Friday, April 14, 2006

Looking at the Smaller Picture

I study at an IIT. The one which is located in Kanpur. I came here through a extraordinarily tough examination they call the JEE. From a normal Indian schoolboy, I turned into the crème de la crème of the country. Because of all this, for me it is really very difficult to talk about IIT in any kind of neutral or objective terms. However I will still try.

I’m talking about reservation here and I’m talking specifically about reservation in IITs. I might actually go further and say that I’m talking about reservation in IITK, for that is the only thing I’ve seen. That might be true and it is for the reader to decide how far my arguments can be extrapolated.

I’m a man of limited intellect. I cannot analyze large scale policies of issues of social justice. Such issues elude or confuse me. I will thus talk about my own small community which we in IIT Kanpur call the student body. The observations will thus be limited to this small community and it is again for the reader to decide how far they can be extended.

When a student comes here he is always asked his rank by other students. If you are a general category candidate then you state just plain rank. However, if you are a reserved category candidate, you have to state that you are from the reserved category.

The reason is not that people discriminate against the reserved category students. No, at least not at that point. The reason is that the judging criteria are different. For example a CSE guy of reserved category might got the same marks in JEE as, say, a civil engineering guy from the general category. Everyone is eager to know where a student stands academically.

There it is that the first line is drawn. Since category students are let in on relaxed criteria, they stand lower in the academic society.

The bachelors program commences and we start getting our CPIs. The JEE ranking is left in the past and a new stratification begins, based on CPI. That is not all. A parallel stratification begins based on other aspects of your personality – cultural activities, sports and managerial abilities. You are judged on what you do and not what you are. Never once is the question about your caste or religion raised. You can be a ten pointer and come from the most backward of all classes and nobody would bother about it and would respect you like hell.

Except in one context. If you were admitted through the quota, everyone would notice that. It stays with you throughout your stay.

Reservation thus creates an artificial class system with in the student community which would not have been there if everyone came based on the same criteria. And I reiterate. This class system is artificial in the sense that it is imposed by the reservation system and would not be in place if only merit was the judging criterion.

I listen to my grandmother talk about numerous castes and creed and she makes a lot of effort to explain to me the traditional occupations and the hierarchy of all there castes. All these things are irrelevant to me and the people of my generation. My mother knows some of such things and is less meticulous. What is more important to her is that there is a reserved category and there is a non reserved category. I don’t worry about caste distinctions either. In fact, I do not even know all of them. All I care about is whether the guy gets reservation or not.

Do the policy makers know of such phenomena? Are they bothered about them? Or do they argue that these are the only the lesser evils which must be tolerated in view of the greater good. Somehow that does not convince me. “Rational” hatred runs deeper and stronger than traditional hatred.

My culture teaches me to discriminate against certain people. However, obviously, no reasons for it can be provided. Because of the present scientific method of education, I’m forced to question such beliefs and there is some chance that I will discard this traditional hatred. Provided that I’m willing to listen, people can come and argue with me and convince me that my hatred is irrational and I might convert.

On the other hand, I work very hard to get a seat in the medical college. And hard here mean working something like fourteen hours a day for two to three years in the least. But then I do not get a seat in the medical college. That seat is given to a reserved category student who actually happens to score a zero (yes, this has actually happened as a fact correction: as Anirudh has pointed out (see comments), the evidence that I have about this is dubious. I distinctly remember something like this having happened. It was there in the newspapers. Since I was very young at that time, I do not remember the details.) on the entrance exam. Naturally I’m going to hate that person and the likes of him. I cannot help it, it is human nature. And there is no way that I can tell myself that this hatred in irrational. There is no way that anyone else can prove to me that my hatred is irrational. Such hatred runs deeper and stronger, much deeper and stronger.

Are the policy makers troubled by such things? I don’t know. At least I am. But then I lack the intelligence to look at the big picture and to analyze macroscopic policies. I can only look at the smaller picture!


  1. An interesting post.

    "That seat is given to a reserved category student who actually happens to score a zero (yes, this has actually happened as a fact) on the entrance exam."

    Evidence please.

  2. I'm sorry that I've slipped here. There is no readily available evidence that I can show you (web links et al) I do not even remember the details of the issue. I will try to put down whatever details I can remember.

    The case occured at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College, Indore. I do not remember the date. Some students scoring single digit marks on an entrance exam of 100 marks were admitted simply because there were not enough students to fill the quota seats. One particular student actually had a zero. The news appeared in the local daily called Dainik Bhaskar. Understandably, it roused some heated discussion about the whole quota thing however, the decision was not changed.

    Like I said, the evidence is dubious. Should not have quoted it so confidently :-P

  3. Despite lack of this evidence, the point of the post remains that since reserved category students are admitted on relaxed criteria which sometimes are just "too relaxed" the "rational" hatred is bound to be there.

  4. Thank you. Considering I trust you I am not going to press for "proper" evidence. I was just wondering whether you'd "heard of it" from somebody or actually read about it somewhere.

    I'll be writing on the issue once I'm back in Kanpur.

  5. Firstly, this post is beautifully written, specially first two paragraph.

    Secondly, in Rajasthan PMTs, I have heard of cases where general category cutoffs is 80% while that for reserved category is 20%.

    Via Desipundit.

  6. This is going to make you very very unpopular with these guys ;-).


  7. There are many instances when SC/ST candidates got admission after securing single digit marks. As a matter of fact search on google: SC/ST pass mark.