Sunday, May 5, 2013

A hot topic for Indians

Wrote this a while ago, but getting to publishing it now. 

Coming across this article late, but right after a recent debate at work about reservation (affirmative action) in India.

But, when someone says, "why should I pay for it?", when they, having given up a seat in a college for someone from a lower caste, to be admitted in a college that is ranked ever so slightly lower, I now know I should calmly reply with this, a huge driver for me personally since the minute I heard it seven years ago:
"So long as the millions die in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who, having been educated AT THEIR EXPENSE, pays not the least heed to them" - Vivekananda.

And exit the debate.

Because, many very privileged Indians, don't and will never realize all the privileges we have, and have always had. And how we cannot compare with the folks who have none of those privileges. Here are a few:
  • All schools in India have to be non profits, thus tax exempt. We may have paid money (some or lots of it) to the school, but that's because we were born to parents who could afford it, nothing we, ourselves deserve. And, I'm just plain lucky to have been born to my folks, instead of in a below poverty line household that made up much more than (the official) 40% of India? (roughly the same the year I was born). The private schools we went to, did not pay taxes
  • Folks who went to private schools, we are already, easily, among the top 27%. The % of children who receive a private school education, and, public schools are extremely bad in India, and no, we would shudder to think of getting schooled there. Only poor kids would go there
  • Our parents, and probably grandparents were going to school, and maybe even college, when ~80% of India was illiterate in 1947. That generation, those that got an invaluable education should have made things better, but they didn't. Someone has to pay up for that. I would think, it would be us and a few more generations to come.
  • Were we encouraged, atleast once a week, about going to school and working hard to do well there? That's undefinably more than what a first generation school going kid probably receives - zero encouragement and discouragement at many, many levels. There is possibly encouragement to DROP OUT of school once a week. "How are you helping at all by going to school? Why can't you get some money home to get some food on your plates?"
  • And the kid of our school's cleaners (ayahs), probably had to drop out of a government run, no-one-would-even-think-of-going-there-school-if-they-had-any-money school in middle school to find work for that reason. And no, *of course*, they didn't get to go to the same school were their parents worked. A pittance of our fees went to those invisible folks 
Then, we, who fall well in the top 10% of the socio-economic ladder talk hours against setting aside 69% of college seats for these people, the ones we would rather not go to school with. Because, of course, there is the question of "merit", and "deserving". "Merit" which we have gained at their expense, and "merit", which the author of the above linked post says is our wall of privilege. And "deserving" that they don't and, we, quite automatically, do. "Deserving" which we didn't either, when we got those parents and went to those schools.

And, as Dr. Ravishankar rightly states in this article about folks who say they will be okay with reservations based on economic criteria:

"A note on reservations based on economic criterion - It is quite surprising that the advocates of economic criterion bring up the point only in retaliation to caste-based reservations, and not as a desired step in itself. When the Delhi govt. proposed 25% reservation for the poor in schools, again everyone was up in arms. Also, genuine economic-based reservation in proportion to population percentages would still leave the FCs with a very small number of seats. (i.e if 95% people have less than a lakh income per year, then 95% of seats are reserved for such people, and so on). Perhaps what people mean is a token "10% reservation" for economically backward, so as to shut the debate?"

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