Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Anti-quota protests

The issue of reservesations has awakened the middle-class and upper-class once again and while there has been widespread coverage of the issues and protests involved, I found the following report on Indian Express insensitive and insulting, Anti-quota protests: Students pull rickshaws
Over 100 students pulled rickshaws in the town even as the stir entered the fourth day today. The students had earlier swept the streets with brooms as part of their protest.
"If talent is not given weightage, we will have to do the role of sweepers or rickshaw pullers", one of the agitating students said.

Why are sweepers and rickshaw pullers less important than these professionals? I think if not more, they are as important as folks in any other profession. Further, can we believe that the same segment which is indirectly derogating the sweepers and rickshaw pullers will remove the stigma of caste and class based discrimination?---rather ironic!


Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...

I don't see it as necessarily insulting the rickshaw pullers and sweepers. ofcourse, every job is respectable and has its own importance to society. But I think the point they are trying to make is that if merit is not given due importance, people who are talented in high-skilled areas will never get an opportunity to do justice to their talents and will instead have to choose other low-skilled jobs that may not require their skills at all.

Purushottam said...

1. Majority of the sweepers and rickshaw pullers do not belong to the upper castes. Will try to find a statistic on this.

2. Sweepers and rickshaw pullers are not necessarily in that profession because they are less *talented* or *low-skilled*.

3. By choosing such acts the caste/class divide is not being reduced, which I think is the main issue. Wonder why they did not choose any other alternative profession to protest---a priest probably (arguably low-skilled once you know your mantras).

tejal said...

Ramesh, are you saying that rickshaw pullers and sweepers are in those proffessions because they are not talented otherwise?
Does this insensitive act of the upper caste students not imply that they are?

Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...

Regarding your point 1, I wouldn't dispute it. I think it's most probably true.

Point 2: I never claimed that rickshaw pullers are in that profession because they are low skilled. I was only saying that it is a job that requires lower skill than say a doctor or a software engineer. Please don't twist my statements here.

Number 3: It is your personal interpretation of the act as a casteist statement. They chose an act that would catch the public eye easily. It turns out pulling rickshaws and sweeping the roads is an effective form of doing it. I am glad that they didn't choose a more violent form of protest... they are actually doing some social service in the process!

tejal said...

Ramesh please define "skills". People dont get born as doctors and engineers, do they?

You say "people who are talented in high-skilled areas will never get an opportunity to do justice to their talents and will instead have to choose other low-skilled jobs that may not require their skills at all."
they acquire the skills required of a doctor because they get into medical colleges, they dont already have them. Similary if a sweeper had that opportunity he/she would acquire the same skills.
So when you speak of "talent" in high skilled areas (even before they get into those areas) - i dont understand what you mean.

Does that mean that as the situation stands now (before the increase in quota), people who dont possess that "talent" dont get into med schools? which again brings us to the question of what role caste and years of opression plays in deciding who has more "talent".

Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...


I knew this was going to blow out into a much larger debate. Perhaps it's a worthwhile process indeed.

Firstly, As you said, "skill" or "talent" is definitely cultivable but I believe it is also inborn to some extent. How else would you explain geniuses like Ramanujan, Da Vinci, Einstein or Shakuntala Devi? I have seen some some geniuses personally in my own undergrad experience who scarcely cultivated their talent, it just "came" to them. Some people have a gift for certain things, be it in arts or sciences or sports and it's not yet understood how, although I have my own beliefs on this.

Secondly, it is true that skills of doctors and engineers are acquired through training. At the same time, some people excel better than others (irrespective of what caste they belong to) in these areas as well and hence "merit" also should be an important criterion not only to nurture and encourage this talent, but also to maintain the standards of our higher educational institutions.

I do understand that there are several sections in society that have been oppressed for years. Providing reservations was perhaps a good initial solution. But I am not convinced that extending it over 60 years and only increasing the quota each time is going to work in the long run. It could be counter-productive in the sense that it is only perpetuating the caste divisions in our society and also compromising merit to a large extent.

How about trying the following alternatives?

(i)Making reservations on an economic basis?

(ii)providing extensive reservations till high school and let their talents and hard work take care of the later stages?

(iii)Continue reservations but keep certain premier institutes like IIT/IIM/IISc/AIIMS solely merit-based to nurture raw talent and to maintain quality?

tejal said...


"(i)Making reservations on an economic basis?"
- Mandal has a creamy/non-creamy layer category. So it takes into consideration caste as well as class. Class, while it is a problem, it is not the only problem. Even relatively better to do Dalits, face discrimination and stigma in society. So caste issues runs very deep even today and need to be addressed. The question of OBCs not being as bad to do as Dalits and therefore reservation for Dalits is ok but for OBCs is not could be raised. Again, on this I think Mandal prioritizes who gets the benefits. Again, OBC make up 52% of the Indian population and Brahmins only 15%. So a valid question would be that "merit" in 15% of the upper castes could be easily accomodated in 50% of the open category seats, no?

"(ii)providing extensive reservations till high school and let their talents and hard work take care of the later stages?"
I agree that the government while disinvesting heavily from education (both primary and higher) is playing a double game. And increased and better primary and secondary education is something that needs to be done immediately. This may better the situation of access to the very higher education that we are talking about.

"(iii)Continue reservations but keep certain premier institutes like IIT/IIM/IISc/AIIMS solely merit-based to nurture raw talent and to maintain quality?"
Admissions to IIT/IIm etc are not purely merit based are they? there is coaching available to students from high school in some places. Even the difference in family backgrounds makes a difference in who is "meritorious" and who is not. So when you say exempt these institutions from reservations you are in fact saying that these institutions will be attended only by upper caste well to do students who are "meritorious" (which might mean that not every one of them is Ramanujan but that they have been previledged for years and years to be able to be meritorious today).

I do not think these issues can be looked at in isolation from the years of history of repression and injustice which has created the situations of "merit", "talent" or "skill" today.
So caste has to be addressed in all spheres. When you talk of merit, it should not be based on whether or not someone can qualify in CET. There are a lot of factors that make up that merit. How will you measure the equality of opportunity then?
You cannot. So you can do your best to create that equal opportunity.
And i re-iterate - Isnt 50 or even 40% of an open category enough to accomodate all the Ramanujans from 15% of the upper castes? Looking at it from another angle, it would mean that there are 40% reserved setats for 15% of the population (seems unfair doesnt it?)

satya_katha said...

Ramesh bhai,
1) just after the independence, reservation was there only for SC/STs. the reservation for OBCs(they constitute 75 % of India's population) started from 1989 (thanks to VP Singh, who thinks that politics is the art of impossible). so it is wrong to say that, reservation has been there for the last 60 years !

2) reservation based on economic condition, is not a bad idea. but i have a caveat there. caste inequality issue may not be addressed by this. from history we have seen many times, that economic class based solution, may not address the issue of race, gender, castes etc.
if you believe so, then you agree with the classical Marxist point of view, that a class based solution is the solution !

3) nowadays, education comes in packages. so the word merit sounds really archaic to me. education in sciences and engineering is more of acquiring a packaged skill. the state should make sure that the underprivileged sections of the population get that skill.

yea, a healthy society should make sure that talents to be cultivated. but i don't really see, why would reservation hinder this.

4) my musing: it is more probable that a higher caste person getting education in India, would opt to go out of the country for higher education or for jobs than that of a person from the lower castes. how many people from the lower castes, do you see here, in Amherst ?
so by imparting them educational privileges, India is investing for its own development/future; and not for the development of the US universities or for American companies.

5) Private corporations in India should better comply to India's reservation policy, because, they get all their resources from the public money. when TATA sets up a steel plant in Orissa, it gets the land and other resources (electricity and water etc) in throw away prices. so the corporates should better comply with the interest of the people; and, yeh bakt ki awaz hai, reservation is there to stay for some more time.

Kamble said...

While I absolutely support the protests against the quotas in principle, the protesting students doing sweeping, pulling rickshaws, cleaning cars etc. is absolutely disgraceful, in bad taste and insulting to honest hard working people for whichever caste.

By doing such things, they are playing into the hands of the wily and manipulative politicians whose only aim is to discredit and divide the protestors.

When they do such things, the politicians will definitely find it easy to give it the colour of resistance by upper class. (Read TOI, Mumbai Ed. 17.5.06 page 1 regarding quota ordinance remarking: "mollyifying upper castes")

The problem arises because the students are acting out of emotions without proper thinking, strategy and programme. Such spontaneous approaches will do them immense harm than good. Similarly, lighting candles etc. does not symbolise or signify anything and is just an emotional outburst.

Those feeling the same way may please try to email yfemumbai@gmail.com
and also contact people at AIIMS who might be involved in the protests.

tejal said...

The article talks about how class is not the only issue, and caste divisions which run deep in our society need to be addressed.

Panduranga said...

I agree to the lofty idea expressed by previous writer but quotas are nowehere near the answer. They are just a way to hoodwink people into thinking that something great is being done.

None of the politicians has the vision or the guts or the ability to carry out the extensive social reform that is necessary.

THey are barking up the wrong tree and the tree will surely collapse.

Purushottam said...

@pandurnaga--- I totally agree, the politicians are playing a dirty game! While I think reservations (in some form, dont know which) are required, the govt. is calling for reservations and disinvesting from education at the same time! Ideally, they should increase investment in eduation, make sure that the infrastructure, access and opportunities increase over time for all and have a plan/vision for controlled reduction of reservation. But sadly, as you rightly put none of that is happening!