I know that I should be studying right now, but something happened today that that affects mine and the lives of countless other students around this country. Around a year ago, the Indian Government proposed a low in the Parliament which would reserve a whopping 50% of the seats in higher education institutions around the country for ‘backward castes’. It was passed almost unanimously by all political parties, and then got stuck in the Supreme Court because of a litigation filed by concerned students.
Today, the Supreme Court of India passed an order allowing the quota to be implemented. Reservations for ‘scheduled castes’, ‘scheduled tribes’, and ‘other backward castes’ is now a reality. IIM Ahmedabad, for example, has already decided to delay its admission procedure to implement it. This sucks. Totally. This also means that the boffins would want to implement it for the scores of medical and engineering entrance exams. Now think about it – out of around the 4000 seats that the IITs have, only 2000 are now available to the ‘general’ category students. First thing – India’s higher education system is hugely overburdened. MIT has around 8000 undergrads. NTU Singapore has around 19000 undergrads. But SEVEN Indian Institutes of Technology, combined, offer only around 4000; out of which 2000 are now out of bounds for a large number of candidates. How prudent is that?
I am not a kid who wants to keep out ‘them folk from rural areas out of IITs’. I’m perfectly aware that in India, not everyone gets equal opportunities for education. So why disadvantage someone, just because of who their parents / ancestors are? I feel that by the very act of labelling some castes ‘backward’ or ‘scheduled’, it makes that tag stick to them throughout their lives. Take USA for example. Although it’s a demonstrated statistic that African-Americans and Hispanics ON AN AVERAGE (mind these three words) score lower, yet, they don’t say “Let’s reserve 50% of the seats for these guys”. NO! Instead, US universities and the government give oodles of scholarship money / grants to deserving students from economically weaker students, and academically talented ones. Across the globe, in other countries like France and Germany, the government foots a large part of, or almost all, of the higher education bill for students.
It is no wonder that these countries are far more advanced than us, and that some of the most brilliant minds from our own country, especially in advanced sciences, want to go and work there. Over there, the understand the importance of having skilled workers; but without a doubt, they also strive to do more for the people who are REALLY facing obstacles in their attempt to get through a college. Words like “Woohoo, India’s becoming a superpower” will only remain limited to the usual annual ‘feel-good’ editions of India Today and Outlook, if India doesn’t take the same path.
Then comes the question of the logic behind the reservations itself. Even if we for a moment forget the fact that calling some castes ‘backward’ is being so glorified, is there statistical data to prove that we need reservations? IMHO, I don’t think so. These reservations were mostly based on the Mandal Commission report (a special panel set up by the government quite a few years back), which was based on the 1951 Census of India. A 1931 Census on the condition of backward castes is now being extrapolated around EIGHTY years later to provide reservations. Yes, back then, things were bad for them; but is it equally valid to reserve HALF of the seats, fifty years later?
The root cause lies in votes. The politicians know that the youth (and mostly, the urban youth) whom this decision affects the most doesn’t matter a pence to them. One, because our numbers are small compared to rest of the nation; two, because this segment demands work to be done, rather than get swayed by caste politics; but third, and most important of all, we people vote less. It has come to such an extent that the number of ‘backward castes’ have been multiplying like rabbits as politicians across every region try to appease voters by getting them on the gravy train of reservations everywhere. Normally, around the world, people would feel offended if tagged ‘backward’; in India, there are communities which are lobbying to do get named so.
The fact the government’s so-called ‘youth leaders’ don’t care either is evident from the fact that the college wings of political parties haven’t protested so far. Neither have politicians like Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, etc. When it comes to stuff like this, all they remain in party meetings is ‘Rahul baba’ – a guy who’s there because of his family name, and not for doing work.
Not satisfied with just government colleges, they now want to push this for private colleges too. Parties are already clamouring for that. Ramadoss (the health minister), who I’m sure was one of the major lobbyists for that law on reservations, ‘expressed disappointment’ over the fact that the Supreme Court also said that affluent members of ‘backward castes’ should be excluded from the system. With quite a few state elections this year and the Parliament elections next year, none of the parties will ‘risk’ going against reservation.
As I said earlier, the seats in institutes are already less, and a ruling like this creates more stress on students. With the IITs having only 2000 seats for the ‘general’ public, cutoffs for institutes like NITs, DCE, NSIT (whose own number of seats for ‘general public’ will go down) – and especially private ones like BITS Pilani and VIT will only go up. The government needs to stop spending taxpayers’ money – YOUR money – on schemes like these.
Open more universities. Set up scholarship schemes. Get the dream of a knowledge-driven superpower by 2020 / 2050 / 2080 / never away from being a dream, and into reality.