The Logic (?) Behind Reservations

I am amazed at the total abandon of logic, reason and consistency with the pro-reservation arguments. Over the last few days, despite my resolve not to come back to the subject again, I kept coming across gratuitous arguments made in support of the (private sector) reservations.

On Sulekha blogs, sudeepks posted a blog A case for reservation in private sector recently. He didn’t add anything of his own, but quoted from R. Jagannathan’s guest column on Rediff : Why there should be job reservation

So let’s look at the points raised therein:

“For the corporate recruiter, merit should merely mean competence — the ability to do a job well. It is not ultimately about marks and academic brilliance…”

First, it’s for companies to decide what competency means for them.

It is easy to say that affirmative action should begin with education, but the problem is that our education system is seriously flawed — even for the upper classes.

It should not take 17-19 years of school and college to learn the basic competencies needed for most jobs, but unfortunately that is what the Indian school system is all about. It is an elaborate scheme to keep the better-off sections away from the job market as long as possible. Dalits can’t afford this merry-go-round.

Splendid! So now the failure of government’s long stint in education is somehow to be used as an excuse to allow them to force private sectors to bring in the so called affirmative action. If Dalits can’t afford this merry-go-round, how come most other lower-middle class upper-castes can afford it? And why are they out of this affirmative action?

If the economics of education is so adverse even for people who can afford it, why suggest the same for those who can’t? Dalits simply don’t have the money or the time to waste on this kind of ‘education.’

The typical illogic that reservationists would imply… Who are these people who can afford (by author’s own calculation) 4-5 lakh per child on Student’s education? How do they afford it, if not by extremely focused priority — of educating their kids, at whatever hardships. Do they have that kind of money to waste on education? Really? Which country is the author talking about?

Against this backdrop, the question businessmen must ask themselves in not ‘whether’ they should be doing affirmative action, but ‘how.’

How convenient! Let me summarize — government’s education policy is a failure, dalit’s cannot waste their money on such education, so dispense off with education, and give them jobs instead. QED!

But before that it is necessary to dispel some myths about ‘merit.’ The word means different things to different people.

For the person who’s just entering the job market, merit means academic excellence. For Dalits and others who can’t wave a high-90s mark-sheet in a recruiter’s face, merit is an entry barrier erected by society to deny them a decent job.

Let’s substitute merit with some other words, say honesty.. now let me rephrase it: For the person who’s just entering the job market, hardworking means ready-to-toil. For lazy people who cannot prove their readiness to toil, a recruiter’s face, hardwork is an entry barrier erected by society to deny them a decent job. Intelligence? Is it a barrier to deny dumb people a decent job? So yes, merit is a fuzzy concept is a point well taken, but to ask companies to discard academic excellence as a metric of it is in simple words stupid! And BTW, companies look at a lot more than academic excellence.

For the corporate recruiter, merit should merely mean competence — the ability to do a job well. It is not ultimately about marks and academic brilliance.

And is it written on the face? How does a corporate recruiter gauge it?

Going by the corporate recruiter’s definition, affirmative action immediately becomes a possibility. The truth is you don’t need 17-19 years of education to do most corporate jobs competently.

Any adult, with just two or three years of targeted learning and exposure to elementary language and arithmetic skills, can do most non-specialized jobs in any office. He may not become a heart surgeon or civil engineer, but most other jobs will fall within his area of competence with just some additional training.

What about: mechanical engineers, marine engineers, lawyers, doctors, chemical engineers, architects, financial advisors, CAs, Teachers …? What about those who are out there trying to make themselves competent for the industry in one form or another? They should be abandoned in favor of those who despite quotas haven’t raised themselves to the level — which according to the author should not take more than 2-3 years!

On the other hand, competence and job success depend not so much on the initial fund of knowledge one acquires in school but on the willingness to learn and determination to succeed.

And Monsieur, is it stamped on the faces?

Today, most companies prefer to employ women in many areas not because they bring great new skills (though there is some of that as well), but because they bring in better attitudes and a will to succeed.

Well these better attitudes are over and above the minimum competency criteria. Prey tell me, do they employ incompetent (academic excellence and other selection criteria) women these days!

As a general rule, the disadvantaged always bring a greater determination to succeed than the rest. Applying the same logic to Dalits and minorities, I believe they will bring a greater motivation to succeed against the odds.

To tell you the truth, yes, disadvantaged always bring in a greater determination to succeed. Like those poor-to-middle-class upper-caste kids who are guaranteed no quotas, and have to miss their tryst with dreams because of couple of marks. It’s they that the reservationists betray. And for what? A caste based social-justice?

The corporate sector should, therefore, work on a new agenda for affirmative action. The first thing to do is an internal audit — two of them, in fact. One should check how many members of the poorer sections they are actually employing, and at what levels.

The other audit will involve assessing jobs where the skills/knowledge needed can be easily imparted to anyone

So far so good.

Two, based on the above audits, companies need to earmark an HR budget for making investments in identifying and training people from the target groups of Dalits and other backward castes.

See the silent dropping of poor (which was there in the first audit — of any caste! So much for consistency…

Affirmative action is not about charity. It is about building workplace diversity and competitive advantage by using the innate motivations of the disadvantaged to succeed in life.

Well, those who insist merit means different things to different people, however think that disadvantaged somehow means the same thing — the dalits and the backward castes… Well, there are hundreds of metrics one could apply for this disadvantage… caste, religion, intelligence at birth, quality of parental care, place of birth (rural vs. urban), gender, aptitude and what not! Why are the reservationists obsessed with only one of them — caste?

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