Since the year 2005, when the UPA government proposed a 27% quota for the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), we all have had a fair share of listening to the innumerable debates on the pros and cons of caste-based reservation in institutions of higher education viz. the IIT’s, IIM’s and AIIMS. Claimed by many to be the death of education through merit and moreover a classic example of votebank politics, the introduction of an additional 27% reservation for OBCs to the already existing 15% and 7.5% reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC’s) and Scheduled Tribes (ST’s), leaves out just about 50.5% of the seats for the general category. The OBC quota, which was to be implemented in parts adding a 9% reservation each year, has now been fully put into practice. Being one of the students who cleared the JEE, I walked into IIT at such a time.
First of all, let’s spare a thought for the general category students. Ironically the general category students constitute the majority at IIT by only 0.5% of the seats. Fewer seats mean fewer chances of getting a decent course in an elite government institution, and although the government has tried to compensate for this by increasing the total number of seats, it hasn’t helped. A frustrated student would say that just because they were born into economically stronger sections of society does not mean that their future is secure, or that they deserve maximum opportunity. The potential future of the country is allowed to compete in today’s world, but with one hand tied behind the back.
So the million dollar question that everyone has in mind is do such children really deserve this privilege? The answer to this question does not lie in numerous lectures on the abuses inflicted by the dreaded caste system on the lives of their forefathers. That has always been the stereotypical justification given to us, “blame it on history”. Let’s take a trip to ground zero to find the answer. First things first, being the top engineering college in India, the IIT student life’s is very demanding. So it isn’t really surprising to find a good chunk of the OBC and SC/ST students struggling, because the leniency of the quota system only applies to the JEE, not the IIT curriculum. Maybe it’s because a lot of them do not work as hard as the others or maybe it’s because they can’t cope with it. Furthermore, they just cannot seem to interact with people outside their circle, including a majority of other students and also the professors. They struggle to build a rapport with them due to language being such a huge barrier. Maybe what they really need is reservations in good primary schools rather than colleges (a point to be noted Mr. Education Minister). A good primary education will probably be more helpful in shaping their lives than just giving them a leg up to a much more demanding college life. College shapes your future, but school shapes your personality,
Although you will find some of them to be very sincere, the rest seem to be just along for the ride; maybe hoping that the government goes ahead with the blasphemous idea of reservations in the employment sector as well? I wouldn’t be surprised. As the government keeps coming up with new ideas of spoon-feeding them, they take their special privileges for granted, seldom working as hard as their general category counterparts. Consequently, it undermines the basic purpose of having reservations at IIT’s. At the end of the day, the standards of the institute drop. In the quest to improve the lives of the backward sections of society, we deny some of the brighter minds in the country what they deserve, and thus the quality of the labour force drops significantly. So, is it really for the ‘greater good’?
My personal opinion maybe biased because I’m a part of the so-called majority, but once you actually observe what’s happening at these colleges, you see right through the holes in the system. It might be able to emancipate few sections of the society from the shackles of poverty; improving the bad to the mediocre. But the more gifted ones who aim for excellence are not given the maximum opportunity they deserve. And so our country continues to be what it always was, a developing nation.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and a student of Indian Institute of Technology.