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In Beyond Caste (Tehelka, May 13) by Purushottam Agrawal, two paragraphs were omitted due to space constraints. The paragraphs are as follows:

‘Some of the votaries of caste-based reservation in our country liken it to the American model of affirmative action (AA). Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the spirit of aa is contrary to the stagnant quota system in place in our country. The American system does not have any pre-fixed quota for those belonging to historically disadvantaged ethnicities. Marquita Sykes defines the American model as follows: “Affirmative action, the set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin.” This model is all about the provision of opportunities to those belonging to the historically disadvantaged communities so that they can be integrated into the mainstream. This has helped both the corporate sector and public institutions in America to reflect the diversity of that society to a significant extent. The American model does not focus exclusively on ethnicity; gender and economic factors are taken into account as well.

A similar comprehensive model of aa was in place in the Jawaharlal Nehru University admissions policy till 1983, and undoubtedly helped JNU to reflect the diversity of Indian society along with maintaining the highest academic standards in the country. Due to administrative expediency, this system was revoked in favour of the easier and politically more suitable system of flat caste-based reservation.’


This is with reference to Lalit Kumar Das’s Merit, Quotas… Do We Wait For Some More? (tehelka Debate, July1 1). I disagree with the analysis on the statistics regarding iit admissions. The conclusions which appear in the article take away from much of what Das purports to convey through his wide-ranging discussion. I completely disagree with those conclusions.

Das’s analysis also takes a somewhat erroneous view of education in the West. He has conveniently omitted the fact that the West has veered off its chosen path, such as implementation of reservations in education. The article appears to present a tortured and somewhat biased analysis to support conclusions already reached, rather than the other way around. While I admire Das’s suggestion for alternate paths for the underprivileged, I cannot condone a gospel approach that presents conclusions unsupported by the data presented. However, I would encourage Das’s search for alternate developmental paths.
Kaplesh Kumar
[email protected]

This is with reference to Merit, Quotas… Do We Wait For Some More?. It is one of the rare articles that ask primary questions and shake up established societal values.

As the debate on reservation is being stunted by the government’s obduracy, the strategy of supporting a ‘preparatory’ school for obcs may get undermined as the obc students who come out may be tempted to benefit through this incentive and then go on to take advantage of the reservation quota too.

I wonder if we should not take the debate to the grassroots level where the electoral battles are fought. Someone who is sufficiently articulate intellectually and fired with passion should listen, talk to and convince obcs at the rural level.
Sharad Tripathi
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This is with reference to Merit, Quotas… Do We Wait For Some More?. I enjoyed reading the article which presents several well-thought-out opinions on the reservation issue.

India has many educational needs but there are limited resources to provide these needs. As a result, tough choices have to be made. All the underprivileged sections that the article talks about deserve help, but not at the expense of others. Is it fair to an upper caste youth with limited resources if his chance of selection in an institution is taken away by a reserved caste minister’s nephew?

We have to have some basis for an objective evaluation that students can see and strive for on an equal footing. We should have community colleges and trade schools similar to the US to provide vocational training and hands on training in technology set up in the smaller towns and in rural India.
AK Upadhyaya
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This is with regard to Survival Of The Fittest In A Biased World by Kanimozhi Karunanidhi (Tehelka, June 24). The article was very interesting. However, coming from a scion of one of the richest families in Asia, her concern for the dalits and backward classes seem unconvincing and akin to shedding crocodile tears.

If Karunanidhi’s family parted with even half their wealth, whether it was earned through the media, shipping, real estate or film empires, the lot of dalits and backwards, at least in Tamil Nadu, would improve drastically. It is a moot point of the reservation debate that many such ‘backward’ families in Tamil Nadu, who have enjoyed being in control of the levers of power for the last 50 years, would now get the benefits of the proposed reservations.
[email protected]

This is with reference to Survival Of The Fittest In A Biased World. Although in north India, the debate over reservation still goes on, reservation has already brought great benefits in the South.

It is incorrect to argue that quota kills merit. In fact, it will give a chance to real merit, for currently, the students dubbed ‘meritorious’ are actually the ones who have had access to the best coaching and opportunities. For instance, Vellore’s Christian Medical College, which follows a quota system, has maintained its position as one of the leading medical colleges of the country.

The government should take steps to ensure that quality education reaches every child. There should be special schemes for providing rural children spoken English courses to overcome their disadvantage. Special coaching should be available for poor students for facing competitive exams. Campus selections should be transparent and based on marks.

This is with regard to the motives behind the recent anti-reservation protests.

If the Youth for Equality, the students’ movement which claims to be fighting for the equality of caste, class, religion and race, were really concerned about equality, they would protest against the over 50 million children who work over 14 hours a day in dingy and abusive environments, they would fight for minimum wages for the tens of thousands of street-cleaners and sweepers across India’s cities. They would protest against the thousands of atrocities committed against people of lower castes that are willfully overlooked by the media and the sickening matrimonial pages and websites that reek of casteism.

I’d like to know how many of these protestors, after a couple of years, will actually step outside the boundaries of caste while choosing their life-partners. If one is fighting for equality, the focus of one’s energies should not be just writing fancy placards.
[email protected]

This is with reference to Jitendra Kumar’s Merit Is The Luxury of the Privileged (Tehelka, June 10). It is really naïve of Kumar to think that reservations are going to benefit deserving people. Reservations will be used by the ‘creamy layer’, a topic which Kumar didn’t touch, knowing it was a valid point. How can an OBC/SC/ST student in a remote village compete with the children of well-off OBC/SC/ST parents?

Why should current and future generations pay for the mistakes made by people ages ago? Is there any plan on how long reservations should exist? It seems as though quotas are going to stay forever.
[email protected]

This is with reference to Merit Is The Luxury of the Privileged. It presents astounding figures regarding the condition of SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims in urban and rural India. The figures that represent the economically and educationally weaker sections of society call for an immediate change in the present constitutional scenario. These weaker sections definitely need to be elevated so that they can contribute equally to nation-building.

A solution to the problem would be counting the people below the poverty line as a whole, instead of dividing the reserved sections into individual categories. A solution on these lines would keep our politicians from filling up their vote banks and the general public away from the tension and confusion regarding their rights.

This is with reference to Dhiraj Nayyar’s Time Someone Thought Up A Better Policy (Tehelka, June 17). In application forms for all government and private jobs and educational institutions, the column asking for one’s caste must be removed.

Reservations make for a weaker nation as inefficient candidates get selected in organisations and institutions. Naturally, the result is deterioration of services and poor output.
New Delhi

Thanks a lot for your interesting discussion on the reservation issue (Tehelka Debate, which began in the May 13 issue). The problem with upper caste journalists, intellectuals and protestors is that they are totally out of context when discussing the issue. The only thing they have in mind is that dalits and backward classes possess no merit and therefore have no right to come up. This ‘merit disease’ has been the most atrocious form of upper caste antipathy towards dalits and other marginalised sections of society.

The question being asked is that if dalits and OBCs have come up, why do they need reservation. It is important that we do not raise the issue of the ‘creamy layer’ at this point of time for it is another upper caste ploy to thwart reservation. If one does not recruit the educated class of people who have come up, whom does one recruit? It has been seen that dalits have been running institutions like banks in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, that too very successfully. 

Reservation is not a favour, it is a right. To understand it properly, I think people should look at the historic movements for social justice in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Aren’t only a few rich people using reservations, while genuinely backward SCs/OBCs are not even aware of such reservations? I myself belong to an SC but could not get a seat in a professional college through reservation. One of my neighbours, whose father was a Class I officer and who was educated in an English medium convent school, got admission through reservation. Since my father was a government peon, was I not a more deserving SC candidate? Why should a family earning Rs 10 lakh a year need reservation? Should it be just because they have an SC/OBC certificate? Why do we say only SCs/STs/OBCs are backward? Are not all Indians living in villages backward?
[email protected]

I appreciate Tehelka’s opinion on the quota issue (Tehelka Debate), but it is highly unfortunate that some of the writers should have chosen to use flawed arguments to forward the opinion that the media and institutions of higher education have been the privilege of upper castes.

If one has been to any of these institutions, one will realise that once you are in, all that matters is how hard you are willing to work and what potential you carry. Your caste is completely irrelevant. I never bothered to know what caste my friends at iit came from, neither did they. And I am sure that journalists too have a similar disposition towards their colleagues. Do you ask your co-worker which caste he belongs to? I think not. No one is prevented from giving competitive exams and joining institutions.
[email protected]

This is with regard to Throw off Old Identity Traps by Bibek Debroy (Tehelka, June 3). Indian politicians have never framed positive policies to empower the people. They have been eager to use shortcut methods for political gain.

To empower backward classes through education, the right step would have been to develop primary and secondary schools exclusively for OBC students in all the states and union territories. Had this been done, OBCs would have been at par with the rest of society today. However, our politicians employed shortcut methods to secure political mileage to win elections.

This is with reference to Bibek Debroy’s article Throw Off Old Identity Traps (Tehelka Debate, June 3). I fully agree that there is a big difference between doing “something for the poor” and doing “something in the name of poor”.

The problem is that in post-Independence India, no government has seriously taken a holistic view when dealing with the basic problems facing the country. They have always been guided by cheap vote bank-centric politics. Therefore, it is not surprising if the Congress-led UPA government toes the same hackneyed policies. Its pseudo-socialist populist overtures will take the country nowhere. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knows it well, but the Left will never allow him to have his way. In a country like ours, the utopian ideas proposed by Debroy will continue to be ignored by the selfish political parties.

This is with regard to the Tehelka Debate (which began in the May 13 issue). While the proposed reservation model, suggesting 27 percent reservation in institutes of higher education without lowering unreserved seats from the present level, may benefit OBCs, it would create hatred between reserved and general classes, instead of removing class barriers. It would also bring down the standard of education.

An alternative method could be to open institutes of higher education exclusively for OBCs, who could also seek merit-based admissions in other institutes. Under this model, there would be no bad blood between OBCs and general classes and merit would not be compromised.

Although it would cost time and money to provide new institutes for OBCs, this cost would be small compared to the cost of downgrading merit. However, only a merit-based system can answer one question — after graduation, what?
[email protected]

I appreciate Tehelka’s views on the quota issue, which are quite different from the rest. I am not sure what exactly the term “merit” means. Let us consider it as ‘the ability to do a job, which is intended to be done, properly’. So I don’t see how the means through which a person has acquired this so-called merit — whether it is attending expensive coaching or anything else — is immaterial.

I am working in a public sector undertaking and I see another side of this debate. There are several reserved category candidates working with us who are getting good salaries, so they are able to give their children expensive coaching. These children also avail of reserved category seats. So, under the current reservation system, we are creating a creamy layer of SCs/STs/OBCs who are and will be getting all the benefits of the reserved category, while the poor section becomes poorer.
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This is with regard to ‘Shining India’ Forgets Real India by Amit Sen Gupta (Tehelka, May 27). It’s a pity that after 59 years of Independence the world’s biggest democracy is still biased in favour of upper castes, who constitute 17 percent of the population, but have a monopoly over nearly 77 percent of jobs in the country.

No sensible Indian would disagree with the view that a lot needs to be done to improve the condition of SCs and STs, although 22.5 percent of seats are reserved for them. OBCs remain at a disadvantage; hence, some form of reservation is indeed necessary. But that does not mean that there are no poor Brahmins and rich dalits. Let all economically backward meritorious aspirants, not just OBCs, SCs or STs, get help without discrimination.

Beyond Caste (Tehelka, May 13) by Purushottam Agrawal makes conceptually interesting points. But the points would be significantly enhanced if the article could present the so-called miraa scores and admission outcomes as applied to a few actual incoming classes of real institutes to demonstrate what actually might happen.
[email protected]

This is with regard to Beyond Caste (Tehelka Debate, May 13). While I commend Purushottam Agrawal for his alternative to the current quota system, I feel that this system is extremely vulnerable to corruption.

In a system where general category students can get points on the basis of region or school, it would be very simple for them to get the required fake certificates made, a practice quite common in India. I also feel that five points is too high to be awarded for being a girl. I would feel dishonest accepting those points, for I haven’t faced any disadvantage as, I think, many other girls also haven’t.

I feel the answer lies in a reworking of the creamy layer policy. Also, I feel that descendants of those who have availed of reservations should be included in the general category.
[email protected]

This is with regard to ‘Shining India’ Forgets Real India by Amit Sen Gupta (Tehelka Debate, May 27). Social injustice can only be resolved through redistribution of resources, which takes time. There is no shortcut. The government should provide monetary assistance to OBC students to help them get extra coaching, which can help them prepare for competitive exams. OBCs should first stop calling themselves ‘OBC’. I think that’s the first step towards integration with the rest of society.

Sen Gupta contradicts his own argument by suggesting reservation for OBC candidates in institutions, which he says creates students who are absorbed by foreign countries and mncs. The iits/iims were able to nourish talent even within a failed system and the primary reason was competition based on merit. It is an injustice to a candidate who has 97 percent marks but can’t get admission, while an OBC candidate gets admission based on his/her caste.
[email protected]

This is with regard to About Empowerment, Not Employment by VP Singh (Tehelka, May 20) defending reservation. I don’t think anyone disputes that some affirmative action in this regard is necessary, especially for the weakest sections of our society. But how much is enough? Today it is 50 percent. What if, in the name of populist politics or misplaced idealism, the next government wants 80 percent, 90 percent?

Singh says that the people who go to IITs/IIMs/AIIMs are from fairly rich families. But that is also true for students from reserved categories who end up in these institutions. Meaning that the people who end up availing the reserved seats are from fairly well to do SC/ST/OBC families. Show me an example where the truly downtrodden have been benefited.

Please don’t provide a solution that is worse than the problem. Don’t make us look at our friends through the lens of reservation.
[email protected]

Purushottam Agrawal’s article Beyond Caste (Tehelka, May 13) is a rational analysis of how genuine social justice can be brought about in Indian society. He has initiated a debate which can be taken further.

One cannot accept any kind of reservation where quality of education is compromised and suffers. Whether it was VP Singh and now Arjun Singh, neither of them ever bothered to think that such announcements would play havoc with the psyche of the Indian youth. I am not against reservations, but not in favour of the manner in which it is being suggested by the government. There should be some balancing formula and Agrawal’s suggestion seems to be a step in that direction.

Has any appropriate authority ever taken the trouble to find out as to how the existing reservation system is working? Someone sitting in the hrd ministry should take some pains to find out.

This is with regard to Beyond Caste. Thank you very much for initiating a much-needed debate on the 50-odd-year-old caste-based reservations. Purushottam Agrawal deserves whole-hearted support for taking the initiative to bell the cat. I agree with his views. Preparing a scale for measuring the true backwardness of the disadvantaged classes may be a worthwhile idea to debate. Congratulations for tackling the problem from a different angle.

Purushottam Agrawal’s ideas on caste in Beyond Caste call for an honest debate. On the one hand, Agrawal accepts the disparities in Indian society and on the other hand he provides a logical solution to the reservation issue. There has certainly been a big gap between the haves and have-nots, likewise a big rift between the so-called upper castes and lower castes. The question is, how should it be solved?

Belonging to the OBC category, I am for reservation; at the same time, I admit the misuse of reservation by certain sections. Agrawal’s debate indirectly points to this misuse and provides a good solution. But miraa needs a slight change regarding its points.
New Delhi

In the present era of the reservation debate, to accept miraa as mooted and proposed by Purushottam Agrawal in Beyond Caste would be a befitting and innovative measure to eliminate the prevalent structures of social marginalisation and denial of access to education. It will create a harmonious, competitive and constructive environment for the all-round development of the nation. More importantly, our lawmakers should keep in mind that reservation should be utilised for the welfare of needy sections irrespective of caste in order to augment the nations’ growth, competence for personality development. However, nowadays reservation is being utilised only to gain vote-banks for grabbing power without taking into account its far-reaching consequences with regard to society.
[email protected]

This is with reference to About Empowerment, Not Employment by VP Singh (Tehelka, May 20). The Congress has always tried to present itself as a messiah of the poor, backward and destitute. It has always projected itself as a saviour of the neglected classes of the society and any voice raised in opposition, like the BJP’s, is automatically taken as fundamentalist and coloured non-secularist, or saffron.

It is a shame that there seems to be not even a single party opposing reservation. Today in our democracy, the need of the hour is not the ruler but an Opposition. But here, it seems that everyone in the Lok Sabha is happy with the decision on reservation, hence there is no opposition. The only ones opposing it are the masses. Is this a new trend? Single party initiation, coalition support across party lines and unhappy, violent and anguished masses.
[email protected]

This is with reference to your debate on reservation (which began in the May 13 issue). The government would have us believe that caste is the only barrier to equity in the education sector, which is most definitely not true.

Caste is definitely important, and is quite often linked to the other factors that are responsible for inequity, like poverty, living in backward regions, and having parents who are illiterate.

The very nature of parliamentary democracy demands that decisions be made for the narrow considerations of the vote bank and for the support of a large uneducated mass that is trying to come out of the morass that they are in.

It seems unlikely that any party will talk against caste-based reservation in India because it would inevitably mean a defeat in the next elections, as the caste bloc would work against the party en masse.

Jun 03 , 2006
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