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OBCs should throw away the demeaning crutches offered

By Prof M S Gopinathan
June 09, 2006 12:21 IST
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I am by brand an 'Other Backward Class'. I did my PhD at an IIT and taught at another IIT for 27 years before retiring. It is to the credit of the IIT system that it never asked me my caste brand, neither when I entered as a student or faculty nor when I was promoted. It is sad that these things are going to change. It may not be irrelevant to note that they didn't ask my caste or religion at Oxford University in the UK, McGill University in Canada or the German Universities where I went to work.

If you are socially disadvantaged, you must strive to overcome that disadvantage and the only way to do that is to educate yourself and your children. Ask for good schools, good teachers and scholarships. If you opt for charity and crutches, you will always remain for generations to come, a receiver of charity limping on borrowed crutches. Charity demeans both the giver and the receiver.

I was born to poor, virtually illiterate parents in a remote village. But I was lucky to have a great science teacher in our village school who excited me about science; not just to learn textbook science, but to do experiments after school hours and on holidays and to do Socratic debates about science with him. Whatever modest success I have had in my professional scientific career, I can trace to such early fortunate circumstances and influences.

If you haven't had proper schooling and if you are just airlifted into an IIT by virtue of your scheduled or backward caste, you will be a miserable misfit in the intellectually and socially elite IIT atmosphere. You cannot cope with the courses; you cannot speak the campus lingo. You feel ostracized, intellectually and socially. I am saying this based on my decades of long experience with such students at IIT. Even after special coaching for a year at IIT and being exempted from the dreaded Entrance Examination, the SC/ST reserved students cannot perform. Often they require further academic concessions, albeit unethical, to barely pass the courses. It helps nobody, least of all them. I do not know what happens to them in their post-IIT life; some commission should study it. But I doubt whether many second generation SC/ST IITians make it to the IIT directly through the JEE.

It takes enormous, dedicated, and sincere effort for decades on the part of the government if quality universal school education is to be provided to all, as decreed by the Constitution and as Independent India has miserably failed to deliver in over 50 years. But it is far easier to shortchange and hoodwink the SC/STs and OBCs by making a legislative flourish of the pen offering useless, humiliating backdoor entry to them in the Institutes of higher learning. This political gimmick even distorts the meaning of 'higher' learning.

Even the sanctioned SC/ST quota in IITs today goes unfilled to a large extent (50 per cent?).

IITs cannot attract quality faculty (current vacancy is probably 20 per cent or more). Imagine the scenario when 49 per cent admission is reserved on the basis of caste and not on the basis of the academic potential of the students. IITs will be shunned as Paraya or Backward Class Institutes by serious academicians of all castes and by the international academic community.

The brand IIT has been created through about 50 years of dedicated, serious academic work of world quality by the faculty and students. Such institutes cannot be created overnight by legislative actions like opening a new IIT in a remote but politically correct location or just by renaming as IIT an existing university with its century-old caste and nonacademic baggage.

Oxford colleges are famous for their meticulous lawns. When asked by a visiting American student how you make such a lawn, the Oxford gardener replied: 'It is easy. You just regularly mow it, weed and water it. Do that for seven hundred years. Then you get a lawn like this.' What is true for the Oxford lawn is true for its academic excellence too.

So what should the OBC students, for whom the politician's heart has suddenly started bleeding, do? They should join the anti-reservation agitation and agitate for decent schools, good teachers and scholarships and refuse to be taken for an easy ride by the vote seekers. They should maintain their dignity and refuse the segregating ignominy of backdoor entries into institutions of higher learning. They should ask for better training, better running shoes, better coaches and show that they too can race with the others.

They should throw away the demeaning crutches offered.

I know this will not come to pass. The IIT campuses will be made 50-50, 50 backward and 50 forward, splitting it in the middle along the caste divide, the handicapped and the non-handicapped crowding, jostling on the same race track, nobody going anywhere.

If segregation is a legislative imperative, I suggest that it is better to have it on different campuses, rather than on the same campus. That is a win-win, 100-100 reservation situation. The SC/ST, OBC, BC and FC all having their own IITs with 100 per cent reservation, not only for students, but for faculty and staff too (why stop at students?). Maybe we could thus have healthy academic caste wars. Each group on its own racetrack.

Another possible win-win scenario for all comes from the use of high tech IT, satellite communication etc in which India is strong. We could close down all existing caste-ridden IITs and replace them with a single secular, egalitarian, virtual IIT. Virtually any number from any caste can enroll and have the same professor lecture to thousands over the high tech wires. It ensures a level playing field for all up in the sky.

Swami Vivekananda was shocked by the horrendous caste divisions in Kerala and called it a mad house. We now have a whole mad nation!

Caste -- forward, backward or scheduled -- is a shame of our country. It is an indelible indignity that brands an Indian for life at the moment of his birth. The higher castes may flaunt their caste through caste markings and last names and the lower ones may try to hide it except when it can be cashed in for favours like admissions, concessions or jobs. Egalitarian pretensions notwithstanding, caste has become an organizing principle of modern Indian society. It determines who will marry whom, who will eat with whom, who will touch whom, who will vote for whom and of late who will get into IIT!

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Prof M S Gopinathan