Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A cry for diversity


Given the calcification of ideas at the top, it would be hard to think that there can ever be change. But reservations work here too. One distraught agitator on the Internet said, "There should be reservations for Arjun Singh's job too!"

There actually is. Seats in Parliament and legislative assemblies are reserved for scheduled castes and tribes all over India. And their representatives have succeeded at their jobs. SC and ST legislators vote consistently to fund welfare programmes for their SC and ST constituents, despite political pressures from the upper castes.

The same for women in reserved panchayats. Women pradhans implement policies that increase access to drinking water, primary education and basic health. Policies that 'meritorious' men prefer to ignore.

In study after study, representatives from reserved constituencies debunked the myth that they are incompetent, or puppets of others, or just not capable of handing the pressures of their jobs because they reached there through reservations.

From this Rediff column by Tarun Jain, an economics student at the University of Virginia, who argues strongly for diversity in our institutions -- including the elite ones.

7 Comments:

  1. confused said...

    What Trun Jain fails to point out is that such diversity already exists by giving 22.5% reservations to SC/ST.

    Diversity has some benefits but I am not sure it overrides everything else.

    btw, your views about the AA proposals?

  2. Krish said...

    Confused,

    Diversity is not just SC/ST quota. It is called diversity only if the IIT "population" mirrors the population outside.

    Abi,

    On a related note, I want to point out the following. Even though I am in support of reservations in higher education, I am of a very strong view that this move was Arjun Singh's attempt to neutralize Manmohan Singh politically and ensure his position in the politics for some time. It was a pure political move. I would agree to people who ask if Arjun Singh will implement reservations when it comes to him. He won't. The real equality will come only if Arjun Singhs marry their son to someone from under privileged sections of the society instead of a Nepali Princess. Well, it is too much to ask for even from liberals in our society (including me). But thatz the true equality. Even though I love the proposal put forward by Arjun Singh, I also want to point out that it is a cheap political trick by Arjun Singh to neutralize any future political problems he might face. Probably the way Natwar was thrown out made him grab this as tool to protect himself. Politics aside, I welcome anything that will improve the lives of underprivileged in our country.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Diversity seems to be a word thrown about by people from all parties - those in favour and those against affirmative action. And that is becuase diversity has become a word which has too many meanings.

    So we need to decide that what kind of diversity are we looking for? Geographical diversity , economic diversity, intellectual diversity , caste diversity , religious diversity??

    Diversity is not an end in itself, it is a means for something else. And what is that something else, it is the goals of the institution something that each institution must decide for itself.

    And as to talk about the case for affirmative action , Mr.Jain has been sly . He has not talked about cases where AA has been opposed in various states and in various forms including teh state of Michigan whera a points based system for AA was declared too mechnaical and unconstituitonal. All this info can be easily found on the wikipedia page for Affirmative action.

  4. Karthik said...

    I think doing politics and doing science/engineering require entirely different skills. To say that it has worked there and would work here shows short sight.

    The other two require special training just as politics does. In politics, there is no such time frame. Years and years of experience go into shaping a politicians. Whereas, engineers and scientists are required to complete their training soon and get to professional work bound by a time frame. Ofcourse you need not do that. You can drop out, learn things slowly, complete a degree in 7 years. But is that what they want in our highest institutes of learning? Why can't they train everyone equally very early, give them equal opportunities at higher education and then, put them in the same place. I am sure the underprivileged classes will excel if given the basic training required. Why should others pay the price?

  5. ellenweber said...

    Tarun... thanks for the insights to help enrich diversity.... If we considered the way the human brain wires itself for diversity -- we would have a new platform to step from -- one that has not been abused with rhetoric that protects one way only.... What do you think?

  6. Abi said...

    Confused: As Krish says, there is something desirable in an institution that's a microcosm of the society at large.

    Krish: The fact that I support reservation/affirmative action need not imply I love Arjun Singh. I believe you are also in the same situation. In fact, it is possible to loathe this man -- as I do -- and still support R/AA.

    Anon: If our institutions had tried, on their own, to enhance their diversity profile, there wouldn't be a need for R/AA, which is being brought in only because many groups find themselves outside of these institutions.

    Karthik: Tarun has given multiple examples; but he has certainly not argued for taking a Dalit Panchayat President and putting her in an IIT/AIIMS. So, your concern is misplaced. There are technically competent people in the disadvantaged groups, and R/AA tries to get the best among them into our elite institutions.

    Ellen: Thanks for your comment.

  7. confused said...

    Krish, Abi

    Disagree.

    First, I disagree with this one glove fits all where perfect equality(a utopian dream and in my view an undesirable one) would be reached only if all the colleges exactly reflect the social reality outside.

    Second, you seem to think that caste is the sole indentity. Let me point out something else...

    Gender.

    a)It is a natural division unlike caste
    B) Gender repression has been there across all castes and religion and if falling sex ratio is any indicator continues unabated.

    So will our universities reflect the reality of women being close to 50% of population after reservations? What about Muslims?

    Third, then we will have to ensure it reaches across all areas. From agriculture to parliament to universities to cabinet, btw recently Muslims have been overrepresented in our cricket team!

    I think you guys are reducing all divisions solely to caste.

    Thanks.