Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Letter by IITK faculty

If you havn't seen it already, check it out here.
Apparently, 125 members of the faculty have signed this letter. The blog post I have linked to does not provide us with the names of the faculty who have signed it.
I have no problems with faculty being against reservations. But what I have a problem is with this letter. It is quite simply a no-brainer. I will try to pick this letter apart.

The undergraduate students of IIT Kanpur do not usually, or even often, come from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. The vast majority come from the smaller metropolises like Kanpur, Patna and Allahabad, or cities like Bareilly, and the moffasil towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A typical example is the late Satyendra K Dubey, an IITK alumnus, whose murder in 2003 while working on the National Highway project got national media attention. He came from a small village in Bihar.
Uh? This is quite frankly bad information, at worst, a lie. Most of the students who get into IITs are from the metros. Many go through a year of two of intensive coaching at coaching centres in cities/towns like Delhi, Kanpur, Patna, Kota, etc, etc. In fact, the coaching centres has played on the minds of the setters of JEE for a long time. Read this article by a prof who points out some of the debates that surround JEE. JEE was purposefully made easier to defeat the unquestionable influence of the coaching centres and to make it easier for people who did not go through coaching to get into IITs. Are none of the "125" members of the faculty who signed this letter not aware of this? Unless, they just ignored to mention this as it would harm their argument about how it is "dedication and talent" that gets people into IIT and not "wealth, privilege or birth".
Based on this premise, the article goes on to say -
Into such an environment the introduction of privileges accruing only to members
of particular castes would be a travesty.
But it is only the privileged (in terms of having the money to pay for coaching centres or living in the cities) or the geniuses (who are a few people for whom coaching is not required) that gets people into IITs!
Further, with no objective criteria yet laid down for defining backwardness,
such privileges will seemingly be granted in perpetuity.
What? Are they not aware of the 11 guidelines that Mandal commission recommended to define backwardness? Even if you consider those guidelines to be contentious, this statement does not make any sense to me.
Backwardness is not determined by caste alone. It is clear for all to see that
other factors like poverty, region and gender have greater adverse impact on the
chances of a person becoming an engineer or a doctor. It therefore seems to us
that, except in electoral terms, purely caste-based reservations make no
rational sense.
Agreed. Does this mean that you are ready to welcome reservation policy that would incorporate all these factors? If so, how would this fit in your crib about merit?
Rather it is to argue that the best institutions in India should be the
preserves of excellence, with proven performance as their only selection
Translation: IITs are an elitist institute where we don't want the scum of India to populate.
Proven performance, indeed! There is only parameter that is used to determine this proven performance and it is JEE. Performance in one exam [equals to] proven performance.
Rather it is a necessary strategy for ensuring that developing India soon
catches up with the developed nations of the world, so that, in the long run the
IITs are instrumental to raising the standard of life of all Indians, and shine
forth as exemplars of development and emancipation in an environment of extreme
Lol! IITians have mostly contributed to the development of the mahan Silicon Valley of the US of A. I really wonder what the contribution of IITians is to the technological advancement of this country. Don't point to the IT industry.

Even if Government insists on affirmative action programs for IITs...

ie, if push comes to shove...
we are sure that the IITs can be trusted to evolve and implement such programs by themselves.
Why havn't they done that so far? Why does the government come up with a draconian measure before they come out saying, "don't worry, we can do this ourselves. You don't have to force us to."
After all, IIT Kanpur has had an exemplary record of implementing the SC/ST
reservation in a supportive and pro-active way that became a model for all IITs

Yeah, they really have been a model of creating a very wonderful atmosphere for SC/ST students.
It would be most disastrous to impose a 27.5% quota on the IITs in an ostensibly
"fair way" by increasing the number of seats. This would mean rapidly increasing
the seats substantially.
Yes, that is true. IITs would have to increase their seats if the government goes ahead with its proposed compromise.
In recent years we have doubled our intake.
This is news to me. As far as I know, the intake of students has increased by about 100-150 per IIT. That is like an increase of 35% at the most. Not sure about the medacity of this statement.
So the IITs are already short of faculty, as few applicants meet our exacting
standards of academic excellence.
So, if the IITs are already short of faculty, why did they increase their intake two-fold. Of course, their arms could have been twisted by the government. Interestingly, they did not raise any voice against the proposed scheme to create 11 new IITs. If they cannot find faculty for the current IITs, how are they going to create those institutes with quality faculty? And wouldn't increasing seats and increasing the number of IITs dilute the quality and image of the IIT brand, much like the water mixed with milk by the doodhwallahs? Why didn't they raise a hue and cry over that?
If a sudden increase of faculty is imposed on us by a drastic increase of seats, the entire academic standing of the IITs will be compromised, and they will go the way of so many universities before them.
True. The logistics of increasing seats to appease the striking medicos does not make sense to me. But is this an argument against reservations?

The entire mail contains little, if any, arguments against the reservation policy. Apart from cribbing about 'merit', there is no substance. And it is full of grandeur and impassionate pleas to not 'hurt' the IITs that are almost melodramatic. Sample this -

It will have devastating consequences to the culture of excellence cultivated
over half-a-century by generations of dedicated and knowledgeable teachers and
tens of thousands of brilliant students of all castes, creeds and linguistic and
ethnic groups.


because the admission is blind to caste and indeed to every other criterion except ability


Rather it is to argue that the best institutions in India should be the preserves of excellence, with proven performance as their only selection criterion. Such institutions serve to develop the “seed-corn” of the nation which can then be planted elsewhere to make the whole nation grow in strength and prosperity. Therefore think not of IIT students in terms of their castes, but of them only as India’s best hope, as the future leaders of India who have been nurtured in an environment where only excellence matters, not caste, creed or ethnic origin.


ensuring that developing India soon catches up with the developed nations of the world, so that, in the long run the IITs are instrumental to raising the standard of life of all Indians, and shine forth as exemplars of development and emancipation in an environment of extreme challenges.


only very few other than the IITs can train students in the highly specialised engineering and scientific skills required in India if it is to become a developed country


At this moment, when the entire nation is on the verge of take-off to becoming a major economic power, when multinational companies are shifting their research and development centres to India because of the vast technical manpower here, let us not play with these great institutions and cripple them in the hour of their greatest utility.


do everything you can to preserve the IITs for the future generations of India and, indeed, for the very future of our country


So let them remain free to flourish as the standard bearers of Indian science and technology which was, and should remain, their primary purpose.


IIT professors are quite intelligent folks; they are probably the very best in India. So, this letter really comes to me as a great surprise. I expected it to contain some reasoning as to why they are opposed to the proposed reservations but instead I find nothing but wild statements and unrealistic (and untruthful) harping on merit. In essence, this letter is an insult to intelligence and I wonder who are these professors who have signed this letter.

I suspect the hand of the one man who is capable of all this melodramatic and impassionate words. To IITKians, that man's performance in Hall 4 would be quite fresh in memory.

My alma matter disappoints me. Now, I will go out and cry. :`(

Hat tip -- Abi

PS. Badri also has criticised this letter.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Read this post by Abhaya.

Abhaya argues against reservation. Ironically, he inadvertently makes a case for reservation!!

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Similarities between Narmada and Plachimada

1. Both are places where the contentious issue involes water.

2. Both involve Aamir Khan. Aamir Khan is the brand ambassador for Coca Cola, the company that is sucking Plachimada dry besides creating humongous pollution, and the ambassador for the displaced people because of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Amazing, how the media does not highlight this inconguruity about Aamir Khan. How can he create ads for such a company and also be a "concerned citizen" of India? Hypocrisy? maybe. Ignorance? perhaps. No ad money from Sardar Sarovar Dam Project? *shrug*.

If Aamir is really concerned about the people who dont have a voice, perhaps he should stop his double standards. I still appreciate his coming out in support of NBA but hope that he wont stop there and that he would be a more informed and concerned citizen.

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"Why should I suffer for the misdeeds of my anscestors?"

A very common and understandable sentiment. On the surface, it does seem unreasonable to "punish" somebody because of crimes committed by someone else. Even though, one might claim to not see the lower caste people as inferior and would not discriminate against them, the policy of reservation does not reward you for that. The policy seeks to make amends for crimes committed by ones forefathers. Just because your father committed a murder does not mean that you ought to be put in jail for that crime, should you?

One might consider this to be a strong case against reservations by arguing that it "punishes" the innocent.

Why then do you expect to inherit property and power that your ancestors had? Why should the sons of businessmen inherit their father's business and enjoy the foundation, which would have required much hard work, laid out by his ancestors? Is there a logical reason as to why one considers inheritence in this biased manner?

Secondly, does it really "punish" an individual? As in, is the policy framed so as to take out vengeance on a particular person? Arguing against a social policy aimed at communities at large from a personal standpoint makes no sense to me.

Thirdly, to deny the influence of one's ancestors on one's current status in society is illiogical. One is obviously influenced by his/her parents and you are dependent on them for 15 to 21 years of age (under normal circumstances). So, your current status is dependent on your parent's hard work. Assuming you were the exact same individual but were born in different environments - a brahmin family, a dalit family, an orphan, etc, you would be in different state (economic and social) at your age. Can you deny that?

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some more on reservations

In this whole reservation issue, I have found that there are really a multitude of views.

1. Just plain anti-reservation - These folks think reservation is a bad policy in principle. They want all types of reservations to be repealed and that people should be selected on 'merit'. These people are most likely to be libertarians.

2. Anti-reservation because reservation havn't achieved their goals - These people believe that reservations have not much improved the socio-economic condition of the people and therefore, it is time to think of a better policy. So, they demand that reservations be done away with.

3. Anti-reservation because of political cynicism - "It is vote-bank politics" and the opportunistic politicians just want to get political mileage from this issue.

4. Anti-reservation because of stale data used by Mandal Commission - This viewpoint basically stems from the idea that the 1931 census is not the right indicator of 'backwardness' 75 years later.

5. Anti-reservation because it will dilute the quality of our educational institutes - The belief is that people who come through reservations do not really "deserve" the seat and they are not able to cope up with the demands of higher education. So, is reservations is increased, it will lead to more and more students getting an education they don't deserve.

6. Anti-reservation because it is reverse discrimination - The very nature of reservations makes it discriminatory. It divides people into RC and GC. RC and GC people do not usually mix; they form separate groups.

7. Pro-reservation because reservation has made a difference - If today, there are dalits in government jobs and getting higher education, it is most probably because of reservations. It has given them the first thing that is required for social upliftment - access to higher education.

8. Pro-reservation but are not comfortable with implementing such a major policy without proper research - Basically, this view demands that there be a proper survey of the current situation of the communities and then implement a reservation policy based on this research. The government still have a year to do this before the OBC reservations come into effect.

9. pro-reservation because they don't want to be categorised with people who make bigoted statements - this is a question of being uncomfortable with being slotted with undesirables. One doesn't want to attributed with bigoted views just because anti-reservationists are being equated to casteist bigots (because they are the most vocal and most numerous).

10. Anti-reservation because they feel people with view no. 9 are tipping the scales. They just want to "win" this battle. They feel this is a moral and philosophical war going on and they have an obligation to win it for the good of the nation.

11. The confused - they feel reservations is the right policy but side with anti-reservationists because of a combination of views no. 2, 3, 4. One might confuse them with the total anti-reservationists but if you dig a little deeper, you find that their view is really more complex.

12. The sophisticated - They look west for inspiration. They profess to believe in Affirmative Action and not reservation. They stress that the two are different. And that affirmative action is the step in the right direction. And not reservations.

13. Anti-reservation because primary education is more important - The notion that reservations would be the be all and end all of all educational reforms and that primary education would be neglected because of this reservation policy. Also, how would the really needy people be able take advantage of reservation is higher education if they are unable to get a proper primary education??

These are the most predominant views that I have found among people. I might have missed a few but generally I have found people to have a combination of the above views.

My views are essentially 7 & 8.

Today I got a mail from a roomie which was basically a forward that said that there was going to be a peaceful protest march in Bangalore on the 27th. The mail fails to mention exactly what the march is a protest for. The only vague implication is that it is "against quota". The mail exemplifies the attitude towards this issue by the majority of the population/media. Either you are with us or against us (reminds of George W. Bush). Is the protest against reservations completely or just the reservations for OBCs or against the government implementation of this policy without proper research? One might never know. Yet, I am sure a lot of people, with diverse views on this issue, would join them and register their protest.

What I am against is the extremely narrow view of this issue as a battle between two camps. And I am sad to see that some really intelligent people are entrenched into this. A complete lack of coherence amidst the anti-reservation crowd just makes it impossible to judge them. Some of them are not entirely wrong and I agree with some of their opinions but quite a lot of them are disgusting and makes me want to block them out.

So, I end up by saying that I support reservations, though I think it needs fine-tuning and participation of the people. If you leave it to politicians, it would never happen.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Responses and my counter-response...

My post on reservations has got some of the usual responses.

rc aka RealityCheck seems to think that it is the SC/STs who are oppressed. OBCs are not apparently. Though he does make some pertinent points regading the data that Mandal commission used to create the OBC classification, he does make some atrociuos statements in his blog. Unlike SC/STs, OBCs are powerful politically, economically, and socially. Plus, I am really appalled at the amount of spite he shows for 'Madrasis' in this sentence -- These madrasis are so insistent on this issue that I am helpless. Interestingly, he looks to 'westerners' for his reality checks. Lol. What a dose of realitycheck ! like only a westerner could give us. No wonder he is gender confused... :)

HungryAndRestless calls for all IT and call center employees to strike. His/her blog has nothing but two posts that provide no logical reasoning for protesting against reservations. Just some pithy phrases about how important it is to hurt the government.

Abhinav Gupta seems to be a parrot (or a plagiarist) who seems to copy-paste the same line as a comment on a lot of blogs!!! Why? Nothing original to say? Too speechless that there are people who consider that any policy issue needs to be discussed before making a verdict?

Rahul seems to think that nobody thought of reservation for OBCs before. I think he has never heard of a state called Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In TN, 69% of the seats are reserved.

Shravan makes the "logical" statement that those medicos who come through reservations would kill their patients. I would suggest him to remove his head from his sphincter.

Confused links to this story and quotes this line -- "There are some 3.5 million Dalits in government jobs, about 125 MPs, and hundreds of MLAs. There are about 68,000 Dalits in Group A services." But somehow forgets to mention the following line from the same story!!! "Outside the regime of reservations, say in the private sector, there are hardly any known Dalits in corporate boardrooms, acting in Bollywood, or speculating markets at stock exchanges, to say nothing of a publicly traded Dalit-owned company." and this -- Charlie, who completed his PhD at IIT Kanpur and by his own admission interacted with several "reserved quota" students, says: "I do not forsee any remarkable decline in standards at IITs or IIMs." Talk about selective quoting!!! He goes on to rant about how "the intended purpose of reservation is to benefit few so that the trickle down effect improves the general lot of the community" based on this data.
He also links to this hindu story and selectively points out that "less than 40 students from the forward classes will get into MBBS this year". If you read that story carefully, it says that people who come under reserved category are competing under general category (remember, TN has 69% reservation) and generally beating the forward castes to the seats even in the general category! The article ends with this conclusion -- Strict enforcement of the 'creamy layer' policy as set out by the Supreme Court could see that the benefits of the reservation reached both the urban and rural poor." Confused somehow fails to mention this. Reservation policy in TN definitely needs a revisit.

Ankan points out that the Mandal Commission report was made in 1978 and that it is based on 1931 census. Actually Ankan, the report was filed in 1980. The commission was commissioned in 1978. And yes, I am aware of this fact. But does that really give a reason for doing away with reservations or does it say that we should logically have a census that collects data based on the parameters that Mandal commission suggests? Plus, if "things havn't changed a lot in 55 years of reservations", then can we extrapolate and say that things have not changed a lot in 75 years (20 years of which were without reservations)? It seems unfair and contradictory when you say that reservations have not really helped a lot to improve the status of the SC/STs in 55 years and also dismiss the 1931 census data as stale because it is too old and is not a right indicator of socio-economic status because it has changed too much!! Think long and hard about it...

Most of the anti-reservation arguments have been a touch on the cynical side. "This will lead to rush getting your caste classified as OBC". Why? "Because it is easier to get though the reservation quota." The reservation quota is 27% for OBCs and OBCs already constitute 52% of the population. Considering the SC/STs to be 22.5 % of the population, the general category would constitute about 25% of the population and they get 50% of the seats to compete for. But shouldn't the competition for the general category seats to be lower, logically? Interestingly, it is the reverse. That suggests that the upper caste people somehow manage to create more competition amongst themselves even though they have more number of seats available to them (proportionately and numerically)! That logically says that economic/educational status of the upper castes is pretty high, which is true. Now if we take the cynicism of the first statement to its logical end, we would end up with more and more percentage of the population competing for the same percentage (27%) of seats, and lesser and lesser percentage of population competing in the general category. Wouldn't this actually reduce the competition for the upper castes? Oops, looks like the reservation would actually end up helping the upper castes!!!

"Students who get seats through reservations are no-good and undeserving. They wont be make good doctors or engineers and get undue benefit which they do not deserve." Ahem! For one, I will point to this article again, which seems to suggest that people who belong to backward castes are actually garnering seats in the general category. That is amazing. That suggests that TN is ready to pull out the OBC status on some communities. I like the way the article attributes this phenomenon to "academic maturity", not merit! Because merit, as we all know, cannot really be measured objectively.

Another common rant is that most/all of the OBCs are really rich and politically powerful groups that really do not need the "crutches" of reservations. I agree that there are some OBCs that are indeed not really backward. But I wonder how someone can make this blanket statement based on a few (and they can name only a few) castes? Do they have the data on the socio-economic statuses of over 3000+ castes and communities? What is the percentage they used to conclude that 'most' of the OBCs do not deserve reservations?

For all those who are anti-reservations, I have these questions -
1. Do you believe that the caste system is a social evil and there is an urgent necessity to bring social justice?
2. If you do, would you work towards eliminating this lineage-based caste system by marrying people from other castes? If you are already married, would you pledge to marry your sons and daughters to people of other castes?
3. Would you be willing to have a more meaningful and democratic debate on the reservation issue or are you going to shout slogans and go on hunger strikes to make the government meet your demands?

The reservation issue is a complex one and not one that can simply be categorised as being either for or against. That simple dichotomy never works, except in the books of the bigoted. It is not a case of improving primary education or reservations. And there is definitely the issue of opportunistic politics that is detrimental to the policy but the solution to this is not to get rid of reservations but to engage/force/monitor the government to be true to the Mandal commission guidelines regarding inclusion/exclusion of castes in the OBC category. But the larger goal is to work towards a society where people are not ostracized/discriminated on the basis of caste.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

On reservation

Social equality is one of the most important goals of Independent India. But nearly 60 years down the line, the reality is a far cry from this ideal. 95% of the scavenger jobs are done by dalits/shudras and that is an extremely skewed statistic; one that appalls me and should appall anyone who considers caste-based discrimination to be evil. The only reason why this happens is because caste is still a major divisive force in our society and in spite of our constitution banning all kinds of discrimination, it existence is undeniable and its influence unquestionably mighty.

Affirmative action is the name given to the policy that seeks to give preference to communities that have been discriminated against and whose socio-economic status is low because of that discrimination. Affirmative action or reservations, they are both the same thing. The idea is that to uplift communities that face serious impediments to their progress because of social practices that seek to keep them ignorant and subservient. So far, in India, reservations were only for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 'Scheduled Caste' people are also referred to as 'Dalits'. It was done to bring the 'outcasts' into the mainstream and empower them as citizens of the country.

Who are the OBCs? If you read that article carefully, you will realise that the OBCs are a diverse group of people identified by the Mandal commission as 'backward' on the basis of several parameters based on social, educational and economic criteria. There goes the argument that reservations should be based on economic status rather than caste, because the OBC category already takes into consideration the economic condition. What the anti-resevationists are really concerned about is the idea that economically backward brahmins would not get any share of the pie. Most brahmins are affluent and middle class. It is a percentage of brahmins who are economically backward. Plus, brahmins have a social support system in their favour in the form of maths and priesthood. Their social status enables them to live a more dignified life than that of those people who are forced to clean toilets for a living and are ostacrised for that very reason. Yes, there are poor brahmins who struggle to make their ends meet but it seems weird to compare the situation of these few (their actual numbers may be quite large) brahmins to the condition of an entire community that does not get equal footing in society? I am all for the upliftment of the economically backward, but we are talking about upliftment of people who are backward in a lot of respects, not just economical! I think social justice is more important. And the reservation policy is about social justice.

One of the arguments given against reservations in higher education is that there is a more urgent need to improve the primary education. Anti-reservationists say that if quality of education and infrastructure should be improved because without primary education, how can one take advantage of higher education? Of course, our primary education infrastructure is not good. One statistic says that most of the primary schools in India lack toilets, which is cited as one of the reasons for high dropout rates of girl students who need a sheltered place to go and lack of toilets makes it difficult to attend school. The thing about higher education is that it is qualification that really equips you with pragmatic job skills. A graduate degree certifies you to be capable of performing a job while a school education just means that you are literate. It is conceivable for a school educated dalit to be still forced to clean toilets in spite of his/her education because a secondary school pass certificate does not mean you will get a better job. It is the nature and pay of the job that uplifts someone economically, not literacy. Look at the enormous difference in jobs that a college grad is qualified for and a high school grad is qualified for. Quite frankly, in this world, it is degrees (and the brand name of the college that gave you that degree) matter more than capabilities because that degree is taken as a certificate of capability. Also, that degree means that you have been imparted certain skills and knowledge. If you want to truly uplift a community of people, then there should be reservations in higher education.

A lot of people are against reservations because they say that this policy would "dilute" the quality of the higher educational institutes. They say that people who get admitted to colleges through the SC/ST quota are not good enough because they lack "merit". Merit is a quality that says that some people are more worthy than others but do we have a right way of measuring merit? JEE definitely is not able to judge merit. A major quantity of people who manage to clear JEE are from a few cities. Kota is called a factory because of its infamous coaching institutes and they are undeniably successful in coaching people to clear JEE. If you judge the merit of a student by his/her JEE rank, then you are, quite frankly, wrong. There are people who got a rank lower than me but are much smarter than me. Also, I know of people who did not get into IIT in spite of being 'deserving' candidates. JEE simply is an incorrect indicator of merit. What about 12th standard marks? Do they quantify merit? No, they don't. The emphasis in our schools is on rote-learning, which is a serious impediment to learning. People who get centums in board examinations are most likely to be people who have read the textbooks from cover to cover and have just vomited the entire mugged up information on the answer scripts. To tell the truth, there is no real indicator of merit. Because, in my opinion, merit is not just about brain power. It is also other things like, perseverance, determination and emotional strength. And there is no test in this world that can truly test these capabilities. I know one person who tried three times before getting into IIT and I thought he truly deserved it because he worked hard for it (and he continued his hard work in IIT). "But SC/ST students are unable to keep up with the general category people. They do poorly and they flunk out". I have seen people from both the SC/ST group and the general category do poorly in IITs. Even general category students flunk exams, repeat courses and sometime, get terminated. If they were truly more deserving, how do you explain this? And there are some SC/ST students who do really well. Besides, SC/ST really face a lot of discrimination inside IITs. In IITK, the IIT I graduated from, there was a prof who routinely treated the quota students badly. He insulted them in front of the entire class. He would call them names, term them undeserving and generally make their life hell. This has been going on for years and he is not a young prof (he is actually reaching retirement). All complaints against him were ineffective and nothing was done about this matter. We (I and a friend of mine) wrote an article about his atrocious behaviour in the campus newsletter and guess what happened -- nothing! He was chastised and that was it. No disciplinary action, nothing. There was no faculty outcry (there were some faculty who felt really strongly about this and guess what they are called in the institute -- communists), which lead me to believe that they were silently in approval of his thoughts (but maybe not his actions). This was a prof who openly discriminated against the SC/ST students. A lot of times, the discrimination is subtle and there in nothing one can do about it. Because, when you see someone getting away with overt discrimination, you generally shut up and take the crap. Even if you face subtle discrimination in classrooms, it would be understandable to not attend those classes and that gives the instructor an opportunity to fail him.

Concerns about 'quality' of the 'product' of the IITs must take a backseat to concerns about social justice. Besides, IITs are institutes of national importance and receive approximately 10% of the educational budget. They have an obligation to be a shining example of 'the better India' we want to create in the near future.

There are some people who think all individuals are capable of reaching the heights of success irrespective of their origins. They would point to a news item about a guy who managed to go to IIT in spite of being the son of a rickshaw puller. They never sit down and think why this story is news-worthy. Is it because it is an extremely rare and exceptional case where someone which such humble beginnings managed to get through the tough IIT exam? Of course it is. Why else would a newspaper devote time and money to cover this story and give it space on its pages? An individual cannot be totally free of his circumstances. The libertarian view is pretty ideal and quite commendable but in reality, a person cannot rely completely on his hard work when the retrograde practices that belong in history books are still practiced.

The only point against reservations that is worth considering is the idea that reservations only benefit people who are already well-off. It is an unsubstantiated claim of people who make this assertion on the basis of anecdotal evidence. If we started relying on anecdotal evidence when creating policies, then all would be lost. Personally, I do not think this is true. Yes, it is true that some people who benefit from reservations do come from well-off families and their use of the reservation is not morally justifiable. The thing is there will always be some who misuse some right given to them. If we do go for an income-based reservation policy, it would be much more misused than this. But we cannot rule out this concern and one should make a more detailed study about who are being benefited by the reservation policy. Venkat points out that reservation policy has indeed benefited SC/STs. He gives his own example as a beneficiary of reservation.

One other objection to the reservation policy is that it is just a government that is playing vote-bank politics. It may be something that the government is doing to get more votes in the next elections but can you dismiss the reservation policy suggested by the Mandal commission whose recommendations were given after considerable research and thoughts so? Plus, I want to know how they are going to get the government to roll back the policy decision by antagonising them? If somebody antagonises me by calling me an opportunist, I am likely to shut all doors to them and unlikely to listen/debate/respond to them. It is quite an asinine thing to do, not to mention the asinine logic behind it.

In my family, they revere a saint of the 12th century called Basaveshwara who was a social reformer who felt that untouchability was a bad practice and worked to eliminate it. Though he wasn't very successful (obviously), he is revered in Karnataka as a great man and his teaching are quite popular. People who profess to follow his teachings still reserve a separate mug/plate for lower-caste people. Why is that? They might never have a logical explanation for this but it really stems from that idea that lower-caste people are daridra (wretched) and therefore, they should not touch anything that we use lest we become daridra too. Caste is still an important consideration when marriages are arranged. To my knowledge, most (>99%) arranged marriages are intra-caste, even amongst highly-educated and city-bred. People are hypocrites when they say that they do not discriminate on the basis of caste and do not think that lower-caste people are inferior and still are against inter-caste marriages. In fact, inter-caste couples who elope because their parents are opposed to their union run the risk of getting killed, and this happens even in cities. Caste is purely hereditary, ie, I supposedly belong to this caste because my father belongs to that caste. If we want to combat casteism and destroy it completely, I think the best way to do it would be by promoting inter-caste marriages! If youth who are protesting against reservation take this stand now that they won’t marry within their own castes and would work towards eliminating this divisive hereditary force, we would probably not need reservations. Can all those youths protesting against (and for) reservations be willing to put their thalis/wedding rings/mangalya sutra where their 'anti-discriminative' mouth is? I doubt it very much.

Abi at nanopolitan has been covering this reservation issue quite extensively.

Annie thinks that reservation is a matter of "do we want to help the backward move forward? Or not?" and she is willing to put her money where her mouth is. Personally, I don’t think the issue is that simple. I think she assumes that reservations are a step in the right direction. I think reservations are necessary and evil. They are necessary because I do not see any foreseeable pragmatic way of bringing social justice. It is evil because in its quest to deliver its said goals and unify people, it divides people into categories – general and reserved! And I do not think any kind of segregation is a good idea.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Down By Law

I dont need to say much about Jim Jarmusch. You can find out a lot about him on the internet. I will talk about a film of his that I saw today. A film called 'Down By Law'. Set in Louisiana (New Orleans), it is a very interesting film about three guys who are thrown together by circumstances in a prison cell. Two of them are innocent, one guilty, by legal standards. But even the guilty one is not really a criminal. If you believe him, he really did not intend to kill the man. He was just retaliating in kind.

The movie shows how easy it is to frame someone and how there was nothing you could do about it. It could happen to anyone who is not respectable by social standards. Because let us face it, the scumbags who do not really have any future and who really have no money are criminals or, at least, most likely to commit crimes, right? I saw a similar theme in another movie recently. It was called 12 angry men. It is about these 12 men who are the jury for a case that involves a kid who is accused of murder and there is one bigoted guy in that movie who keeps saying that scums like the kid in question have the propensity to commit crimes and hence the kid is guilty. Respectability comes with money. If you have money, you are respectable. You will never be in a situation where you are assumed guilty at the start of the case. So, it is easy to frame people who occupy the lowest income groups (or lowest status) with crimes. The two innocent men in the prison cell belong to that group. One is a pimp who is introduced to us at the start of the movie as a likeable guy. The other is an out of job radio DJ, who looks, behaves and lives like a bum. Yet, we like him because in spite of being a radio jockey, he seems to screw it up. The thid guy in that cell is Roberto Benigni, who plays Roberto, an immigrant learning the language.

Actually, I do not mean that the movie makes any socio-political statement. The opinion in the above paragraph is mine and Jarmusch's use of the prison cell is more existential than anything else. [Pointed out by Dash]

They break out of prison and we follow their adventures in the woods, where they are lost and have no clue which direction to go. They find a shack in the middle of nowhere where there are bunks just like in the prison cell, contrasting their situation in the prison and now, as criminals on the run. In prison, they were forcibly held captive with no window to the world and yearning for the world outside (Roberto draws a window on the wall of the prison cell, which doesn't have any real window, telling us of this yearning). Now, on the run, they cannot meet anyone and they are isolated in a big jungle/swamp. They look for a shack to hole up and they even have a real window in the shack that they hide in!

One might make the mistake of thinking that this movie is about the two people (Jack and Zack). But it is as much about them as it is about Roberto, who is not simply a comedian in the movie. We learn a lot about Roberto during the movie. He is an immigant from Italy, who is trying to learn the new language and getting accustomed to the cultures of the new world. But it is more difficult for him to break through to others because of the language barriers and because his different behaviour makes him a joke, a person who is comic without trying to be just because of cultural differences and language trouble. One must also remember that an immigrant is also one of the most looked-down-upon figures in society. Take for example, the Bangladeshis in India (or for that matter, Bangladeshis in a lot of countries). Roberto suffers because he is a foreigner, but there is a happy ending for Roberto in the form of Nicoletta (Nicoletta Braschi). Whereas the other two go in different directions.

One thing that struck me throughout the movie was mirroring/contrasts/similarities. For starters, Jack and Zack. Roberto and me shared the same trouble with their names. The interaction/confrontation of Zack/Jack with their girlfriend/whore, who obviously love them in spite of pointing out errors in their ways of life and thinking. Jack and Zack get both set up by people caliming to be doing favours for them. The three principal characters have never met before their meeting in prison (except for a short interaction between Zack and Roberto, a scene in which Roberto is introduced to the audience). The contrast between the prison cell and the jungle (heck there is even a fight between Zack and Jack in the prison cell and in the jungle). And finally, the three go in different directions. Roberto gets settled. Jack and Zak take different paths (one leading east and one leading west) at the fork in the road. At the beginning of the movie, they are all shown as losers with a bleak future but at the end, the future is not bleak for them. They all make a new beginning at the end of the movie. Maybe, that is the point of all the mirroring.

All in all, it was an excellent film that is quintessential Jarmusch. The man is a revolution on his own.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Fullee faltoo

The Movie Of Your Life Is Film Noir

So what if you're a little nihilistic at times?
Life with meaning is highly over-rated.

Your best movie matches: Sin City, L. A. Confidential, Blade Runner

Your Quirk Factor: 84%

You're beyond quirky... You're downright bizarre.
You've lost touch with social norms and what's appropriate. And you're loving every minute of it!

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