Vantage point

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Real Victims of Mandal - Dalits

As I have written before, the big evil for me is the government forcing reservations on private entities. It is wrong, and will lead us towards a Dystopian future.

Reservations in government-run entities is a different matter. I don't think that the government should run businesses such as these anyway because they are just subsidising the undeserving. But given their existence, the issue of reservations in state-owned entities should be viewed separately.

On a philosophical level, once allowance is made for existence of state-run entities, I see nothing wrong with imposing any decision of the parliament on it. It is a publicly-owned entity, set up by an act of the parliament, so any commands of the parliament should be applied.

The problem with reservations in IITs and IIMs and any other government-run entity is utilitarian. They end up fulfilling just a fraction of the goal they set out to.

Let us consider a few things here -

Dalits are very different from OBCs. According to the Hindu caste system, hindus were divided into a caste system. It was based on professions and one's profession was determined by his birth. These 4 castes were brahmins, who did schoalrly work, kshatriya, the warrior caste, vaishyas, the traders, and shudras, the manual labourers. Though no inter-mingling was allowed, each person belonging to these castes had a specific role in the Indian society and could earn his leaving honestly and under normal circumstances. Though brahmins were respected for their monopoly over cerebral work, the vaishyas and kshatriyas used to be wealthier. The shudras, though forbidden from cerebral work, still had several professions like shepherd, artisan, etc by which they could earn a living.

Outside the caste system were certain people considered casteless. These were the untouchables, with whom no Hindu of any of the 4 castes was allowed to have contact. They lived on the fringes of society and even in the best of times, struggled to make a living. They were not allowed access to water resources, temples etc. Their existence, for centuries, was inhuman beyond belief.

These untouchables are called Dalits, and in the reservation system, called SC/STs.

The OBCs, for whom the Mandal Commission recommends reservations, are not Dalit. They are made up of castes other than Brahmins. In fact if you look at communities which make up the OBCs, they literally represent every caste other than Brahmins. In Bihar, baniyas, i.e vaishya traders are OBC. In the north, the warrior Jats are OBC.

Now the OBCs historically suffered from one problem. They were not allowed access to the holy scriptures that the Brahmin was. So no cowherd or artisan could become a pundit. However, economically, a hundred years ago, they were no better or worse off than Brahmins.

What has constituted "education" and "learning" over the last century or so, is not and has never been monopoly of the Brahmins. Education and learning has been provided in schools and colleges. The Brahmins had as much access to it as any other castes. Their financial resources were as meagre as most OBCs.

The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average brahmin. They are miles and miles better than the Dalits who led a sub-human existence.

The only disadvantage one can envision non-brahmins as having would be discrimination-based. i.e if for any job, the selection in subjective, then brahmins would be given preference.

Now if it is a privately owned company, then these rights to discriminate are inviolable. A person can be shamed or incentivized into having a non-discriminatory hiring policy, but should not be coerced by the state.

When it comes to hiring for government jobs however, the government has a right to take steps to do whatever the public madate thinks fit. So if subjective discrimination is feared in government jobs, then to avoid it, reservations for OBCs, or for anyone actually... can be rationalised.

But reservations, at least for OBCs, should be in place only to prevent discrimination. i.e if an otherwise capable candidate is being rejected only by virture of his caste. A quota in government jobs prevents such a and large.

But on these grounds, considering that OBCs were no better or worse in terms of resources and access to education, than Brahmins, I fail to see the rationale behind reservations in completely-objective selection procedures such as JEE and CAT or any other admission entrances.

In JEE or CAT, a candidate is just a roll number. A roll number has no caste or creed. So why do OBCs deserve reservation?

In case of Dalits, one can understand the reservations. They have suffered from years of oppression, and are still suffering due to lack of resources. So the government decides to give them a helping hand to them.

But why OBCs?

Now personally speaking, this has been my experience studying in an engineering college, the best in Pune, with a 49.5% reservation.

The cut-off for the 'general category' was 97% for my class.
The cut-off for SC/ST was 70%.

The cut-off for OBCs however was around 92-93% (ballpark).

So you can imagine the scenario. The bulk of OBC students in my class were, in terms of resource availability, not very different from the general category. Even during engineering, as a group, they did not do significantly better or worse than general students.

So what happened practically was, that these 92-93% scorers, who would otherwise have studied in a lesser college, ended up studying in the best college. And several brahmin students who would have otherwise studied in my college went to a lesser one.

I don't know what this achieved. Those students would have had decent careers even if they had gone to other colleges.

The "intention" of reservations...or at least of Ambedkar, the man who evisaged them, was to help the Dalits. What happened to the SC/STs in my class? Most of them flunked in the first year. A fraction would complete the course of course, but most Dalits would flunk out.

Why? For the simple reason that they had just not been prepared for the level of competition. If students who scored 90+ in HSC got around 60-70% in engineering exams, you can imagine how people who scored 70% in HSC would fare. That is assuming there is at least some correlation between HSC marks and engineering marks. The student got only 70% because usually, he did not have the time or resources over the course of his life, to hone, sharpen and develop his mind to that level. here I am assuming that genetics plays very little role in intelligence.

I am told this happens in IITs too. Most SC/STs either flunk out or get their degrees in 5-6 years, which makes them quite worthless, unless you want a job in a PSU which also has reservations.

So this whole Mandal commission implementation, at least in areas where the selection is objective, such as entrance exams, is futile.

What will happen is, around 400 students who would have otherwise studied in colleges like Symbiosis, Somaiya, TAPMI etc, with 96-97 percentile CAT scores, will end up going to IIMs. And 400 students with 99 percentile scores who would have otherwise gone to IIMs will go to Symbi, Somaiya, TAPMI etc.

The overall level of the IIMs will not really fall that much by the inclusion of the OBCs. Just like the level of my engineering college didn't fall. All this talk of fall in salaries and reputation etc is an over-reaction.

The overall positive is also the overall negative. The level won't fall because they are not that bad. But then if they are not that bad, why are they being given reservations in a completely objective selection procedure anyway?

Just to score a brownie point. The politicians will thump their chest and claim that they have done a lot by implementing the reservations.

Brahmins, OBCs and SC/STs who always had access to resources will keep doing well. Only there will be a slight churning like I indicated.

Brahmins and OBCs who didn't have the access to resources will continue to stay out.

Most SC/STs who make it despite being way below the cut-off will not be able to derive the benefits.

Of course, there will be a small percentage that will be an exception. There will be a small percentage of OBCs who had no access to resources, but fought all odds to score well. For instance, the son of a bhelwaala, who works all day, studies at night and scores 90% and the son of an engineer who studied all day, joined coaching classes, and scores 98%; both will probably do equally well in the course, if the bhelwala gets a scholarship and studies the same time as the other kid.

But such cases are too few and far in between. A huge chunk.... my guesstimate is 90% of OBC seats are taken by folks who have access to the same resources as Brahmin kids. Thus there is something horribly wrong in the way reservations are being implemented, even in government owned entities.

And the wrong will continue.

The ultimate sufferers are the Dalits, i.e the SC/STs. I think the biggest losers in the "rise" of the concept of OBCs are the Dalits. Mandal's biggest victims have been Dalits. With a constitutional sanction to pamper and appease the numerically superior non-brahmin-non-dalit folks, i.e the OBCs, politicians have no incentive anymore to even think of upliftment or well-being of the really needy folks, i.e the Dalits.

Caste-based politics has now become purely a numbers-game and has nothing to do with "upliftment of the downtrodden". And the true downtrodden, the true victims, i.e the SC/STs, the Dalits, will remain downtrodden, because it is easy to use their plight as an excuse to get free goodies for the non-brahmins and win elections.

Kancha Illaiah, if you are really interested in progress of the Dalits, stop supporting Mandalisation. Brahmins are victimised by Mandalisation, but the extent of the victimisation is a lot lesser than the Dalits.

The Dalits are the real victims of Mandal.

Update: Dhoomketu has a slightly dissenting viewpoint here.
My clarification - I admit that what I have stated about the opportunities for OBCs is largely anecdotal, and based on the experiences I had. There will certainly be a vast number of OBCs who will be very poor economically. What I am saying is that the level of oppression of these was nowhere as close to Dalits whose poverty can be almost exclusively blamed on the caste system. Many OBCs would be poor too, due to various circumstances. But a large number of OBCs are not poor. And the number is large enough to soak up all the benefits of reservations.

So what practically happens is a lot of folks who are no different from their Brahmin counterparts end up getting most of the benefit as it happened in my class.

I went through the 'creamy layer' criteria. When I was applying for engineering, or for IIM, I did not fit in a single of those criteria. i.e if I was born an OBC caste, then with the resources I had, I would be considered a non-creamy-layer candidate. Yet, growing up, I had access to everything needed to place me on equal footing with any other kid vying for an engineering or management seat.

In Dalits, the number of people who have access to resources is very very less even now. In OBCs it is not. A significant number of OBCs, enough to fill up the seats, were and do have those resources. That itself undoes Mandalisation's intentions.