Thursday, April 13, 2006

Quotas vs affirmative action

CAT results are out. Business Standard reports

IIM-Ahmedabad has offered 273 seats for its Post Graduate Programme (PGP) in Management and PGP in Agri Business Management (ABM). Of these, 48 are girls, 57 belong to the SC/ST and six are physically challenged students.

Wonder if such detailed details were given out by the institute in previous years. I think the statistics are quite heartening. IIM A has come close to fulfilling the 22.5% SC/ ST reservation with 20.5% of seats offered going to such candidates.

(Although I'd like to know how many of the SC/ STs are first generation college goers and how many fall under the 'creamy layer' - which, incidentally does not apply to SC/ STs. Because I think such information is required to help provide a direction to the ongoing reservations debate).

Another point is that while the sheer number of girls has increased to 48, in % terms it's not much different from what it was when I studied there. 17.5% of offers to IIM A's class of 2008 were made to girls.

The class of 1993 had 16.66% girls ie 30 of a class of 180. However, this was twice as many as the class of 1992. So, what happened?

To me, it definitely looks like some affirmative action took place the year I gave the CAT. This, I feel is much more desirable than an official quota system.

If there are two candidates who are equally good (acceptable CAT percentile, strong academic record and interview performance), you then look at other criteria. You give preference to the woman or the person from a underprivileged background, or someone who's studied English Literature, not Engineering.

Because greater diversity is desirable - it adds an extra dimension to the institution. And the 'education' it imparts.

Affirmative reaction
There was, in the initial period, a great deal of excitement and more than a little sniggering about why there were 'suddenly so many girls'. But I think our presence in increased numbers definitely made the campus a better place.

There used to be a single girls hostel. The entry of more girls necessitated a second one. Traditionally, the girls hostel was D1, which was secluded from the other hostels. We were alloted D5, which was perpendicular to D4 and the seniors gasped, "Boys will peek into our rooms" and refused to move.

So we became an all girl, all fresher hostel and I think that was in fact an advantage. We established our own rules and norms of behaviour. eg. When the boys put up silly ragmags mainly consisting of gossip about girls, we created our own counter-mag which was humourous but far more decent.

As a whole, our batch was far more active than reactive, compared to our seniors - and in this we were aided by the strength in numbers.

Since many of the girls were from non-engineering backgrounds, we brought in a different perspective to the classroom. Exposure to more bright and articulate young women did impact the boys. Grudgingly, perhaps, they did have to start giving women as a whole more respect and more credit. Which I hope made them more well rounded professionals in their subsequent careers.

Incidentally, according to the Mandal commission report all women in the country are classified as "backward". But there's no talk so far about reservations for women, And I'm glad there isn't!

Social change is a slow phenomenon and women are patient.

What Mandal actually wanted
Now of course you will argue that affirmative actions work only when a level playing field of sorts has been created. That, is exactly what Mr Mandal was apparently trying to achieve in the first place.

SS Gill was secretary, Mandal Commission and he writes in today's Indian Express

Arjun Singh’s proposal has been derisively described as Mandal-II... As the former secretary of the Commission I would like to point out how unfair various governments have been to the Commission’s recommendations.

During its discussions the Commission was fully aware that reservations were only a palliative, and 27 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs was only one of several recommendations. Briefly, other important recommendations were:
- the radical alteration in production relations through progressive land reforms;
- special educational facilities to upgrade the cultural environment of the students, with special emphasis on vocational training;
- separate coaching facilities for students aspiring to enter technical and professional institutions;
- creation of adequate facilities for improving the skills of village artisans;
- subsidised loans for setting up small-scale industries;
- setting up of a separate chain of financial and technical bodies to assist OBC enterpreneurs.

None of these measures were even casually examined by the government, and then prime minister V.P. Singh adopted the facile and populist route of issuing a one-para order conferring the boon of 27 per cent reservation on OBCs. To this day no serious effort has been made to lay the foundations of structures to enable the deprived classes which will compete with the non-reserved categories on an equal footing.

Poor Mr Mandal - unke naam par kya kya yeh politicians kar rahe hain. May his soul rest in peace!

Update: Just learnt from Manish at Sepia Mutiny that Americans are pretty cool with misusing 'quotas' too. White students are now undertaking DNA tests to prove they 2-3% black or Native American ancestry so they can claim to be minorities during college admissions. He quotes NYT:

Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights… Americans of every shade are staking a DNA claim to Indian scholarships, health services and casino money… “It’s about access to money and power…”

“If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven’t experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy…” Ashley Klett’s younger sister marked the “Asian” box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European… she did get into the college of her choice. “And they gave her a scholarship…”

Stupid college, I say! Or, were they just being hypocrites and playing along.. ? As in if we admit these 'fake minorities' we can be saved the trouble of letting in the real ones? Your guess is as good as mine.


  1. hey..rashmi..can there b any solution to these reservations..? esp. whn education is bieng provided n such a high level and prestigious institutes of india. my point is tht if government wants to help backward classes then why don't they hepl them n grass root level of education..government can lower down the fees for them and even for purchasing forms but why is government offering seats..only desdrving candidates should b allowed to study n such institutes...
    i too have suffeered for this coz i was a medical aspirant but the no. of seats were limited n my state(jharkhand) where ST/SC have 50% reservation..

  2. Hey Rashmi , as this is my first comment for ur blog i must say that this is perhaps one of the most inormative blogs i ve been to.Gr8 stuff.
    I think that this reservation of minority is not justified at all.Esp lookin at the facts tht most of it's advantage is taken by the family of people already at high status nd position.The purpose ny reservation is done is not being met so a revision on reservation shd b done nd not to increase it.It ll increase the problem manyfold.Also by puttin in more effort for SC/ST nd OBC in primary schoolin structure shd b there.
    nyways Holla back at my blog if ya have time
    tc Adios

  3. TOOK the CAT rashmi...not GAVE it...have written to you before...abt the same thing! common dude...i love reading ur stuff...and expect nothing but perfection from ur blog. i apologize fer being such a stick in d mud...but have a heart for one of your regular readers!

  4. arre bhai are we having a sort of race where we are running "forward to be backward" ...

  5. I don't know much about IIMs, but the government will have little problem implementing quotas for women in IITs. Apparently, the government will be "supported" by the students in IITs. A large majority of students here feel that IITs need more girls and the criteria for getting in should be to not have any merit.

  6. Interesting insight. However I believe that reservation of any sort is immoral. If history or the developed world or even the developing nations in SE Asia/Korea etc is any guide, economic progress leads to social reforms not the other way around. You can not put the cart ahead of the horse.

    Please read my blog, it is not work safe:

  7. My take -

  8. hey rashmi..m not a avid blogger..but felt i shd express my angst at the quota tht this government is planning to introduce....its been almost 50 years..and honestly i dunt see any advancement for the backward classes..and no wonder...coz all tht quota does is to stagnate their intellect...its as if the govt is trying to say...u aint capable of getting in these institutes by way of take the back door..if the govt so wants to make them benefit...give thm an oppurtunity to work on equal footing....let thm score in CAT...and if they do...thn let the govt sponsor evrything from their stay to their books..but pls dunt tell thm u can get in coz ur seats are reserved...absolutely disgusting....

  9. Dear Rashmi,we all know about the quality & standard of IIMs in our country and they are our pride whom big foreign companies are ready to pay Rs.1 corer due to their capability.Do you think the same would be maintained when quota candidates majority will be in the IIMs.Will they able to compete in the campus.Terrible,these Indian politicians can do anything for their vote bank.

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