Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reservations : A Non Issue to begin with

I grew up as ‘OBC ’!!! Not in the strictest sense. In fact, I wasn’t even aware what my caste was but I did realize of being at a disadvantageous situation, when I looked at convent bred guys but did also feel fortunate at the sight of those who went to municipal run schools. Now after few decades down the life’s journey, in a global MNC work environ, I do feel a sense of privilege in joining bandwagon of the advantageous elite group of those who I was in awe at convent schools. Amidst current imbroglio of reservation struggle, If I were to look at my yester-years, I would relate myself in a slot of OBC with convent grown boys as higher caste and municipal school guys as backward castes. I shudder to think of any social strata for those who spent their childhood rummaging through scraps at railway tracks.

How did this transformation happen?

I did my school education in traditional Marathi medium based in the neighborhood of govt. servants and mill workers. With just a pair of blue and white cotton uniform that would lose its shine in no time, in comparison to those who went to convent schools in western suburbs of Bandra in neatly tucked in ironed outfits. But we lived two separate ghettoes, so grotesque mismatch didn’t make it apparent. My school didn’t have any library; I would satiate my knowledge desire at Govt. sponsored library that didn’t have anything beyond detective and romantic novels. School didn’t have any sports gear so sports was only restricted to Kho-Kho, Kabbadi and Langdi. At home, my pencil would get cut in three smaller lots by my mother as she couldn’t digest the thought of buying a new one if I were to lose whole one (which I often did), my notebook cover was wrapped in news print paper and label tags were made from leftover blank pages of previous year’s notebook. I was envious of guys with brown covers and labels with colorful images of trains, butterflies etc. School journey wasn’t all that of hardship but it wasn’t enchanting either. I was made to focus only on studies with every minute of my spare time supplemented by enrolling me to special coaching classes and Sanskrit, Hindi proficiency examinations.

This passion on part of my parents made sure that I managed to squeeze through school rigors and secured enough grades to qualify for college education. With lack of skills in almost every discipline except number churning, memory conducive science subjects, anything beyond science discipline was unthinkable. At college, gap between disadvantaged and advantaged group became evident. Most guys who grew up in a similar environment as mine would huddle in groups and admire those who spoke fluent English, wore attractive clothes and have food at restaurants. By now, the overzealous passion at home reached a crescendo, by tagging me to special coaching at Agrawal classes. This led to the single most accomplishment of my life that would change my life for ever – securing a berth for an engineering course.

Here at graduate studies in engineering, life began to take shape but environment remained essentially the same. One thing was in stark contrast. Here majority people came from the disadvantaged position – be it a village farmer, industrial worker or Govt. Servant. Tuition fees Rs. 180 per six months semester, Hostel Fees at Rs 120 per semester and monthly food bill at less than 100, ensured fulfilling lifelong dream of parents to make their son an engineer.

After graduation, real struggle began in earnest desire to bridge the gap between this disadvantaged yet empowered person with those who were well ensconced in sleek jobs with maverick presentation and articulate communication skills. Years rolled by with steadfast determination to acquire those skills that would catapult me to brush shoulders with those who began their journey from advantageous position? During this ordeal, I acquired MBA in evening hours, honed required professional Job skills by observing and emulating seniors.

Two Factors contributed to this silent and slow transformation. First Factor: Passion and Belief of my parents that Education is the only remedy for the entire social and economic disadvantage. Second Factor: Government’s generous and liberal subsidy in making the education affordable. First factor guided me to take a plunge; Second factor empowered me with an ability to float. Bulk of today’s 200 million middle class population that comprise of doctors, engineers, accountants, software guys will gratefully acknowledge the importance of these two factors in their success.

Over past few weeks, India is at cross roads to decide if they should make reservation to OBC’s in higher education or not. Student who do not belong to OBC category fear of losing an opportunity to become a doctor or engineer and vice a versa of those belong to an OBC group. Govt. in all probability will appease both the groups by increasing the seats (allocating more funds) and reserving seats for OBC. On the surface, solution appears palliative, but real issue lies elsewhere.

Are we on path to create wealthy and powerful nation?

Most country’s progress is measured by the percentage of GDP is spent on education. Indian government’s education expenditure as a percentage of GDP was at maximum 4.3% of GDP. When we compare this with USA at app. 5%, Germany 3.4%, Japan 2.4%, figures are not all that dismal. At this rate of education spending, India should have at least progressed in terms of literacy and education. But statistics show otherwise. India has the largest illiterates in the world, larger than whole population in 1947. China had literacy rate of 65% in 1980 now it is 85%. India is still langouring at 65%.

So where did India go wrong then?

Our education spending is considerably skewed towards higher education. From 1950 till 1990, 30% of public education has gone to higher education. On top of it was highly subsidized. Meanwhile, millions of children continue to suffer with no proper school. Nearly 97% of primary education spending goes to teachers salaries, leaving little money left for books and schools. In villages, teacher’s salary is the highest yet most of them don’t even come to teach. Why is India passionate for higher education? On the contrary, USA devoted just 1.2% and Japan just 0.3% to higher education.

To compound to this problem, new Govt. policy of reserving additional 27% of higher education seats to OBC’s with an additional allocation to increase the number of seats. How foolish and stupid the policy can be with utter disregard to real issue. This education policy would only help politicians to hold on to their roots of electoral power. China has done the opposite. They have a dedicated themselves to basic primary education and infrastructure as Japan and South Korea did. Why can’t we think the same?

Is there any way forward?

India needs to make 100% primary and secondary education free and compulsory to everyone – all castes included. Graduate studies should be subsidized; And Post graduate studies must be paid by student. Govt. can offer loan with market interest to those who wish to avail post graduate studies. PG breed earn enough money by getting plum jobs. This would allow Govt. to increase education expenditure to 6% - a goal that was planned but never achieved. This additional resource would provide village schools a roof, blackboard, chalk and books. In turn they would bring a whole new generation of educated people in their down-trodden villages.

Just few days ago, Finance Minister Chidambaram argued on NDTV with a claim of every backward caste person has been benefited from reservation in southern states. But, if they were to actually benefit from reservation then why do their next generations need more reservations? Why do Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan and his backward caste brethrens who are flushed with funds continue to benefit their children in the name of caste?

I would be happy to see more people migrating from the position of disadvantage to advantage and increasing the larger pool of educated middle class Indians to emulate success that of Japan and South Korea. A combined effort of Govt. and people in advantageous situation to provide succor to disadvantaged people—not in terms of reservations but by resources to compete and find their place in the world. This alone would crumble the walls of suspicion, hatred that centuries old casteism that has been assiduously built and nurtured by political masters.

I think it’s futile to discuss the reservation policy. We need pragmatic, visionary education policy that will build the nation and not attempt to give piecemeal of scarce and diminishing resources to every one and never get any returns. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the very foundation on which weak portion is resting. As long as we don’t address the issue of basic education for the bulk of the population, we shall be only postponing the inevitable – a revolution resulting from divide between Have’s and Have Nots.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said , good obeservation!!!

1:59 PM  
Anonymous dhanu said...

I’ve going thr’ot of web links , emails etc etc @ this issue recently,
but i must say, your review was ver different and thought provoking,
instead of just talking @ merit, social justice!


7:48 PM  
Anonymous angel 25 said...

Your was probably one of the best reviews on this topic...I take this time to applaud you...this review is so compherensive in itself!!!!


7:48 PM  
Anonymous gift_of_god said...

Indeed the review was so comprehensive.

Keep writing ...

We surely would see a more string India in future.

7:49 PM  
Anonymous hydgal said...

Your views are very interesting.

I wish to state that if a person goes to an English medium school, it does not mean that he belongs to the Forward community. There somehow seems to be such a presumption. In urban India every one, even a rickshaw puller puts his children in an
English school.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous sweetgirlari said...

I liked ur suggestions. ’’free to all caste is fine but only to those whose income is less than 4 lacs’’ coz then incometax will increase and burden will come on salaried (mostly middleclass) persons.


7:50 PM  

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