Sorry Prof. Parthasarthy, you got it all wrong!

Dr. Parthasarathy, a sociology professor in IITB (the link again due to sudeepks on Sulekha, and I don’t vouch for the authenticity) posted a write-up on reservations in IITB’s discussion forum, it seems. Disappointing then, as being alumnus of that institute, I have high respects for the quality of its teachers. Well, when one become a bleeding liberal, though the first thing that happens is you start losing focus… It doesn’t matter if you’re an IITian prof.

The first thing to be aware of is that de facto and de jure reservation is accepted is and practiced by all societies in many different ways, most of which are not opposed at all, since they benefit especially the rich and middle classes.

Starting on a wrong foot! One — two wrongs don’t make a right. Two — as we’ll see, they’re opposed — some of them at least.

One example is inheritance rights. Going by the logic of anti-reservationists that merit alone and not accident of birth should be the criteria for seats or positions, one can ask why a son (or rarely a daughter) should get the property of a parent when the parent dies. Should not the merit of candidates be assessed before passing on the property?

Well, spoken like a typical statist. Individual property is not state’s to dispose of. Someone earned it, and wanted to decide what’s to be done with it (through will, generally). If there is no will, there have to be arbitrage — that’s when inheritance comes into picture. Jobs are not not individual property.

Some of the great thinkers of the last couple of centuries including Mahatma Gandhi have opposed inheritance rights on the ground that it rewards those who are not necessarily the most deserving. How many of those opposing reservations speak out against inheritance rights?

Inheritance rights are the only protection a person has got (the original property accumulator) that mobs won’t kill him for property. There is no right to life without right to property. In any case, the property rights have been a subject of intense debate themselves, and have been questioned, reverted, re-established time and again. So the claim that they’re not contested is a false on to say the least.

Even if one accepts right to inheritance, why should property be reserved only for sons and not daughters as happens in reality in most families in India. Is it that sons have no merit and cannot fend for themselves and therefore need the property, but daughters don’t since they have more merit?

Bleeding heart! The civil law already holds sons and daughters as equal entities for inheritance. Yes, the patriarchal society has tried to sustain itself through injustice toward the women, but that’s what it is. Injustice! And it is also questioned time and again.

How many of those opposing reservations speak out against business and management inheritance?

This is like asking, why does a mother give meals only to her children and not do a merit analysis? A business empire is not created out of thin air. Someone‘s vision creates it, sustains it. That person has a right to close it, sell it or hand-it-over to whom-so-ever he sees fit. It’s the socialistic invasion of intellectual realms that has created these so-called contradictions. Yes, it is not in the best interest of the society to hand-over a successful business to incompetent successor, but such common-good is short term. It’s the desire to leave for one’s progeny one’s wealth, making their life easier, that propels people to engage in commerce. Otherwise, socialism would have been a runaway success.

How is it that fairly young family members are pushed to the top whereas those who have worked for a company and proved their talents over a long time never get the top positions? Mr.Bajaj asked for a level playing field when it comes to competition from MNCs, but doesn’t believe in a level playing field when it comes to the underprivileged! Mr.Bajaj should justify to his shareholders why the CEO position is reserved for his son, before he retires and starts a movement against reservations, which he has reportedly stated.

Talking of justification, it’s the government that needs to justify what right they have to fiddle in the private sector’s functioning to start with?

Many companies including some top ones are biased in their recruitment. Mr.Dhoot of Videocon publicly stated that his company does not take women at the executive level. (This is against the Indian constitution by the way). How can you speak out against reservations when you exclude some groups and reserve positions for others.

Well, I abhor Mr. Dhoot’s policies, and would rather not buy videocon products. But he at least puts his money where his mouth is. On the other hand, the government wants to put their mouth where other’s money is! In any case, no one is opposing a level playing field… This whole strawman argument just wants to take the focus away from the central point of conflict: will reservations provide level-playing-fields? No one, will oppose a PIL against Videocon for it’s recruitment policy! No one is defending that as good. But one extreme example doesn’t prove a wide-spread bias in private-sector recruitment… (refer to my thorough analysis of this point in Caste-o-cracy.)

If you do an informal survey, it is easy to find out how many big companies have senior staff belonging to members of the company owner or major shareholder or founder’s caste, community, gender, region, linguistic group. The Birlas do not permit women family members to work in group companies. One could go on and on with examples. Contrast all this with companies, government agencies, and universities in the US who in their advertisements put in a special line: “Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply”.

Why informal? Do a formal survey! And we’re all for removal of biases. We’re against institutionalization of further biases as a anti-dote to those biases. As it is, people of all castes are victims of these biases. This reverse-discrimination would double victimize them.

Bias enters in other ways too. Many software companies recruit new employees by asking existing employees to recommend new ones. So they contact people in their networks. Two ongoing studies by sociologists show that this leads to concentration of people from similar background in terms of gender, caste, and community within companies.

This is utter rubbish argument. Companies turn to personal recommendation (even give bonuses for it) because they cannot get them through other sources, or the cost of other recruitment drives are too much. Any ad in paper fetches thousands of resumes, just scanning them is a Herculean task. Referrals, on the other hand, have a good hit ratio, as the employee knows he cannot refer absolutely incompetent people. Many referral candidates are routinely rejected. This is business sense that we’re talking about not biases!

I have heard from many management graduates from premium institutes in India that large corporates and MNCs in India prefer candidates who may not be very good but who come from influential families, so that they can get their jobs done using their contacts and networks. What happens to the candidates with merit? And yet these very corporates oppose reservations in the name of merit!

Again, the straw-man! Yes, we’re not living in a perfect world! Yes, there are shady practices going on. How does this justify reservations? What happens to those non-influential (and so called upper-caste) meritorious persons in this new scheme? More of the pie is now inaccessible to them! Is this social justice?

A fourth example is in the field of education where there is reservation on the basis of ability to pay, which no one opposes. There are hundreds of private professional colleges where you may have very good marks but can’t get in because you can’t afford to pay. My own brother many years ago had to settle for a branch he did not want in a government run engineering college rather than a preferred branch in private college, because we couldn’t afford the capitation fees. How many of the anti-reservationists oppose this?

Ditto?

The issue therefore is that there are already schemes of reservation operating in society, which favor those who are more privileged.

Yes! And we don’t need more of those schemes!

There would be little or no need for reservations in the public or private sector if these other schemes were non-existent, which is how it is in many economically developed countries.

Gross non-sequitur. Plus, developed countries do not have problems of scare resources, huge populations. In any case, caste-based-reservations do not solve any of these problems. They’ll, I’ll repeat, double harm the people who are of certain castes.

If positions or seats went to those who had the best ability or skill, then there would be more equity in society. But that is not the way things happen.

Not entirely true. And if partly true, does it mean we should worsen it? How much equitable society has turned in last fifty years of educational and public sector quotas? The legacy is complacency, incompetence and a complete degeneration of politics.

This is not what happens in western countries. Why is it that even factory workers, construction workers, or s municipal cleaners can afford to educate their children and even own a car in these countries? Because these societies realize the importance of dignity of labor, that minimum wages are to be given to every worker for society to progress; whereas in our case, a vast majority do not even get enough for self-subsistence, and we justify it by arbitrarily imposing different values on different skills.

More gross non-sequitur… Western countries do not have the problems of huge populations, colonial history of loot, legacy of a faulty educational system created for babus, and hazaar such problems. Yes, they are problems for India, and they need to be tackled. Caste-based-reservations won’t change any of those. They’ll worsen them, by creating more inequalities, and will buy governments more time to ignore the basic problems facing the Indian society. The medicine, is worse than the disease!

PS: The author accept in the end that The policy is essentially a sop, doesn’t change things much, but keeps certain groups happy but is comes too late, and too lame. It’s like a lip service to the opposite camp. Consider this also, My objective in writing all this is not so much to provoke a debate, as to help you make an informed statement next time you support or oppose reservations. After pages after pages of data that tries to justify reservations, and virtually nothing that questions it, how does one make an informed statement? Afterall, where is the other side? The refusal to debate makes it worse. It’s like, hey, I’m a sociologist, you’re kids, I told you the facts, now go away and make your informed decisions. More is expected from professors from elite (couldn’t resist that one!) schools.

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