Millennium Post

Hollowness of a reservation-friendly nation

Many years ago, I used to find myself at a loss whenever I tried to dig a meaning out of the statement often offered by a certain set of people that ‘merit’ is a ‘myth’. Those days this statement used to agitate me, as I always wanted to enjoy a sense of superiority that I logically associated with the marks that I used to score in the examinations.

That my hard earned marks could worth less than its arithmetic value, usually drove me mad. When I would see that those who scored less than me; did not work as hard as me and were never as serious in studies as I used to be; are being preferred even after getting lesser marks, it used to push me into being engaged in extreme thoughts.

I could never notice a reason worth any attention and was never able to appreciate any argument that wanted me to accept that whatever I scored in an examination was not because of the hard work only that I had painstakingly put in but the environment where I was born also had its contribution in it. I was convinced that these arguments were being manufactured by those who wanted a short cut to success and I used to feel as being cheated, being denied my due and always felt devastated at the feeling of being left out because of this ‘injustice’.

Reason in the arguments
To me, the only criteria that one could probably make some weird sense for justifying value of a low score higher than its numeric worth was the factor attributing to ‘the different financial background of the candidates’. This belief also stemmed from all the arguments that often people offer in support of the caste-based reservation system. All the arguments used to assume that the candidates associated with lower castes were necessarily of lower financial status too, despite several examples that existed before us in its contradiction.

It was only when I encountered a pro-reservationist’s remark that the ‘policy of reservation’ is not a ‘poverty alleviation programme’ that made me analyse the issue from other aspects. By that time probably the maturity I had earned through my experiences made me ask myself what actually did that ‘foolish’ looking statement mean? I must admit that being brought up in a family influenced by RSS ideology I could never imbibe any attitude of hate towards others on the basis of caste. On some occasions, despite having knowledge about the caste of others, I was unable to discriminate against them since I was taught to respect our elders and to extend love to youngsters irrespective of their origin.

I feel it took some time for me to understand the thought behind the policy of reservation only because of my RSS influence that made me refuse to make use of anyone’s origin to build up an impression about him/her. It is true that I believe that it was only the reservation policy that served the purpose for me to develop a ‘caste vision’ in my thoughts in order to understand the perspective behind the implementation of the reservation policy. In this limited sense the policy did attempt to serve the opposite of what it claims to aim for.

Worth of the merit-lists
However, now I am convinced that merit is indeed a semi-myth and it has a very weak correlation with someone’s performance in their career. With time and experience, I have now witnessed that if given an opportunity many of us possess the ability to rise to an occasion.

I have been teaching undergraduate students for more than two decades and I have noticed even those of my students who were not as bright, have made big in their life. The situation could have been different if they were measured only through the marks earned by them in their exams. I have seen an IAS who was 50 places below in the final ‘merit list’ doing a better job; an MBBS who was ranked 200 below  and excelling more; a teacher initially shaky becoming more popular teacher than those who showed initial confidence.

Reason behind these facts is that the person possessed adequate urge to excel in the career. In view of the above it is clear that denial of opportunity to someone in our country has to do more with the lack of availability of the opportunities rather than the merit reflected by the marks scored in the examination conducted to select some among many of the interested candidates. The method adopted by us to select required number of candidates only reflects our collective helplessness in finding a process better than following a mechanically way of rejecting candidates using a merit list that is often prepared after an examination.

These examinations are often conducted to judge a mixture of the memorizing power and understanding capabilities of the applying candidates. This process of examining candidates (excluding interaction with candidates) is generally completed in our country without revealing their identity. This is just to insulate the assessment from any possible influences and prejudices. It is only for this reason that when some candidates figuring lower in the merit list are preferred on the basis of their caste-identity, others rightly feel as cheated. Having said this however, to conclude that those who got the opportunity because of their caste can never prove themselves as better than those who were placed higher in the merit list will be yet another and a bigger blunder.

It is so because who would prove their ultimate worth gets decided finally only by the urge within them to excel and has to do very little with their rank scored by them at the time of their selection. At the same time to ignore the hurt feelings of those who think that their hard work was being unjustifiably devalued for no fault of theirs would also be a mistake.

The vision
The only way to handle this scenario is to look for ways to expand avenues and opportunities to all. It seems to me that India has been ignoring an important aspect of this issue while looking to implement this policy. The policy unintentionally aims at maintaining the ‘hierarchy’ of the opportunities and careers and merely provides a way to replace beneficiaries of the system.

Undeniably the ‘reservation policy’ is addressing one aspect of the problem of our society but don’t we need to ponder as to why the youth of India looks to get absorbed only in a countable few selected careers? Is it not because we ‘rate’, ‘respect’, are ‘ready to associate a handsome pay’ and accept the ‘undue administrative power attached with careers that are primarily meant to serve people’ only for some careers and have kept on ignoring several other avenues resulting in inspiring students to run after only those select few careers.

As long as we as a country would keep on running after becoming Engineers, Doctors, IAS, Government services and for grabbing jobs in PSU, we would be trapped in the policy of reservation that merely achieves ‘replacement’ as against ‘inclusion’. ‘Reservation policy’ is poised to create a fresh caste definition that would be basically classified by those who could get into these careers and those who were left out in the process. If India is looking for a satisfied youth generation then it needs to develop career options in many skills that are hitherto considered as untouchable and are disrespected probably because of the financial returns that those career can provide and more than that the social stigma that automatically gets associated with those careers.

There lies a huge scope of improving the lifestyle quotient and social-acceptability factor that are usually attached with many careers that require great skills but are invariably considered worthless: such as career in different kinds of farming, career in manufacturing and productions, career in waste-management, career in cleaning and managing household activities, jobs in construction and labour oriented careers, career in repair oriented careers, career in small scale industries, career in designing and production of leather-product (shoes, bags and files), jobs as hair-stylists, career in jewellery designing, career in marketing and career in food products etc.

The challenge before us is to work towards making these careers financially attractive and socially at par with those that are being sought after by the youth today. We must simultaneously work towards balancing out the undue ‘administrative power’ that we improperly associate with the careers meant for servicing people. Let us come out of the colonial mentality of accepting bureaucrats as our kings.

It would be then that we will be able to inspire youth towards other career opportunities of comparable worth in areas such as mentioned above so that people will begin to take up careers not merely by the financial security or the administrative power that those careers can offer them but by the inherent interest and urge that they possess to make them excel in those careers.

Instead of myopically fighting for larger and fresh shares in the fixed or limited career options using the reservation policy on one ground or the other, we must work with an idea to expand the choice of careers so that we can render the reservation policy itself as useless.

Let the opportunities outnumber the takers.

The author is an associate professor at Kirori Mal College, Delhi University
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