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The Minister for Human Resources Development, Prakash Javadekar announced that Government of India was considering reservations in appointment of faculty at the Indian Institutes of Management.  Similar reservation was being considered in the Indian Institutes of Technology and other academic institutions.

Naturally, a furore has risen on this in the social media by the same crowd that has always been against any form of reservation. The hoary argument about ‘death of meritocracy’ is being trotted out.  It’s natural for the diehard anti-reservationists to rubbish this move. I don’t blame them at all. It is their fundamental belief. Interestingly most of these voices are from the traditionally privileged sections of society who do not know or understand or choose not to understand their privileges. They assign their own success purely to merit. They also assign the cause of their failure to reservations rather than their own inabilities. But that is another matter.

I have been thinking of what the Minister is saying. I believe that the move comes out of a cynical, political calculation. The BJP think tank evidently thinks that this will help in the Uttar Pradesh elections. However, I do think that the motive makes it necessarily a wrong move.  I find myself supporting this move. Why?

  • Well, affirmative action is a political decision based on an ethical stand. Once having taken that stand, one cannot be choosy. One is either ethical or not, there are no in-betweens. Thus one either has affirmative action in government supported institutions or one does not. If all educational institutions use affirmative action in filling faculty positions, why not the IIMs and the IITs and other premier institutions? What is the big deal about these institutions? The fact that they are not world beaters in ranking is because of a combination of the metrics used in the ranking and the under investment in them; nothing to do with reservations. These institutions remain aspirational in India and that means that the ethical stand taken by the country to combat a social evil should apply to them as well.
  • The meritocracy argument, imo, is bull shit. By saying this one is demeaning every person from the underprivileged classes who has overcome the disadvantages imposed on them by society to reach a position. It is the continuing of an social-elitist position taken by the privileged who have always wanted to deny the others what they had. There is no evidence to show that most students coming in from caste / class based quotas necessarily do poorly just as there is no hard evidence that all students who come in on ‘merit’ do exceedingly well.

I have written in the past on caste based discrimination in India and how it is not going away any time soon. I have also been and continue to be a supporter of affirmative action.  So perhaps what I am saying here will not come as a surprise to anyone.

I think there is no issue in trying this out. Affirmative action in faculty appointment does not mean that the world will come to an end. It just means that a new, more-just world may emerge. That may trouble some people who are used to privilege because to them, even equality would seem like discrimination. So be it.