. . . . . . "Dalit Solidarity News" is an information project run by the International Dalit Solidarity Network. News stories are extracts from online newsservices. Link to the full story is found at the end of each blog. Visit the International Dalit Solidarity Network at www.idsn.org

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Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Thursday, May 18, 2006  
We need quotas

Times of India
18 May 2006

Bhalchandra Mungekar

The attack by elites and the corporate sector against the proposed quotas for OBCs in the IITs, IIMs and central universities, and reservation in the private sector for SCs and STs is deplorable though predictable. They condemn the proposals on the ground that quotas would jeopardise merit and efficiency, which are the two main planks of a globalised and competitive economy.

It is distressing that the defenders of merit forget that they are condemning nearly 80 per cent of the country's population as non-meritorious, inefficient and unworthy of occupying a due space in the overall structure of entitlements.

The ongoing debate on merit versus quotas not only defies objectivity, but also common sense. To consider merit in a mechanical manner in a society like India, which is governed by an unequal opportunity structure resul-ting from a highly skewed distribution of social, economic, educational and cultural entitlements, is indefensible.

Caste still governs life in this country. If merit is to be construed in a purely secular manner, and not be judged in the context of caste background, why is it that the elite never questions caste-based exclusion and discrimination?

Our academic community spends time in analysing and describing caste rather than arguing that caste is the greatest monster in the way of progress. Let us take only one facet of this glaring inequality.

In 2002-03, the drop-out rate for general category students up to class V, class VIII and class X was 34.89, 52.79, and 62.59 per cent respectively. But for SCs, the figures were 41.47, 59.93, and 71.92 per cent respectively; while for STs they were 51.37, 68.67, and 80.29 per cent respectively.

This kind of inequality prevails virtually across all socio-economic indicators. Are we so naive to demand exactly the same level of merit from SC/ST boys and girls condemned to live in deplorable conditions and a small minority?

So far as admission to engineering, medicine and other professional courses are concerned, at the entry level there is virtually no difference between marks obtained by general category and OBC students. SC/ST/OBC students have to take the same tests and examinations.

Given the opportunities, they have proved their merit. Assuming that there was no reservation for SCs/STs/OBCs, would it have been possible for them to reach where they are today?

Even after creating some quotas in both education and employment, hundreds of posts remain vacant as no suitable candidates are available from these categories. Sometimes, due to deeply rooted prejudices, even suitable candidates are not considered fit.

Affirmative action in one form or the other is a universal phenomenon. For instance, the US has used two instruments to provide protection against discri-mination and also to give fair access and equal opportunities to African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, the mino-rities get legal protection against discrimination in employment. The US also has policies to provide fair access to minorities in government contracts in employment and admission to educational institutions.

Besides, the private sector adopts voluntary measures to ensure fair participation of minorities. Since there is no evidence to show that SCs, STs and OBCs are inefficient, arguments of merit and efficiency do not hold much water.

It is essentially a conflict of interests. On the one hand, a small elite class is fighting to perpetuate its mono-poly; on the other, vast sections of society are aspiring for a legiti-mate share in these privileges. In a highly inegalitarian society like India, protective policies are unavoidable for inclusive development.
The only substitute to quotas and reser-vations is to create a more egali-tarian social order guaranteeing equal opportunities to all and, simultaneously, to fight against all sources of inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

The writer is a member, Planning Commission. Views expressed are personal.

Link to the article

12:48 PM

Wednesday, May 17, 2006  
Violence feared in Indian caste row

The Guardian
17 May 2006
Government stands firm on university quotas· Patients turned away after protests hit hospitals

Randeep Ramesh in New Delhi

The spectre of violent anti-caste demonstrations loomed over India last night after the government vowed to press ahead with plans to reserve almost 50% of seats in colleges and universities for lower-caste and other disadvantaged Indians.

After four days of street demonstrations that have halted work at many of the country's hospitals and led to clashes with police, the Indian education minister, Arjun Singh, ruled out withdrawing the proposal. The protesters said they would not stop until the government relented.

The government said it was merely implementing a constitutional amendment, which aims to reserve a quota of seats to untouchables, tribals and "backward classes" in higher education institutions. At present 22.5% of all places at India's universities are guaranteed for indigenous peoples and dalits, or untouchables, found at the bottom of the Hindu caste ladder. The government wants to extend this scheme to secure seats for the remaining "backward" sections of society, who make up 27% of the country's 1 billion people.

The debate over the affirmative action programme has bitterly divided the country, with students at many elite Indian colleges complaining that such a move would lower the quality of the student body by admitting the academically less qualified at the expense of clever applicants.

At Delhi's prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences more than 100 medical students are on hunger strike and all but the most urgent cases have been turned away from the hospital.
"We feel very strongly that the student intake should be based on merit, not on birth," said Sajanjiv Singh, a 20-year-old medical student who is on hunger strike. "We do not even know what caste people are here, yet the politicians want to label us and use this as a factor in university admissions. It will mean fewer places for the talented."

The protests have disrupted hospital services across northern India, with the student shutdown supported by doctors. In Delhi television crews filmed babies being refused medical treatment because of a lack of staff. In Kolkata effigies of politicians were burned. Over the weekend police used water cannon and baton-charged protesters in Mumbai.
Supporters of the affirmative action scheme say India's booming economy, which is growing by 8% a year, has only entrenched the inequalities of Indian society and drastic remedies are required.

India's industry minister, Kamal Nath, told reporters over the weekend that growth needed to be "inclusive". The congress-led government is also considering laws to reserve jobs in private companies for people from disadvantaged groups.
Although the changes would affect all education institutes, the battle centres on India's best academies, which have alumni including the head of Vodafone, some of the world's best surgeons and the inventor of Hotmail. These universities are heavily subsidised by the government, which spends about £40,000 per student per year - 50 times that spent in ordinary colleges. The competition to get into the elite Indian Institute of Technology is much more intense than in Britain or the US. One in 40 of the 200,000 applicants is successful, compared with a fifth of those who apply to Cambridge University.

"The upper castes have been able to buy their way into the country's best colleges by going to private schools and learning English. They can chase dollar jobs in Silicon Valley while the poor are left to rot," said Kancha Ilaiah, professor of politics at Osmania University in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. "Quotas are a proven way of correcting historical caste discrimination."

There has been a trend in Indian politics to use positive discrimination to level social hierarchies. In the early 90s the government implemented a 27% quota in government jobs for "backward" classes in the teeth of widespread protests, resulting in the immolations and suicides of dozens of upper-caste demonstrators.

However, many argue that the time for affirmative action has passed in India. Dipankar Gupta, professor of sociology at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that as currently defined the quota system simply enables the "rural elite to get access to urban jobs". Prof Gupta points out that on the rating scale devised by the government, factors such as whether a person works in the fields or whether a community feels other castes resent it are rated to be three times more important than a group's poverty level. Such factors are also one and half times more important than if a community sends its children to school.

"Being a member of a backward class is not about economic or education backwardness but a perception of social status. It is a bogus way of assessing need. The only utility is a political calculation designed to attract votes. If you really wanted to help then why not improve the appalling state of primary education in India?"

Explainer: The system
The Hindu caste system defines a highly stratified society with four classes, which are best understood as being derived from a person's historical occupation. At the top are brahmins (priests), followed by kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (merchants) and sudras (farmers, peasants). Beneath these are the untouchables, or dalits. Within these are many sub-castes.

The leaders of newly independent India attempted to correct the thousands of years of caste discrimination and wrote into the constitution a clause which allotted a minimum representation for certain communities. That was supposed to help the most discriminated against in Indian society: tribals and dalits.

The affirmative action scheme was supposed to last a few decades but instead of being repealed it has been extended. Many state governments have already implemented wide-scale reservations in education. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is the country's most urbanised region, 69% of all jobs in the administration and places at state-run universities are guaranteed by caste. Muslims are included in the affirmative action scheme. More than 10% of government jobs in Kerala are reserved for Muslims.

Link to the article

11:40 AM

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