Manmohan Singh (to George Bush): We are sending 10 people to the moon.
GB: Really? Who?
MS: 3 OBCs, 2BCs, 4 astronauts and a woman!
I am sure most of you would have received variants of the same message by now; after all, there are only so many new fwds on a given day. I am irritated by the whole issue, and hence my (outspoken) thoughts on the whole mess:
First of all: why do we oppose reservation? Is it because we are convinced that reservation is bad for the future for our country (i.e. moral and/or patriotic reasons), or is it more 'coz we strongly feel that a 50% reservation policy (or something of a similar vein) would severely undermine our own chances in the not-so distant future? I have to admit, I personally feel that it is predominantly the latter factor that has propelled the issue this far; it certainly is THE principal factor that makes me curse the ilk of V.P.Singh and Arjun Singh. After all, there are lots and lots of other equally inane things (reservation for women? demolition of slums? the Narmada dam issue?) that do not attract even a minor proportion of the publicity that this issue has (not to suggest that this is unimportant; it is, equally so).
If this vague feeling of insecurity were not enough, we have the fact that for the last 50 years the policy of so-called affirmative action has not helped in any way at all - we KNOW that mere caste-based reservation does not help. We have all those studies - the various ones that Karan Thapar quoted in his interview with Arjun Singh - to prove it. But do the pro-reservation dimwits care? No sir! Instead of doing the correct thing - which would be taking steps to reform our primary education and our inane examination system, which I grant is a long-term solution, but a sane one at least - our folks compound the problem by adding layers of reservations. Reservations for school seats, reservations for college seats, reservations for jobs, reservations for promotions (oh isn't that in yet? Fear not, the day is not too far away).
What makes this newfound enthusiasm for reservation even more abhorrent is that it is based on caste. Yes, you got that right - on CASTE. After 50+ years of Independence, after all those fwds of how India is 'shining' and 'improving', the elected leaders of our country still continue to think on the lines of segregating people on religion and caste. Most of us have already been privy to televised debates where students belonging to the forward classes have been accusing BC and OBC students of not being competent enough, and the disgruntled (but obviously) (O)BC students have been reacting in equally poor taste. Trust our politicians to create an issue where none existed, of course.
Now, I disagree with those who say that a reservation policy based on economic strata might be a better idea; I disagree with the whole policy of affirmative action itself. Why? Because any reservation in the educational sector is based on marks. And as anybody who has done his/her public education in one of the universities in South India (I am not all that familiar with the scene in the rest of India, but trust me, I am not too hopeful on that front either) can tell you, our examination system sucks. Big-Time.
First of all, we have an evaluation system where teachers are paid based on how many exam papers they evaluate per day; of course, they 'evaluate' a few dozen exam papers per day to earn as much money as they can (I apologize to all the sincere teachers out there, but even you know that you are outnumbered). One cannot really balme them; its their livelihood, dammit.
Then of course, we have all those horror stories of exam papers missing - perhaps, half eaten by cows and goats 'coz the driver of the university van decided to take a leak in an empty farm, leaving the door open. Of course, then there are all those stories of how all roll-numbers beginning with 'S' got exactly 93 marks out of 100 - irrespective of how many questions they even attempted.
But you might say, the good students fare well anyway. Trust me, its out of desperation - one learns to beat the system. Use lots of color-pencils and crayons and stuff to 'beautify' your answer-paper; underline important points; practice your goddamn handwriting as if you were going for a friggin' handwriting competition instead of an exam on Discrete Mathematics - sound familiar? Yes, one learns to beat the system at its own game.
My point: any student with the sheer tenacity to grind it out - 'mug' pages and pages of the textbook with not an inkling of the concept behind it - is liable to get great marks and be 'eligible' for posts in institutions of higher studies. On the other hand, a truly intelligent and interested student who goes out of his/her way to refer other books and understand the ifs and the buts will most probably barely be able to gather passing grades. That's merit for you, most of the time.
Hence any policy of reservation in education finally comes down to this: those who learn to beat the system would now face competition from those who haven't learnt to beat the system; that these others happen to be from a different caste is but incidental IMO. Hence the very idea of reservation is repugnant to me - whether it be for other castes, or the underprivileged.
IMHO (mabbe a naive one at that) one of the best ways to help would be to establish a meritocratic system (a meritocratic system does have its share of flaws, but would definitely be an improvement on what exists now). Establish scholarships for the economically backward in all schools, be they private or public, and establish norms to ensure that only the truly economically challenged get to take advantage of such scholarships. Change all examinations to an objective-based system, so that one doesn't have to carry a whole friggin' crayon factory to the exams. Insread of pushing for affirmative action, establish a policy of zero-discrimination instead s.t. we do not have Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jainish schools. I belive a combination of these factors would help, but the implementation - sadly, that is another matter altogether!
P.S: The worst part is, do even the most hardcore advocators of reservation believe that it will help the truly underprivileged? Those who need real help - the last thing they have on their mind is attending school; they are struggling to survive. So who is reservation really for?