Saturday, February 04, 2012

Should there be reservations in tertiary education?

India has democracy and markets. This means that state is not merely
responsible for primary and secondary education, which the constitution
explicitly exhorts it to, but also for “equality of opportunity” in tertiary
education, employment and enterprise and generally in social life.
Presumably those who keep repeating the above argument imply that markets
can be trusted (without state intervention) to provide “equality of
opportunity”. But data shows that this is not the case. One wonders then,
what is the basis of the argument at all? Markets are embedded in societies
and merely perpetuate the omnipresent casteism exactly because of the nature
of distribution of capital and the prejudices/ignorance/entry-barriers of
capital. Else how can the human capital of 300 million dalits stay
under-priced in the global labor market over such a long horizon? If state
does not fulfil its above responsibility of providing equality of
opportunity, presumably elections are the way that the polity uses to
enforce its will on the state. Since too little dalits are able to use the
facilities provided in tertiary education, employment, enterprise et al,
presumably the remaining dalits should vote against these reservations and
in favour of the primary and secondary education. But this is not happening.
The dalit vote is not divided on this matter. Please correct me if I am
wrong. The reason for this is simple. The facilities for tertiary education,
employment, enterprise are like a window of opportunity from which dalits
expect a lot. They know that Indian society is hypocritical and will not
politically support the large scale radical reform in educational system,
enabling politicians keep giving multiple excuses while making token noises
and doing nothing in practice. But the community hopes that the
beneficiaries of the facilities of education, employment and enterprise will
expand the window further and further (not by expanding reservations, but by
feeding-back investment into dalit development), till the wall containing
the window itself crashes and all dalits can get out of the prison of
hand-to-mouth existence that they have been locked into for generations.

I have no conclusive argument to offer on the tenability of reservations
policy for OBCs, but I am firmly of the belief that the case for
reservations for dalits remains water-tight. The clear visibility and
measurability of reservations enables them to be a better measure of state
activity than the fuzzy “large scale and large scope focus” on primary and
secondary education – a project whose cost and viability lies undefined and
whose execution requires much larger effort than anyone has cared to
describe. Even the much shouted and touted project of building a ring of
highways is better defined than this much-much more mega project, no details
of which are available. But such token speak suffices for those whose kith
and kin do not suffer. The rest of us prefer the tangible security of
measurable and visible devices like reservations.

Finally reams of media arguments mean nothing in front of democratic opinion
in theory and in practice. Social values represented by media are hostage to
the elites in all societies. In democracy there-fore their social value
positions deserve no higher priority than the social values expressed by
democratic opinion. So in summary…I just don’t get what is the hoopla is
exactly about when you ask whether this is the kind of India we want. Let us
ask the polity what kind of civic society we want. People are not idiots in
the long run. Your fears are unfounded. Stop taking those outside the media
and those whose opinions are explicitly ignored by public media as idiots.
We have a democracy here. What is happening is just that the masks are all
coming off. Trust democracy and hold tight as India starts accelerating
towards actually becoming a democracy.
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