Thursday, May 25, 2006

Snippets heard from various places on the 49.5% "reservations"...(More here, here and the creamy layer argument)

1. This is not going to help the populations it claims to address
2. This will dilute the quality of India's manpower
3. Our USP is our intellectual capital, it's quite disgusting that we're giving it away in the course of our political games
4. What is the point of our being secular?
5. Quota should be based on economics, not caste
6. We need a party for the middle-class now!

I will not bother collating the various sources these have come from, google the issue and these or versions thereof will turn up in high frequency. A response would necessarily have to be a thesis comprising the origins and political upheavals that have accompanied the rhetoric and practice of affirmative action in India from Ambedkar to V.P.Singh and the Mandal Commission, to now. Not to mention the regional stances and politicization of the issue, i.e states where high quotas already exist, Tamil Nadu and of late, Andhra Pradesh being cases in point.

P.V.Indiresan, former Director of IIT, Madras calls it an addiction and not a remedy, also creates his own picture of the poor, forward caste child losing out to the rich, backward caste one. This is an argument that has often been made against affirmative action in India, that it does not help the most disempowered classes and instead creates further class divides among the SCs, STs and OBCs. But nevertheless, is that reason enough to posit a newly inverted relationship between caste and class? Also, most protests that I see are coming from the IITs, IIMs and students, of course. Also businessmen and corporate voices in the fray. Here's an exception ...what's Shiv Khera got to say?

An answer or reaction, of course, cannot be one way or the other...even though politics demands a vote.

My questions are these and most as you will see are rhetorical...and some too deconstructive and theoretical to be of immediate import.

1) Is this a political move?

Absolutely. A bill that seeks to affirmatively affect an ambiguously yet astutely nominated sector of the population is clearly not about them. Caste structures do not uniformly confirm to class brackets, variations across regions matter too.

2) Why has this issue come about at this particular time?
Let me not tout the opportunism line as the no-brainer answer. Rather, I think there is a way in which I will follow (ironically albeit) my mother's "nazar lag gayee/ kanna pattooduthu/ evil eye" framework. Or to put it in a simpler fashion, why the hue and cry from corporate India? More than the students, who clearly see something that they have stake in being negotiated, modified and I would agree, unfairly legislated (read unfairness as the lack of any larger dialogue and the lathi charges on protesting students) it strikes me that the corporate voices embody a certain middle/ upper-class hysteria at the resurgence of the state. I also read the state's resurgence as a way of staking power in the most overt manner possible, even as it continues to woo capital and celebrate outsourcing. I am reminded of Chakrabarty's discussion of alternative modernity, politicians and khadi. To give a short synopsis, Dipesh Chakrabarty takes the figure of the politician in khadi seriously and instead of reading it as the most obvious form of hyprocrisy, uses it to confront the idea of what it means to be modern in postcolonial India [1].

3) Last, but not the least, are the terms of debate instructive?
Affirmative action versus Real affirmative action
Caste versus Socio-economic conditions
Equal distribution versus India's growth and status on the world map
See something happening here?
The untenability of both/and should be indication enough...
My hunch would be to ask why the IITs, IIMS and AIIMSs?
What is specific to these that cannot be separated from this neoliberal moment?
Why does this follow in the wake of "India Everywhere" at the World Economic Forum?
Nazar lag gayee? Or is it a peculiar haunting of an incomplete milieu?

On a parallel note, Arjun Singh also ratified a decision by the Executive Council of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for a 50% reservation to Muslims in 36 PG courses there. AMU is a minority institution and has an explicit mandate as per the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, 1981, to “promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India”. Others claim, that this is in denial of section (8) of the same act that categorically says that admission to students should be given irrespective of religious considerations. The decision has been questioned by about 65 teachers from the university itself, which includes noted historian Professor Irfan Habib. It is for the first time that reservation on the basis of religion is being given in the history of Aligarh Muslim University since its inception in 1920. More here and here.

The much larger question here then is the state and its relation to education and the multiple ways and sites on which we have seen recent struggles (textbooks, teacher salaries, reservations)...this requires a much larger and more astute genealogy than my random ramblings...

[1] Chakrabarty, D. (2002). Habitations of modernity : essays in the wake of subaltern studies. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

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