Caste Away Reservation

The term reservation provokes a certain (meaning confirmed) discomfort. People hardly understand the purpose of reservation (they believe it is to uplift the poor/SC/ST) and almost absolutely convinced it is not working (that it has not uplifted the poor/SC/ST in 60 yrs). If they are beleaguered caste-hindu students they have instantaneous alternate solutions. Primary Education, Population Control, Economic assistance, Corruption Control, Political Will. The list is not long, but the items on the list are ambiguous and impossible as policy matter to say the least. But if they are the likes of Narayan Murthy, they could afford to experiment. His brainchild, the Special Training Programme, read it on India Today.

His experiment is not as charitable or ingenious as it reads.

“I wanted a scheme that did not diminish the confidence of these youngsters in this highly-competitive industry, while ensuring fairness to the companies whose revenues came primarily from developed countries and whose customers did not appreciate the social problems of our country.”

The objective of the experiment was to obstruct reservation in private sector under the presumption that it would deter the competitive edge of Indian companies, whereas Companies, Institutions worldwide are claiming to be ‘equal opportunity employer’-precisely meaning they prefer positive discrimination (on the basis of gender/ethnicity/physical disability).

Lets examine this experiment objectively.

To sum up, investment is Rs. one crore,100 laptops, classroom (and probably hostel) facilities, Teachers from IIIT-Bangalore and Inforsys willing to spend as much time the students need, stretched over seven month duration. 84 out of 89 successful. Grand success! The rider was that, should the experiment succeed subsequent STPs have be funded by social welfare agencies. Isn’t it a fine idea to escape from the clutches of government named ‘private sector reservation’ with roughly about Rs. 1 crore and in seven months? His ostensible STP to provide employment opportunity for 89 candidates comes at a cost of thousands others.

If it was such a fine idea, why shouldn’t be it obligatory for companies to have such programmes and absorb the job aspirants, upon successful completion? The idea that the trainees undergo ‘exactly same recruitment procedure’ may very well mean what Mr. Murthy argues, but it could also suggest the non-committal approach to social justice since giving special training and absorbing the candidates in the workforce would be very similar to affirmative action adopted by various MNCs, thus offsetting a trend loosely similar to ‘reservation’.

There are bigger issues involved though. It is not clear the trainees were allowed to mention of the STP in the ‘exactly same recruitment procedure’ and the recruiter were aware of such programme. I am not questioning the competitive edge earned by the trainees during the STP, but Mr. Murthy didn’t even mention the possibility of discrimination by the recruiters. While he puts the responsibility squarely on the unpreparedness of the students, and reservation, whereas several studies have shown inherent discrimination in private sector. (EPW oct. 2007, I guess).

But there are more to be learned from Mr Murthy’s experiment.

Would STP be a success, if it didn’t have that committed faculty members? Shouldn’t it draw our attention to the fact that faculty need to be sensitized and made more approachable so that reservation category students use the course duration to level off the playing field. No institution has that mechanism, or training process of the faculty members.

I am not sure what the method was adopted by the Karnataka Govt. to select the candidates. I guess it would be the meritorious but still unemployed engineering graduates, below a particular parental annual income within SC/ST which means the candidates were bright students themselves. If it was a degree journalism or doctorate in international banking, I won’t suggest that. But Karnataka has tens of thousands of engineering seats and I am sure 89 SC/ST students out of them would be very bright. I believe it would be much better for their confidence if everything that STP provided was available in their alma mater. Completing degree and then undergoing special training hoping to compete with other graduates without any training doesn’t sound much like a confidence-boosting exercise. Shouldn’t someone who thinks reservation permanently damages psych young peoples thought of this?

Mr. Murthy sounds to me like my ill-informed caste-Hindu friends who believe success of reservation policy should be stand-alone. Reason for their opposition is acutely selfish, but they project as if they were concerned of well-being of the SC/STs. Everything they suggest could aid and improve reservation ensuring fairer and better results, but they would insist to circumvent reservation. Their mythical assumption reinforces discrimination. For example, reservation permanently damages the psych of young people. Really? Are you just guessing from your experience or referring to some empirical study Mr. Murthy? How did then 84 out of 89 trainees of your could be successful in mere seven month.

In short, Mr. Murthy successfully absolved the private sector from any social justice responsibility. Instead he has suggested the government to do the same thing, which it has been doing. Government already has actually free and neglected coaching centers for SC/ST students for various competitive exams including UPSC, and it would probably start something along similar line for ‘job preparedness’ in private sector without Mr. Murthy’s ‘brilliant’ idea. Now the economy is affected by global recession and all focus on terrorism, the issue is buried deep.

Well, congratulations Mr. Murthy.

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