Thursday, 13 March 2008

THE QUESTION OF MERIT

THE QUESTION OF MERIT

The question of merit and excellence being discussed in the debate raging on reservation needs to be examined critically. What is this ‘merit’ in reality and of what use is this to the society? Since we are talking about reservation in higher education institutions, some of the best of which are funded by the government with public money, we assume that students graduating from these institutions have some social responsibility.

The brightest minds from our schools enter the higher education institutions because most of the admissions to these institutions are based on competition or the so called merit. Since only 9% of our population makes it to the college level education overwhelming majority of India is not in the category of ‘meritorious’. The numbers who make it to the elite professional careers like administration, engineering, medicine and management is even smaller. Some people belonging to this segment of the society are quite worried about the dilution of quality if reservations are implemented for OBCs in higher education institutions.

This small segment of the society, who are among the brightest students of their class, prepares itself for jobs in the ‘service sector’. The irony is that for delivering their ‘service’ to the society we have to pay them exorbitant salaries compared to what a common citizen of the country can earn, provide them with all facilities, perks, etc, and often common citizens of the country have to render their services to be their servants, drivers, housekeepers, gardeners, etc. This service sector elite is completely incapable of serving the society without an extensive paraphernalia at public expense. And the fact of the matter is that inspite of their ‘quality’ service the situation of the common citizen, who they purport to serve, has not improved since the independence of this country. The gap between the rich and the poor has increased, farmers are committing suicides, people are dying of starvation and TB, gender ratio is deteriorating, small children are being forced into prostitution, natural resources are running out or getting polluted and there is increase in crime and terrorist violence. Still, in every next pay commission, this service sector expects a hike in their salaries and benefits, whereas, there is no guarantee for a minimum income level for those outside this prestigious service sector.

The engineer is least interested in ensuring that his knowledge is of any use to the society. Some of the brightest of them graduating from the IITs, flee the country at the first opportunity and prefer to serve a more prosperous US society. The ones who remain behind and work as engineers are interested in advancing their careers on commissions that they can get from mega projects. People who decide to object to what is going on, like in the case of Satyendra Dubey, have to pay with their life or job.

The doctors, who are supposed to be next only to God, are more interested in making the money rather than improving the health of the society, especially the poor. The poor patient is cheated by the private pathological/ clinical testing laboratories and drug companies, which route back a portion of their profit to the doctors, who have no qualms in being a part of the ‘system.’ Is this an ethical earning?

The managers graduating from IIMs are clearly out there to make money for themselves. They are taught to maximize profit. It doesn’t matter whether they have to sell cigarettes or Coca Cola, which is depriving the farmers of the country of ground water, or other products which are harmful to human health, environment and society. Managers are also infamous for indulging in manipulations and malpractices. And when one of them, S. Manjunath, decided to question the adulteration at a petrol pump in Lakhimpur Khiri, he was eliminated.

The administrative officers are the worst. Guardians of the system meant to ensure that the spirit of the Constitution is implemented; they have perpetuated an oppressive system inherited from the British in which the common masses still find themselves as subjects rather than empowered citizens of a democracy and have promoted corruption so much that the system has been virtually sabotaged. No legitimate work of a common citizen can get done in the normal course through the system. Strings have to be pulled or bribes have to be paid to move things. What is worse is that even illegitimate things can be accomplished by adopting these methods.

The learned judges of the courts are delivering anti-people judgements more frequently than before, whether it the denial of right to rehabilitation of those being displaced by Sardar Sarovar dam, crushing of daily wage workers fighting for their employment rights, slum dwellers being bulldozed in modernization drive or cycle rickshaws being banned in Chandani Chowk in Delhi.

The intellectuals, professors, etc., also prefer to play a lame role. The scientists are busy thinking of the most anti-people projects, like the nuclear weapons, nuclear power or inter linking of rivers. They have poisoned our fields with artificial fertilizers and pesticides and are helping the private corporations to make money from GM seeds at the expense of common farmers.

Now most of these self serving brightest minds happen to be upper caste people. They have abdicated their responsibility of making a social intervention to lay the foundation of a just human society. In fact, the more educated one is the more socially irresponsible, insensitive to fellow human beings and corrupt one is. What is one then to make of the merit of these bright minds? They seem to be doing more harm to the society than good. Was it not their responsibility, since they are the ones who make policies and implement programmes, to ensure that their Dalit and backward caste fellow citizens got equal opportunity? It is time for them to reflect and make amends for the historic injustice done to these communities by supporting their empowerment through the process of reservation.

If our Constitution can be credited for one thing it is establishing the value of equity in a caste ridden fragmented hierarchical society. Aided by the Constitution and a policy of caste based reservations the Indian political scenario has dramatically altered since independence. We now see organic leadership among Dalits and backwards and an assertion demanding equality. Whereas the reservations in jobs might have helped only a limited number of dalits and backwards but it has brought about a tremendous transformation in their self confidence to participate in the democracy on equal terms.
This churning of the society must continue, if we are to rid ourselves of the ignominy of the caste system, in the form of more reservations until dalit and backwards find representation in elite institutions and services of this country in proportion to their population and the domination of upper caste within the ruling elite ends. Only then can we claim to be a fair society.


By Sandeep Pandey
A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016
Telephone: 0522-2347365, Mobile: 9415022772
e-mail: ashaashram@yahoo.com

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