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Reservations are more complex than you think

My recent post abour Dr Death has given many a chance to harp once again on 'merit', refusing to see the reservations conundrum from any other perspective. You may want to have a look at this article by Dr Shobna Sonpar about Dalit students at IIT Delhi. I present two excerpts:

In the course of working for over a decade in the Student Counseling Service the dominant themes heard from the reserved quota students were the following:
  1. They faced enormous pressure from family and community to succeed. Very often being first-generation literate, and the first in their families and villages to have reached the portals of higher education, their success signaled a financially comfortable future and a position of influence that would benefit the extended family and community. Being a relational society, it is expected that the fruits of individual success will be distributed. Initially, the students were gratified to be held in such high esteem and proud to be in such a prestigious institution. But soon, anxiety about succeeding, guilt about failure and a sense of being heavily burdened predominated.

  2. They had worked extremely hard through school and for the entrance examination, and their experience after admission was one of continued and unrelenting struggle just to keep their heads above water. They faced multiple stresses and difficulties including coping with a language of instruction (English) in which they were not fluent; feeling lost, alien and intimidated in an urban, globalised environment very different from their home towns and villages; not being able to approach teachers and others for assistance because of anxieties and cultural norms that inhibited them from approaching authority. Most of all, they were competing in the same league with those acknowledged to be among the highest academic achievers in the country. Although admitted on concessionary criteria, they took the same number and type of courses as other students did and were evaluated in the same way. There was no provision for remedial/ bridge courses or extra tutorials. They thus experienced repeated academic failure and in the course of time, a crippling erosion of confidence and hope.

  3. They felt a double sense of stigma. More overtly expressed was the sense of being academically 'outcaste', inferior and 'not entitled' to these highly coveted seats. Less openly expressed but powerful nevertheless, the feeling of academic stigma resonated with the caste stigma that was inevitably a part of their consciousness. Many carried toxic memories of humiliation and hostility from caste-related experiences in the past. Often, minor incidents (not necessarily caste-related) in the present triggered engulfing feelings of shame and anger. They coped primarily by lying low, by being at the periphery of institutional and student life and by affiliating only with others from similar backgrounds. This corresponded with an internal sense of being ignored and being invisible to the rest of the system.


Also:

The shrillness of the merit discourse drowned out the facts - for instance, that the proposed reservations boiled down to 5% reservations in central (federal) government jobs and seats in a few universities for people constituting 75% of the country's population, that caste was neither the only nor the most important criterion for determining the beneficiaries (there were 11 criteria that included educational, social and quality of living parameters ranging from primary school drop-out rates, to accessibility of drinking water, to percentage of women married off before the age of 17), and that there were several other important structural reforms recommended including land reforms. The outrage that fuelled the agitation appeared to have arisen from the fact that the Mandal recommendations directly threatened the prevailing distribution of resources that favoured the 'forward' castes and classes. Although implementation of the Mandal reforms had been on the election manifesto of all the major political parties, in actually daring to implement them the government at the time collapsed. As for the students from the reserved quota at IIT; in the months following the agitation several chose to drop-out saying that they would seek readmission by repeating the entrance examination in the non-reserved category. Others who had been faring reasonably well in their studies deteriorated. In sum, the agitation reflected a twist to the 'internalization of oppression' and seemed to have heightened their sense of disentitlement.








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-- Anonymous Anonymous, 6/21/2005 02:43:00 AM

dude my observations at IIT are somewhat different.

The people (not all, but most) who came through the reserved quota (as well the ones who came through SAT score rather than JEE) suffered academically. Not all, but most of them couldnt compete at that level, and were at the bottom of the class. Yes most of them are doign well in life, but they might have developed a complex, not because they were discriminated, but because they suffered academically. I havent seen or I didnt come across any discrimination based on caste. You can say that their is a certain attitude towards the students who dont perform well academically, but that was true for all those who didnt do well, including the reserved students, the direct admits, and some regular admits who couldnt cope up with the pressure.

There were times when poor performing students were confident that they can't get Fs because there is a buffer available (i.e. students who do horribly, and a lot of times they happen to be either students from reserved quota or the direct admissions for foreign students)

So, yeah the competiton exposes them. I am not saying its good or bad. Probably reservations are good, and should be continued. But wanted to point out that what I observed is totally different from what is being said in the report.

In the sense that the urban atmo. and they coming from a dfferent background causing stress is bull. I know quite a few who came from similar background and did well. In fact, if anything, the peer pressure in IIT is the opposite. Talking in English (or avoiding hindi), wearing fashinable clothes etc, is something not done! Yes there is peer pressure, but not based on caste or background. Thats totally untrue. Everyone at the age of 17-18 is kind of immature and confused, and have come from protected childhood. Almost everyone is trying to come to grips with the competiton and new hostel life. Some cope up well with the academic environment and the whole social scene, and some dont. That includes people who lived in boarding schools and couldnt talk hindi (some of them did well, and some didnt).. that inludes people from abroad. A few of them managed, a lot didn't. And people who came through reservations. A lot of them couldnt withstand the competition, and a few of them did..

But that being said, that was true during those 4 years. After graduation, almost all of them have done well in life because academic success is different than being successful in the real world. And those things dont exist anymore. If you meet them in the alumni outings, I dont see there is any difference in behavior.

In summary, those four years, for most people, is a very crucial time. Some (most) enjoy it more than others. Most of them do well later. And there is hardly any discrimination.    



-- Blogger Sunil, 6/22/2005 02:56:00 AM

Shivam.......I will agree with most of what you've said here...

however....today, reservations are based on % of population...for example TN has 69% reservations (broken down on caste/background....).

However, my main issue is that this enforcement has been (typically, in Govt fashion) top-down. There has been NO attept at correcting this where it really should be....at the primary school level. I've visited some small rural schools were there aren't any dalit children, even though the village must be 15% or so dalit. In others....these children are made to stand in a corner in the class!

This is were the problem really needs to be tackled. This, and the total absence of good primary education, will really result in an almost impossible situation where in it becomes exceedingly hard for a student from an underpriviledged background to succeed.

Remember....primary education is now a fundamental right.....but we know what is reality...    



-- Anonymous Anonymous, 6/24/2005 11:13:00 AM

it is meaningless to talk about reservations on an all india level. most agree that SC/STs need a helping hand and reservations provide it. most states however go much much farther. tn is a case in point. very rich communities including zamindar Thevars and Gounders, land owning mudaliars, nadars are classified as BC or OBC(including all muslims and christians) .

go to american international school (10K/month fees), sishya, billabong (20K/month) - all you will see are rich nadar , thevar , christian and mudliars kids there.

they all get reservations benefits while the poor brahmins cooks son does not.

this is the crux of the matter    



-- Anonymous Anonymous, 7/08/2005 05:55:00 PM

Please read and take a balanced view. I would recommend THomas Sowell. He has tracked reservations/Affirmative Action across most of the countires may it be malays, blacks or other discriminations and has come to right conclusion. It hurts the one whom they are supposed to protect most. The better option is empower through economic incentives. Do you really believe the cartel of activists and politicians want to empower them ?    



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