based on the question "does this person have what it takes to become an engineer? "). Instead, it says - Oh - I have 3000 seats, let me only accept the top 3000 people. In other words, people that are excluded from the IITs are NOT all *unqualified*, it is just that there aren't nearly enough seats to admit everyone that would be *qualified*.

Introducing reservations is only providing an opportunity for those who are already *qualified* to become engineers or doctors or whatever, but don't otherwise have access, primarily due to the centuries-old inequality that is the caste system, which when coupled with everything else, becomes a forbidding barrier to their being part of that "exclusive 3000".

obc voice said...

you may debate all you like, but we've decided we're going to take away baavan pratishat, maybe more in the long run. chew on that.

Anonymous said...

People who use statitics from Tamil Nadu to justify that reservations has not had nay affect on merit and use percentage of marks from 10th and 12th exams to show how close the different sections are, dont' have a clue how this came about. The Drvidian parties have sytematically diluted the standards so much that the exams can't be used as a differentiator. It is basically about mugging and regurgiating and the questions don't involve any critical thinking unlike JEE exams or even SAT.

And the thing about how reservation is used in TN is first the general quota is filled with top rankers including people from OBC and then only the OBC quota is filled. So theoretically, in a given year FC's can have zero seats.

Also, people who have used american style affirmative action to justify reservations haven't seen how it works or the results of it. Also, engineering and sciences are very much underrepresented by Blacks and Latinos because affirmative action doesn't really help people who are not prepared or don't have the aptitude for the hard sciences in the first place in high school.

Disclaimer: I am a non-brahmin FC from TN.

Anonymous said...

4) Why would people taking advantage of reservations give it up after some length of time? Without an incentive to do so, they won't. But consider two things. One, for example there are successful and thoughtful beneficiaries of affirmative action in the US who sometimes argue for an end to AA. (I may be completely wrong, but I think Randall Kennedy is one, if I have the name right). Two, the programme of reservations can have built in incentives to achieve just that: perhaps the quantum of reservations decreases over time, something like that.

DD, there are several recommendations that mandates that each OBC component be evaluated every 10 years to ascertain they are still backward.

The problem is that will never happen. The powerful OBCs who dominate almost all political parties will ensure that any such study commission will be scuttled.

Yes, your suggestions for incentives for giving up reservation are fine and all. In reality, it wont work. Why go so far ? Even a basic survey of individual OBC components (eg, how many med/eng seats got in last 10,20 years, how much land ownership in districts where they are dominant, and so forth) will not happen.

I apologize in advance for naming a community - but it is necessary to drive home the point.

If I tell you that there are 10 *times* more Mudaliar doctors and surgeons than Bhraman doctors - would you believe me ? You will ask me for data - which is not available nor will be available. We judge purely on talking to med students personally and trying to guess.

DD, this system is a lemon man - admit it. The abuse is not rare, the use as intended is rare. It is very rarely that an underrepresented OBC poor student living by sewage canals gets into a professional school. It is so rare that magazines and TV channels interview him/her.

Read my blog for more.