Debating India


The other side of merit & Mandal II

Thursday 20 April 2006, by KUMAR*Vivek

Whenever the issue of reservation comes up for public debate, the entire Dalit and backward community is painted as devoid of any merit without caring about the fact that a majority of them survive without reservation. On the other hand, the debate declares the so-called upper castes as meritorious. Therefore at this juncture when the debate on reservation is rife, let us gauge merit on both sides.

The merit of upper castes can be evaluated by assessing their performance on the basis of the traditional social structure. Looking at history the Varnas-Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishyas were assigned with particular functions. The Brahman had the privilege of teaching, the Kshatriya of protecting all creatures and the Vaishya living by commerce.

The Dalits could ask the Brahmans if they were so meritorious why then half of the country’s population is illiterate. If the Kshatriyas were so meritorious then why could they not defend our borders? The Shaka, Huns, Tartars, Mughals, Dutch, British etc. all defeated them and subjugated us. Similarly, if the Vaishyas were so meritorious then why is trade and commerce of India in shambles? In the same vein, if Arjuna of Mahabharata was so meritorious then why did Dronacharya demand Eklavya’s thumb.

In contemporary times, look at the low Human Develop Index (HDI). India is placed at 127 in the group of 174 countries. In the Corruption Perception Index for the year 2004, India ranked 90 in the group of 146 countries (Transparency International India report 2004).

Above all, the external debt of India is at a whopping Rs 5,11,861 crore (Economic Survey 2003-4: p.128). If meritorious economists and administrators are managing the affairs of the country without any reservation, why are we so economically poor? Why are farmers committing suicide as if it is rural India’s ritual? Why do we have hundreds and thousands of legal cases pending at higher levels of our meritorious judiciary?

Science and technology is considered the realm of super specialty and hence kept out of the bounds of reservation in India. In this regard, Professor Nian Chai Liu and his colleagues at the Shanghai Jio Tong University in China spent two years collating and analyzing the output of 2000 universities worldwide and published their results by ranking 500 universities. Only three universities/ institutions from India figured in the top 500 — The Indian Institute of Sciences at 260 and the Indian Institutes of Technology at Kharagpur and Delhi, respectively at 459 and 460.

IIT Madras, Kanpur, Mumbai and Roorkee did not figure at all and of course there is no reservation for OBCs yet at these centres for learning. There is something intriguing in the relationship between merit, commitment and contributing to a nation as seen by reservation bashers. Why is that career becomes more important than service to nation to many IITians and IIMians, who wait to go abroad even before they pass out?

Let us look at the merit of the doctors working in the most prestigious hospitals of the country. If the Indian doctors and medical specialists are so meritorious than why is that most of the VVIPs run away to foreign countries at the simplest of illnesses.

Even the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an ardent supporter of Swadeshi had to call an NRI orthopedic surgeon for his knee operation. Further, is it not logical to evaluate the merit of the professionals passing out from the various private universities, engineering, medical and management colleges where a seat can be bought for a few lakh rupees?

There is no reservation in sports even then a nation of over a billion has not been able to produce a single individual gold medalist in Olympics. Similarly is it really a case of meritocracy that all the progenies of film stars are given a chance to act and sing in the film industry even though they do not have any experience? Are these cases of merit or pedigree reservation? The answer is self-evident, as most of them have been one-film wonders. But the fact remains that most of them could reach there just because of their pedigree. A fact often neglected.

We can asses the merit of the private sector by the contribution it makes to the world export market; it is just a trickle, just 0.7%. But still, it beats my imagination why the same private sector is vehemently opposed to reservation, has been demanding a level playing field for itself with the onset of the process of liberalization.

How can even then the private sector boast of its efficiency and merit? If the Indian industries are so meritocratic, why is it that they have not produced a single brand or item which can be internationally prescribed or has become an international commodity? What right do industrialists of today have to call themselves meritorious when most of the owners of established business houses have inherited their business from their parents?

None of the top industrialists is a first generation industrialist. They might have expanded the business but they could do so because they belong to a certain pedigree only. According to the Ministry of Company Affairs (MCA), 122 vanishing Companies have run away with Rs 838 crore of public money.

That is why a number of social scientists have argued that the rewards in the educational and economic system are not based on merit. The educational and occupational attainments are related to family background and a number of circumstantial parameters rather than talent and ability. That is why people with the same educational qualification do not get the same type of jobs and those in the same jobs do not get equal remuneration.

(Vivek Kumar is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University)

See online : The Times of India

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