May 30, 2006

Taking it forward

Just got done reading the now-famous letters by Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre Beteille, offering their resignations from the Knowledge Commission over the issue of reservations. Then I read the letter from Yogendra Yadav to Mehta, taking issue with some of the points he raises; and after that, Mehta's response to Yadav.

The letters, and especially the exchange between Yadav and Mehta, left me full of admiration. For the passion and intellect of these men, yes. But much more than that, for the civility and respect with which they conduct their debate.

This quality is admirable by itself. But here it does an important thing: it gets you thinking seriously about the positions on both sides. It gets you examining your own reactions to those positions, evaluating your own beliefs, giving thought to others' beliefs. (And I'm sure it had that effect on the men who wrote the letters too).

And isn't that the whole point of debate? Doesn't the greatly contentious issue of reservations demand that much from each of us?

I mean, where would we be if Yadav's letter to Mehta had said: "You idiot, you have no idea what logic is! You are like a Pakistani! Go back and learn logic and then come see just how logical I am."

Where would we be if Mehta had replied: "You're just raping merit, you ignorant dolt. Why don't you go sweep the roads, eh? That's all you're good for!"

Yet how sad that in the great majority of exchanges over this issue I've seen, this is the kind of language, or sentiment, that prevails. Whether it's a flagstaff, or a blubberian, or a blackwardpoise, or any number of A Nony Mice -- and, let it be said, me: they peddle only contempt and sarcasm.

Has even one of these persuaded, or even induced thought in, anyone who doesn't already agree with them?

So who do you think is more effective in taking this forward? The abusers? Or the Yadavs and Beteilles and Mehtas?


Anonymous said...

Introspect or perish.

Recall how an otherwise foul-mouthed youngster tried to engage you in debate in civil terms. Your response was pretending to not understand what adobe meant. You seemed to carry some previous grudge in your mind and avoided debate. You think Mehta or Yadav would do that?

Mehta or Yadav would have the fortitude to own up to certain flaws in their thinking. When was the last time you did so? You refuse to even acknowledge or recognise flaws, forget owning up to them.

My grandma used to say "beta taali ek haath se nahi bajtee, lekin chaanta jaroor bajta hai". Think about it before you go playing the victim and taking potshots at falstaff and the like.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Yo Mice! This one time, you get a reply, even if you prefer adopted rodent names.

Here's the way I see it. Guys who are rude, insulting, condescending, and persist in being that way, get nothing -- no respect, no consideration, nothing -- from me. Those who stay civil, even if they disagree, even if they disagree forcefully -- those guys, I will try as hard as I can to engage, to understand, to respond to.

Those are the rules by which I operate.

That "foul-mouthed youngster" should know what this is about. For months, we had several arguments, even offline, and took the time to try to listen to and understand each other. I didn't give a damn about the foul-mouthed stuff, because I could sense an original mind under there.

But then, as I said, he lost something. The rules operate again. After that happened, he gets from me what he got. That's the way it is.

Flaws? I'm completely willing to own up to flaws in my thinking. Point them out, but do remember the rules I operate by. I believe it's possible to point out flaws without being abusive. You should try it.

And your grandma is a wise lady. You should pay attention to her. So should we all.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I don't think there is a debate here -- Messrs Mehta and Yadav clearly agree more than they disagree. The only disagreement, really, is whether it was necessary to resign from the NKC.

As I see it, there are not two, but (at least) THREE camps here:
(1) Those that support caste-based reservations for political reasons
(2) Those who support affirmative action to bring equal opportunities to the less-affluent and the historically underprivileged sections of society, but do not support rigid caste-based quotas.
(3) Those who oppose any kind of discrimination in these schemes, arguing that admissions and hiring should be on merit alone.

It is simple-minded to characterise Mehta and Beteille as "anti-reservation" or Yadav as "pro-reservation". It is clear that Messrs Mehta, Yadav, Beteille, and many others are in category 2 (where I would also place myself). They would attract the hostility of both 1 and 3, if 1 and 3 only understood this.

I fully agree with Yadav's point that the elite institutions have done NOTHING to improve their diversity. The IITs have been taking reserved-category candidates for generations and whining about how badly they do -- how about giving them some remedial classes, an extra year's study, anything other than just throwing them in at the deep end? One almost suspects that these institutions want "reserved" candidates to do badly so that they can say "see, we told you so..." And incidentally the research and higher education record of the IITs is pathetic, compared even to our long-suffering universities: they're no more than undergraduate training institutes and are given quite disproportionate importance. I have no respect for them...

Anonymous said...

Rahul have you bothered to check if the IITs have tried out measures like remedial classes and extra years of study for SC/ST students?

barbarindian said...

Awwwww Dilip, sensitive, aren't we?

You have to be extremely naive to think that anything would have come out of the debates. Here we have ministers claim that his life tells him reservations work, the same guy who casually caused a stock market crash. Here we have ministers who say that NSSO does not matter because they instinctively know something is not happening.

Let me tell you what will happen. The reservation will be implemented, sans creamy layer exclusion, from next year. From 2008 it will be the turn of the private companies to bend over.

Debates work in some cases in Western countries, where a large proportion of electorates can be swayed with good argument. A country where over 90% are freeloaders, debates have no meaning.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Anonymous -- I wasn't aware of it from my IIT friends but apparently some IITs do offer "remedial" courses, which are a complete disaster, as is many other aspects of how the IITs deal with this. See for example this article (a PUCL report).

Also of interest, though anecdotal, is this article by an IITian.

I might add that I have encountered extremely bright (and successful) scientists from all sorts of backgrounds. I also know many women scientists who are easily the equal or superior of their male colleagues, and are internationally recognised (I say this because the IITs' gender ratio is even more lamentable than their SC/ST treatment). So I just don't buy the argument that "merit" is the reason for the IITs' skewedness.

Anonymous said...

Rahul, the PUCL link that you gave condemns the concept of a preparatory course for SC/STs as "discriminatory" and makes it sound like it is some kind of torture. Are you agreeing with that?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Anonymous, a mandatory preparatory course is certainly discriminatory. To declare, without investigation, that "their basics are weak" is discriminatory. Any remedial course should be need-based. And I was shocked at the description of the admission procedure (pink papers, no anonymity, etc). It doesn't mean that it can't be done right, but some commitment needs to be there from the people who do it.

In any university in the US, including the best, students can choose their courses to a great extent, can take time off, etc. Students who need to can take basic courses, advanced students can move directly to advanced courses. We need that sort of flexibility for all students. A lot of general-category students can't cope at the IITs either, while I'm convinced a lot of dalit students would do fine if given a level playing field.

We have heard a lot of noise about "merit" from the IITs, AIIMS, IIMs etc. What we haven't heard, as Yadav said, is what can we do about the obvious lack of representation of huge swathes of society. This issue has been there since independence, and the alarm bell should have sounded in 1990 with the Mandal Commission stuff... if, 16 years after that, nobody has developed better answers, why fault the government for going along with the "easy" route (caste-based reservations)?

Anonymous said...

But then Rahul, the other link that you gave talks of how the SC/ST students are not "properly guided" to choose the right courses and they end up taking courses that are beyond them, etc.

Now put yourself in the place of a Professor who is counselling freshie students (all students get counselled at IITs, including SC/ST students.) You have two choices.
1) You tell him, on the basis of his JEE scores, etc. that he is advised to take a preparatory course or a less-tougher course. Now you have to be very persuasive about this, because it is a question of losing a year, or tempering a student's expectations. And this will get you into trouble with the PUCL, because they seem to assume that you will be hostile to those students based on your caste.

2) You let the student do what he wants, in which case, when he flunks courses a few years later, he blames the system for not properly guiding him.

Which course will you choose?

barbarindian said...

I think people are misinformed about the prep courses for SC/STs.

SC/STs have a separate cutoff, say 20/300. Those SC/STs clearing this cutoff directly join the B.Tech. with their GC peers, no question asked.

But, not enough SC/STs qualify even this low cutoff. So, another cutoff is kept, perhaps in single digits. Those SC/STs who fall between this second cutoff and the 20/300 base cutoff are made to go through 1 year prep course.

Even after this, about 10% seats (out of 22.5%) go vacant.

Of course PUCL etc. are giving it a spin like SC/STs are forced to go through 1 extra year. Apparently every other day Kancha Ilaiah, Udit Raj and company send letters to UN human rights commission and US Congress about this gross human rights violation (meanwhile they take their wrath on Jews of all people on a regular basis on various Dalit websites). Hilarious.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Cutoffs? Entrance to the IITs is based on rank in the JEE, not cutoffs. The SC/ST candidates are ranked separately. Nobody's actual score is released, as far as I know, only the ranks. So your claims of a 20/300 "cutoff" are unverifiable -- though I can believe that *some* cutoff exists for SC/ST candidates.

Anonymous said...

Rahul, do you realise that you have missed the point completely?

barbarindian said...

I am not sure for the general category they have cutoffs or a staraight ranking. I believe they still have a cutoff, on the basis of which they offer a waiting list. For SC/STs they definitely have a two tiered cutoff system. That is the only reason about 10% seats for SC/STs go empty.

The problem is that of a statistical distribution. Vast majority score a zero (zilch, nada, this is true for GC as well). If you didn't have a cutoff, you would have say 400 SC/ST candidates with non-zero scores and the rest (maybe tens of thousands) with zero scores. Naturally a selection would be impossible without a lottery or something like that.

Here is a resource

If you have doubts you may want to talk to IIT admissions office.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

If you didn't have a cutoff, you would have say 400 SC/ST candidates with non-zero scores and the rest (maybe tens of thousands) with zero scores

According to the link you sent, the cutoff is generally over 70%. I personally think that's pretty high, considering that the JEE standard is closer to first-year-undergraduate level than school level. The article says "very few" make this cutoff and students who score "just below" are invited to the preparatory course. I personally think that a student who scores even 60% is not an idiot and can easily be trained to IIT levels.

The other point is that tests are not at all a measure of real-life performance. IIT is skewed at the start by this one-point criterion for admission (JEE performance).

I liked Harsh Mander's letter, higher up on this blog: especially his point that there is more "merit" in a doctor who sincerely serves his village than in one who wangles his green card at the first opportunity. Likewise, I would say, more "merit" in a civil engineer who sincerely works for rural infrastructure than one who does his MBA and becomes a file-pusher at Accenture or whatever.

barbarindian said...

The cutoff for GC students is about 70. As I said, please go ahead and contact IIT Admissions, GOI or whatever.

Clearly I am speaking with information pretty close to what the reality is (without divulging how I know all these). You are merely speculating.

Once again, our motto is,
if you want a seat, please compete.

Anonymous said...

That's the whole point Dilip. you have a long winding story or justification ready for not responding to valid arguments. In this case, who cares about your foul mouthed friend enough to follow closely how his relationship with you has progressed? To a casual reader, what matters is the point he makes on the day that the casual reader reads the post. The day i read it, I saw the guy was making a valid, cogent and logical point, but was dismissed rather rudely by you.

All I am saying is, Mehta or Yadav would not do this. They are able to manage civil discourse because they address the argument not the person making the argument. That is what truly civil dialogue is all about. And that is what a debate is about - addressing the argument rather than the person who is making that argument.

However I have seen you evading arguments or ignoring them completely dozens of times on the basis of your previous feuds with whoever made that comment.

That shows you to be petty and begs introspection from you before you go lamenting why the responses you get are not of the quality of a Mehta or a Yadav.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Yo Mice! Well, you get a reply again! Well, acceptions make the rule, don't they?

who cares about your foul mouthed friend enough ... [etc]

Clearly, you do. After all, you see "valid, cogent and logical" stuff here and there.

The casual reader can make up her own mind, and I'm perfectly fine with that.

I hardly lament whether the responses I get, alone, are of the quality of Mehta and others. I lamented the quality of this entire debate over the last several weeks.

Glad to see the discussion on this page. I'm a watcher for just now.

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

"Has even one of these persuaded, or even induced thought in, anyone who doesn't already agree with them?"

I don't know if they have, but I'll confess that you have. I disagree(d) with you on this blog when you first raised this issue but, in the time since then, you and some others have caused me to reconsider a lot of my thoughts on this issue. I'm on the fence now, especially regarding implementation, which I'm still highly skeptical about. But I wasn't on the fence when this first started.

Also, despite lathi charges and strikes and political panhandling and hate-filled vitriol at times, I think there has been a superb national debate around this whole issue. It's very heartening.

Yazad Jal said...

I had no idea about what a nony mice was talking about. So I did a quick search. Here are two posts with TTG's comments (he's the "otherwise foul mouthed youngster").

Carefully capitalized

No trumps here

Anonymous said...

Here's a TTG post. Such restrained language.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you Yazad. You forgot A bunch of fornicating jokers and After comments like this, some of us are expected to carry on with 'intelligent debate'.

Anonymous said...

Wow, people fighting over me!
1) Just for clarification - I do not know who A Nony Mice is, I just wanted to thank him for defending me

2) Yazad, again, thanks for finding those links.

But... In this, I have to actually agree with Dilip about being foul-mouthed for'll be 27 in a week's time...

The specific point (in my opinion) on which Dilip feels that I "lost something"
is when at one point I said that the root cause of all the analyses of the 'Typist Cartel' is that Indians are a bunch of barbarians.

As I recall, this point bothered Dilip a lot, I think.

Another thing is that just because somebody doesn't use the words fuck or shit in their posts, doesn't mean they aren't foul-mouthed.

The kinds of insults that have been hurled at people that don't agree with your point of view, such as Shivam Vij, Annie Zaidi, and others, are despicable.

The kinds of accusations hurled at people who are against reservations is disgusting, and just because a swear word doesn't accompany them, doesn't make them respectable points of view.
The way that some people have gone about discrediting merit, the IITs and the students who go there(i.e. They haven't invented earth-shattering) and so on and so forth is shocking.

With these kinds of arguments, you effectively assume the other side is completely stupid, and you give NO respect to the other party at all.

Just as you have rules, Dilip, so do I, and one of them is to call a spade a spade. If somebody accuses you of being prejudiced and selfish and a snob and elitist and God Knows What else, simply based on your position of an argument, I give them the finger and an earful, because in my mind they have done the equivalent of swearing at me.

zap said...

chappies. some of you are taking yourself a lil too seriously arent you?
Why dont you guys look at me and have a good laugh.:)

Dilip D'Souza said...

TTG, I'll say this just this once, and I'll say it in public since this is happening in public:

First, I couldn't care less about you being foul-mouthed. It wasn't me who mentioned it here.

Second, that crack about the bunch of barbarians bothered me only to this extent: you never once had the courage to try to back it up. It's easy to say things, it needs substance to back them up. I thought I saw that substance in you, unlike many others who don't back up the things they say.

Third, what did actually bother me was something else altogether, not something I take lightly (others might, I don't know) from people I consider friends. That was when for me, you lost something.

Fourth, I can hardly be expected to answer for Annie Zaidi or Shivam Vij. I don't hurl insults, whether at you or at those who oppose reservations, and I am unable to see why I should be accountable because you think others do. (I don't recall holding you responsible for the insults dispensed by others).

Fifth, thank you for spelling out your rules. While doing so, you say: If somebody accuses you of being prejudiced and selfish and a snob and elitist and God Knows What else, simply based on your position of an argument.

So let's see TTG, are you going to back this up this time? Are you going to tell me where I (not Annie or Shivam, but I) "accused you of being prejudiced and selfish and a snob and elitist"?

Or is this one more thing you will simply toss out and subside into silence? Like the "barbarian" remark?

Dilip D'Souza said...

zap, just saw your comment! You're right, and thanks for the balloon-prick. Thing is, I've been laughing since I saw you last year...

zap said...

Glad to be of some use:)

Anonymous said...

Tarun Pal aka TTG is so endearingly funny!