Finally, the first sensible proposal from the government on the reservations issue. The Sunday Express reports:
The PMO has come up with a unique proposal... the government will identify the top 1000 OBC and SC/ ST students from the merit list of the Joint Entrance Exam who did not make it to IITs.
These students will be invited to undergo a one-year 'specialised training' programme to bring them on par with general category students. While the centre will fund the infrastucture of these training colleges, the private sector will pay a cess of Rs 100,000 as vouchers for these institutions...
Even general category students can get training in these specialised colleges but they will have to pay tuition fees...
Point to be noted is that IITs already have a preparatory course . A bit about how this came into being. Reservations for SCs and STs were first introduced in IITs in 1973
When this was done as per the Chandy Committee recommendations (1972), which specified that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes be taken into IITs 'down to the zero mark at the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)' (31), the results were 'disastrous'. Most of the first batch of dalit and adivasi students found it extremely difficult to cope at the IIT and were failed or forced to drop out.
Hence, 'the system of a two-thirds cut-off point at the JEE as the more reasonable alternative' was suggested in 1977. 'In 1978 all the IITs adopted the system which continues to be used till today' (32).
A preparatory course was introduced in 1983...
As the seats for the SC/ST students are often unfilled because adequate number of students from these categories do not qualify JEE with relaxed norms, a further relaxation of JEE norm is made to select students for a one year Preparatory Course. On passing the course successfully, the students are admitted to the First year of B.Tech./M.Sc... All students in the Preparatory Course are eligible for free messing in the hostels and receive a pocket allowance of Rs 70/- per month.
IIT Madras takes 30-40 students under this scheme every year , while IIT Bombay had about 53 students (29 SC and 24 SC) in preparatory courses in the year 2002.
In fact at the 2002 convocation, it was noted that for the first time in the history of IIT Bombay, a Preparatory Course Student - Mr. Chinmay Karsandas Patel who joined the course in 1997, had been awarded the silver medal on graduating from the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
That says something about what a preparatory course, combined with the individual's willpower and desire to excel can achieve.
Sadly, some who speak on behalf of dalits choose to see this differently.
In 1983, the Preparatory Course was conceived, thus further blocking the prospects of dalits/adivasis.
Ambedkar.org quote a study "Equality Through Reservations", by Viney Kirpal and Meenakshi Gupta based on data collected from IIT students belonging to batches beginning 1989 to 1992.
Students who score below the two-third JEE cut-off point and "x" marks are assigned to the Preparatory Course where they are given one year's rigorous training. On obtaining a certain percentage of marks in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and English at the end of the year, they are registered for the First year of BTech, failing which they are asked to leave so that they may join some other college.
The SC/ST students may pass the programme with a reduced number of credits, i.e., 22 credits per semester as compared to 28 credits for the GE students. Nonetheless, to earn the BTech degree, they have to complete the total number of credits common for all (categories of students).
The unique aspect of reservations in IITs is the total absence of compromised standards (such as grace marks awarded to SC and ST students). The concessions offered end with the reduced cut-off point at entry, the reduced course load during the semester and the six years (against the five for GE students) to complete the four-year BTech programme. The degree awarded is on a par with the GE students...
Ambedkar.org conclude:"The authors, while admittedly concerned with how best the disprivileged students can 'integrate' with the 'mainstream' at IIT, are not even alive to the inherent discrimination wrought into the idea of a prep course..."
A strange, very strange attitude.
The "Equality through Reservations" study found that 75% of students in the preparatory course found it to be helpful. However, I could not find statistics on how many students actually passed the course and got admitted to IIT.
Despite these efforts, 50% of seats reserved for SCs/STs remain empty.
Is a scale-up possible?
So now, the government wishes to give 1000 OBC/ SC/ ST students intensive training for one year. The objective is laudable. But the real achievement would be if these students are actually able to enter IIT at par with the others.
ie. After one year, they take JEE again and get in through their own merit. Without fulfilling a numerical quota or reservation of any kind.
Challenging? Like hell. But that should be the ultimate goal.
At the end of the day, what is merit?
a) Strong basic foundation
b) Conducive environment
c) Will to succeed
Of course, one year may certainly not be enough. A better way would be to take very bright backward students - identified through some scheme similar to National Talent Search. Then, given the right learning environment over 2-4 years and their own desire to succeed, there is no reason they should require a relaxation in norms at entry or exit level.
In the longer run, of course, there is no substitute to raising the standard of government schooling as well as access to private education. As a stark statistic from NGO Pratham's rural study in 28 states and UTs reveals.
93.4 % of children between age 6-14 are enrolled in school. 41% in 7-14 age group cannot do either 2 digit subtraction or division (3 digit by 1 digit)
In this scenario, finding students who have been able to build a strong foundation -despite the school system - is like searching for an investor making money in the current stock market. Of course, such dudes exist. But they're the exceptions, strong enough to swim against the tide!
Back to basics
Now all of the above makes sense if the people for whom extra efforts and/ or concessions are being made are truly backward. Reality Check India however tells us otherwise. This blog has really delved deep into the 'OBC' tangle. I quote here a few of the facts presented which speak for themselves. (quotes in brackets are mine)
Even 16 years after the Mandal Commissions recommendations, Tamil Nadu has not even taken steps to identify the creamy layer.(So why should we believe it will happen at a national level?)
Reservation has taken a totally new meaning here, it is no longer (was it ever) about social justice... It is now about demanding as a birthright a cut of medical seats based on caste. (I just learnt that even Vaishyas - or banias - are considered backward in TN!)
A very significant percentage of medical students are second or third generation doctors from OBC communities.
A totally broken system is currently in place. The current system is totally political in nature, for example ALL Christians and Muslims in TN, AP are considered backward.
So we should not be surprised by this Asian Age report
Dr Ramadoss (Union Health Minister) opposed the introduction of a "creamy layer" in reservation for OBCs in elite educational institutions. "There is no mention of creamy layer in the Constitution and we follow the law of the land," he told a private TV channel.
Dr Anbumani himself is the son of a doctor and in Tamil Nadu his son too will be eligible for the quota.
Reality Check goes on to note:
This is the problem with the system ! Different people have different views about the quota system. For many the quota system has nothing to do with social justice at all, it is just a mechanism of preferential treatment. They cannot understand why a high economic and living standard should be a basis for losing that preferential treatment.
Ah, but the rest of India can't understand how anyone can justify something like that! What the striking doctors are demanding is absolutely right. A non-political panel must be set up to review the idea of reservations. Who is 'deserving', who has benefitted so far and how the problem it set out to address can be tackled through alternative solutions.
There must be a time frame to phase out reservations... first for specific communities and then for the country as a whole.
And to actually clamour for reservation - even if you're not backward?That should be as socially unacceptable and sick as asking to be admitted under the physically handicapped category because you got a shoebite from a state of the art Nike sneaker.