There was a beautiful article in the Sunday Times of India by Mr Swaminath S Anklesaria Aiyar titled "Do I have any Merit?" (Page 12, Sunday Times of India, 28th May, 2006). I tried to search for it online, but I guess TOINS has not published an e-version of it. Here is the view that he has placed in :
Youngsters (namely, us) keep saying that they work hard to get good marks and are then denied admission to top colleges because of somebody with low marks but a caste certificate. "We are sorry that his forefathers faced discrimination, but I didn't discriminate against anybody, so why penalize me?" is the question.
On this basis youngsters oppose caste based reservations. They are not consoled by the increase in seats either; they want those seats too to be filled by "merit". An "Equality based Society" is what they want.
The writer then goes on to say that their notion of fairness is incorrect. He says that rewarding students with the highest marks benefits people born in the right families and not the most intelligent or meritorious. He then goes on to explain how he himself has been a beneficiary of this unjust "Merit" system.
The writer talks about his academic success and later, professional success as editor of financial dailies such as "Financial Express" and "The Economic Times". He explains that he rose completely on his merit, topping in his school and college all along.
He later also gave an IQ test in which he score an IQ percentile of 97% (3% of the population is more intelligent than him). Now, of the population of 1.1 billion in India, 400 million forms the workforce. 3% of 400 million comes to 12 million people. Hence, he observes that in a truly meritorious society, 12 million people should have a higher position in the workforce than him.
He then explains that India has at most 2 million top managers and professionals. Hence the 12 million super-intelligent people cannot be accounted for in this "truly meritorious" system. Many of these are labourers or hawkers.
These people do not have access to good education or economic opportunities because they were born into the wrong family. Meanwhile the more fortunate (like the writer, and myself) dominate the society on the spurious claim that they are the most meritorious. He says that we get the good marks because we have educated parents, best books and went to the best schools and colleges. Others far more meritorious are rotting without education or opportunity in the slums and villages of India.
Hence he says that no person has the right to claim that reservations are displacing merit.
The writer then observes that job reservations are politically popular but do not address the problem head on. Reservations are utilized only by the few lakh students from the creamy layer of backward castes. The actual targets are still being missed and lost into the streets, villages and slums of India.
The writer then lambasts the current schooling system, which has been tottering under the corrupt powers that be. Teacher absenteeism and wastage of educational funds into worthless schemes ensure that most children get little or no learnings from their schools.
Finally, he observes that there is a need to experiment with new, fairer educational systems. He suggests one such system which will run quality schools with 80% reservations for lower castes and tribals. The Delhi Public school can provide technical assistance as it has successfully created a chain of high quality schools in India and abroad.
He goes further, saying that within five years, we can create 2 quality schools in every district and then in the next five years two quality schools in every tehsil headquarters and give out scholarships to the needy.
I had a discussion on this article with my sister and she recounted the plight of many NGOs trying to impart education in villages. Most parents do not want to educate their children; they want them to go to work. So the NGOs actually have to keep food to try and tempt the students to come to school for the food.
Such is the plight of our country at this moment. We as the creamy layer of the lower castes and the upper castes dissociate ourselves from this harsh reality and imagine that India is "Shining" since our pockets are getting heavier.
We, the middle class are the most educated workforce in this nation and yet at the same time we transcend all limits of ignorance by choosing to note only which of our stocks have gone up/down and how are we going to earn even more money to realize our dream of becoming the next Ambani/Narayan Murthi/Bill Gates. We chase the American dream, we become citizens of foriegn countries and call those countries as our lands; all this after we get the best out of our own nation, our own people.
Some may even say "It's not my fault that those people do not have the facilities", "Survival of the fittest", etc. While all that is partly true (in a very cold, insensitive way), there is a concept of empathy, understanding and feeling the pain of others, a will to work for the betterment of our society, our very own people. We seem to have lost that in our pursuit of personal wealth and satisfaction.
Finally, I must clarify, I am not in favour of reservations as the best solution towards restoring the social balance. I just feel very sad that we as citizens of India do not understand, or worse, consider the pain of the majority of our fellow citizens.