The Reservation Debate-Part 1

Note-We have refrained from commenting on the reservation saga primarily because more capable bloggers(in other words, 99% of the blogsphere) have basically said everything which needs to be said. However, now a question has been raised about ‘’merit’’ and since we do consider ourselves a bit of a merit student, we are forced to wade in..First, before we establish our viewpoint about merit, a little fisking of Annie’s piece here would be in order. Annie starts by rehashing the old joke about Cows and Bulls… Nice! We had heard the joke a long time back. Thanks.

Most students know that their answer-scripts aren’t even read by the teachers, for the boards or university externals. You could write of cows and bulls and get away with it.You all know the truth about ‘Merit’.

Really! While we would readily concede that the kind of evaluation done in American Universities is sorely missing in India, I am not sure you could get away with writing any crap. Are you seriously arguing that in our universities there is absolutely no distinction between toppers and failures and it all is a matter of chance or depends on the side of bed the evaluator has woken up on?

Our exams often generate and encourage stupidity and push forward the least talented of the lot. I am not an IIT student, and will not pretend to know much about the CAT since I didn’t crack it, but it is rather interesting that almost none of our wonderful IIT-ians (for whom such pitted battled are being fought) have made any earth-shattering discoveries or inventions. [For reference, look at this. …It outlined several small and big scientific achievements … How much originality of thought, practical application of theories etc etc, came from the top science/technology institutes? Less than ten percent, I can bet on that!]

I am not sure how did you arrive at the figure of less than 10% and what exactly you are betting…Anyways, we hope you realize that your argument means that people should not actually go to IIT/IIM, since apparently more earth shattering discoveries are made else where, then why this clamor for reservation in IIT/IIM?Now let us give you an example. Football is a fairly popular game in India, we are not too good at it but still it commands a large fan following. How many Peles/Zico/Maradonas have we produced? Have we ever produced one world class football player? No, why? Now this is not a call for dissuading people from playing football. This is to establish even in a sport like Football, which is still largely a game of individual skill, requires very little paraphernalia, we cannot produce one world class player. Why?Because world class players (and earth shattering discoveries) are not made in a vacuum. They require huge infrastructural support, money and a culture of excellence. As we said in the comments section, Harvard alone has an endowment fund of 25 billion$, incidentally many times India’s education budget, do any of our IITs have this kind of support? How much is the pay of an IIT professor? How much is the research funding? What is the inducement to conduct independent research? Being a Professor in America is the second most coveted job, could you say the same for India? I would say that given the restraints, it is great that they can even produce world-class engineers, and that is a fact established by the huge brand value IIT enjoys in USA. Do you deny that? With all due respect, to compare them to your humanities class in preposterous.

I am astounded by the fact that some of the most intelligent people in blogosphere can continue to argue on the basis of ‘merit’ when they probably know how completely non-relevant it is, given that our means and methods of judging merit are… stupid. That is the only word that comes to mind.

How does she reach this conclusion? By sharing with us her experience of her undergraduate humanities education…

This was a time when I was seeking to reinterpret poetry, lookng for challenge and allowing my mind to open up to new explanations. …In college, it was the same story. The literature teachers were genuinely concerned because I was topping most of the internal exams but barely scraping through the externals. They all recommended that if I wanted a first division, I should go by the guide-books…

Ok. Now lets get this straight. By going to a humanities program in an average University(as Annie establishes later) she concluded that in the entire territory of India, across all educational streams, among thousands of colleges and universities, there is no concept of merit. Please also note, she is not only talking about merit in admission but also evaluation through College. If that is so, should not we disband our entire education system and start afresh? To be fair, she acknowledges she has little knowledge about JEE/CAT….but that has not stopped her from passing judgment on the entire education system Here is our alternate proposal.Let everyone apply for JEE and CAT as it is done now(1), among all eligible applications; schooling up to 12th for JEE(which raises the interesting question that just because someone has flunked his 12th board exams, is he necessarily worse off then someone who has not?), let us organize a computerized draw and depending upon the number of seats which can raised on a whim as merit is anyways immaterial, we select the successful candidates. Just like it is done in government housing shams schemes.No, Dear Annie, we are not mocking you. Pray, tell us what is wrong with our system if we acknowledge that merit is a complete hogwash? Also, because of the sheer strength of numbers, it would allow a much larger number of backward/Dalit students to enter the hollowed portals of IIT/IIMs. See, our system has in built fexiblity. For example, some claim that the performance in IIT has more to do with keenness than JEE rank; that is when the papers are actually read.Ok. We were all living under the illusion that the JEE measures exactly that, the underlying assumption being more keen you are, harder you will study.. Anyways, we propose the following changes in the application delivery process to account for the ‘’keeness’’ factor.Hand-delivery>Express Delivery> Registered Mail> Ordinary mail Oh, and before you accuse us of hatching a giant consipiracy against the poor(You swine! You know very well the poor will have no money to afford the courier) let us hasten to add the system can be manipulated any way. Yes, Exactly that! Manipulated!How about this? Depending upon mode of delivery..On Foot>Bullock Cart>Two wheeler>CarOr depending upon day of delivery…Thursday>Wednesday>Tuesday>MondayWe wonder, we really do, if this does not establish to you the stupidity of your ideas, what will? But we shall try-1. Are you not arguing that by extending the reservations when the merit system is so screwed up, you are actually perpetuating the inequities which you decry now? That is, an OBC student who would go through would not be in anyways superior to one who did not!2. I hope you realize that your statement means that the higher education system in India (mostly government owned) is completely screwed up, and supports those of us who think the government should get out of higher education and concentrate on primary education. But then you will accuse us of being elitist when we find the idea of tutions in Delhi University being Rs 12.50 preposterous. While a critique of the education system is beyond the scope of this piece, please read this. I hope you will realize that who is being elitist.Anyways, she further writes..

… would entitle me to admissions in better, more prestigious universities, where I had a real chance of a real education, better teachers, and hopefully, a better career after that. That is why.

Oh! The joy of discovery! We thought everyone else who toiled wanted something else.And we just thought that you made the point that the entire merit system in India was screwed up. How did you think that they would recognize your merit? And yes, thanks for acknowledging some prestigious schools do exist in India;we shall now refrain from tearing our Indian Degree.

In our country, with our universities and exam systems being what they are, ‘merit lists’ are a stupid thing to argue for, or to base any valid argument upon, least of all something as sensitive as reservation.

So what should it be based upon? We already proposed a model, do you think that is applicable or you have something different to offer?

If you cannot take first-class education and opportunity to the backward class/caste, then you must take the backwards to the first-class opportunity.

Dear Annie, I am sorry but it seems to us that two different Annies have written this piece. First you say merit does not exist then talk about first class education??????Now merit has its limitations,which we shall address later but to claim that a system which cannot recognise merit at all can flourish…mmmmFirst, if merit is not a criterion for admission, how do IITs manage to maintain their reputations, to which you can say IIT s have no reputation; and I can say I look like Tom Cruise..ok, at least we have similar hairstyles!Second, why do you want ”them” to be subjected to same ‘’torture’’ you went through? It is clear from your piece that you gained nothing from your college and whatever you learnt was from your own effort, then why does any need to go to a college? . You know what you are saying? That after 4 years of IIT education the person has gained nothing except an IIT degree. Now, that IIT degree will ensure him a job but how has the IIT brand reached a stage where that is possible? Now before you accuse us manipulating your views about Humanties to IIT, let us deal with that too. I don’t know which school you went to, but in Delhi University St Stephens and Hindu attract the best Humanties crowd. Usually the DU toppers also come from these college or LSR. How? How year after year, when no one actually reads any paper and when the marking in DU is anonymous, toppers don’t come from say Dayal Singh or Shyam Lal? Once or twice might be a chance but everytime? I am not saying no topper has ever come from Dayal Singh but what is the proportion in compaison to St Stephens. Oh! If you dont’t know anything about DU college ranking, please ask a friend, maybe the one at Mall Road…

In my mind, the question is not whether to reserve seats or not. The question is – do we want to help the backward move forward? Or not?

Of course Annie, the thought matters. But the presence of thought (or the question in your mind ) is the only thing which matters? Sure, the question that whether some people actually want the backwards to move forward is important but it is surely important to ask how do we propose to move forward? No?Suppose, you ask me do you want to see 100 Dalit millionaires? And I say, why not, more the merrier! And you say, let the state give 100 Dalits a million dollars(I am not saying you are advocating it). They I say, hey, wait a minute, that’s not the way to go about it, from which you conclude, no you never wanted to to help them in the first place!(2)Yes, the ‘’Want’’ question is important but it is equally if not more important to ask ‘’How’’. I hope that also tells you why Communism failed….p.s We agree that the merit is not as simple as we have made out it to be and neither is this debate about reservations. That is why in the second part we shall deal with the larger issue of merit and address much more reasonable issues raised by Abi.p.p.s We sincerely apologize for the largely mocking tone of this piece. But we felt that this bluff about merit being completely immaterial should be called. Come, we were not idiots that we sat on our asses for one year preparing exclusively for our entrance exam. And before anyone claims that we deprived a poor backward of his/her education, let us clarify that we went to a professional college in UP which has 55% reservation since 1989;and no, we are not that old. So, we have already beaten they system and are no longer a stakeholder.(1) Since even after reservations, you still have to apply for JEE, we are not depriving anyone here.(2) It is disconcerting how much this sounds like the infamous Bush argument.Update-More fun. Greatbong takes on Annie here.

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