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Why merit matters

IIT Madras student S Shankar Prasad speaks out against reservation

A week back, I was a part of team which conducted an event called “how things work” in our departmental techfest, Mechanica, in IIT Madras. Being a relatively small techfest, the participation was not too high from outside institutions. With over 70% of participating teams from the home college, it was hardly a surprise that most of the teams selected to appear in the finals were from IIT Madras.

Some of us wondered if we should reserve 2 out of 8 places in the finals for teams from other colleges. I opposed this stating that any form of reservation deserves to be scrapped. The suggestion was immediately taken back and we had the eight best teams participating in the finals.

The current attention of the media is focused on the reservation of seats to OBCs in IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and many other respected educational institutions in the country. Clearly, this is a political gimmick to gather more votes for the upcoming legislative assembly elections in several states.

The rationale
All of us know that reservation to SC and ST was given right after its Independence. It is also a known that BR Ambedkar himself suggested that the reservation be withdrawn after about ten-fifteen years. The introduction of reservation was to kick start the development of the socially oppressed. The intention was perfect. The execution may not have been very pleasing, but should have seen a partial success. A significant number of families must have been able on stand on their feet back then.

Today, it’s a different story. It is a fact the creamy layer reaps all the benefits from the system. The deserving ones are, more often than not, left behind. Most of the students who get in IIT are those who have been to coaching classes, and belong to average middle class families. SC/STs are not exceptions.

The year I got through JEE, the 9th ranker in reserved category was 1900th rank in general category. That was when I felt that reservation was “justice denied” to hundreds of deserving candidates. It is also seen that most unsuccessful students (academically) in IIT Madras are those who have come through reservation. There are exceptions, but only a handful.

I have read in a newspaper that among reserved class, ranks are only given to those who have secured atleast 75% of the cut-off marks in the general merit list. Others are admitted to Preperatory Course (PC) which is of one year duration. The following year, based on ranks obtained in their respective class, they are admitted to different braches B-Tech (or dual degree). It is known that once you are in PC, you are not turned down a seat in the following year.

As such, there is NO resentment towards reserved category students, but there is towards the rules laid down by the institute. For instance, reserved students are allowed to take four books from library while others two. In many cases, the most needed books are absent in general section but available in plenty in reserved section. Those books are allowed only after about half a sem. is completed. (call us nerds, but this issue always comes up every time ther is disscussion on reservation)

I must admit that I know only a few of the students as ‘SC/ST’ students. I don’t know if many of my other friends belong to reserved section or not. Same is the case with other close friends of mine. This itself shows that they are not socially outcast or something. They very much form an integral part of the student community.

The issue of ‘merit’
A couple of years ago, there was debate regarding reservation in the private sector in Maharastra, I recall having seen ‘The Big Fight’ (NDTV), where supporters of reservation argued that reservation doesn’t mean a compromise in quality of professionals. Let’s get this straight. Seats are reserved for primary education – acceptable; seats are reserved for secondary (high school) education – again acceptable.

But at an under graduate or graduate level, reservation is certainly not acceptable. If they are not a compromise on merit, why are they demanding reservation even in the private sector? There is sufficient reservation in government jobs, and even there a number of their posts are unfilled because there aren’t enough qualified candidates.

Any form of reservation is a compromise on merit. When it was done 60 years ago, it was done with a purpose. With the purpose defeated, it’s all downhill from where I see it. Now, I think, it is time for SC/ST to come out and say, “We are good, we don’t need any reservation, don’t spoon-feed us.” What do you think?

Seriously, look beyond cast, creed, religion, regionalism or wardrobe malfunction….there are number of other things which demand immediate attention.

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