Reservation seem to be the flavour of the season. Sounds frivolous? When so many young people have staked their lives and careers to fight for this grossly "unjust" practice called reservations?
This concern for injustice by the upper class is very touching, particularly when it happens against the backdrop of lakhs of people uprooted by the Narmada dam, and several other lakhs by the demolition drive against slums, and
I now hear of a decision against the rickshaw pullers in the Walled City. If only the same passion was harnessed to fight for the other injustices that the system is perpetrating every day --' particularly on the not so fortunate! And merit is really all about the way we view it.
The notion of merit that the IIMs and IITs flout may not be true merit in any case, which leaves 90 per cent of our population completely out of its ambit.
Anyway, I wanted to talk about another kind of reservation that I encountered recently as I was doing the rounds for college admissions for my daughter.
There is some minimal reservation for those good in sports, and some in extra-curricular activities (ECA). One also hears that students who get in through these quotas are looked down upon by the so-called general stream, as less intelligent or less worthy of the seat in that college. And everybody seems to go along with this perception.
So, we are actually saying that those who can manage to secure good marks are necessarily better than those who have a creative streak, who have a more rounded personality, who can very often really enrich and give the society much more than the others. It is the whole way of looking at merit once more and how we define it.
Till such time as the education establishment can do some reassessment of the system and come out with a criterion for merit in the holistic sense, I would say that thanks to this reservation we get some outstanding budding talent in the arts into the university framework.
This probably also provides the student body a diversity of talent and viewpoints from which all can learn and, above all, it provides a vibrant cultural scene to the campus life. I know that all cultural activities are not initiated by those who get in through ECA reservations, but they are probably the backbone of the cultural societies in their colleges.
Actually, it is these activities that define education to me in the broader sense, and it is these that largely help us differentiate between one college and another. For now, one is happy that the "meritorious" students are not up in arms against this "anti-merit" policy.
Away from the education arena, in the job market, I am aware that in states like Maharashtra where theatre is respected, even commercial establishments like banks have a certain number of seats reserved for theatre artistes.
While this certainly provides safety and stability to a theatre artiste, the artiste's presence helps the organisation in two ways: One, if the artist makes a name for himself/herself, the organisation also shares some of the limelight. And of course, in drama competitions within zones it gives the organisation a distinct edge. So, it is a win-win situation for both.
Fortunately, in theatre groups, or even in theatre training establishments, one does not have to face any problem or dilemma on this score.
Since one is not expecting any conventional educational benchmarks from the students/artistes, youngsters coming from lower castes or tribes often fare as well as others, if not better, because of their rootedness. Probably there is a lesson here on the notion of merit!