Tuesday, May 30, 2006

India's Upper Castes Strike Against Affirmative Action

Some claim the caste system is alive and well in India. This was a system that created "untouchables" as we were taught in our American schools.

I don't know enough about India to really judge this. I am not sure if this is racism against lower castes or simply opposition to affirmative action. We have had this same debate in American politics and what I would consider a parallell in regards to our own minority students. Just like in America, there is a class of people who have been oppressed for generations. In response to that injustice, a system of affirmative action was created.

One could argue that affirmative action is reverse discrimination and that it prevents more qualified people from attending universities. On the reverse side of that argument is the point that there is a group of people who need a path out of poverty and because of past misdeeds society owes them.

For now I won't form an oppinion on this. I do find it ironic that these Indian students and professionals have a protectionist attitude regarding their own class, yet many Indian students and professionals want the United States to remove barriers to immigration here. I am not sure if those oppinions are mutually exclusive or if Indian professionals want protections at home while at the same time they want to remove barriers abroad. Perhaps one of my Indian readers will give me his or her perspective on this subject.


NEW DELHI, India - India's government threatened Tuesday to fire hundreds of government doctors striking to protest an affirmative action plan for low-caste Hindus and said replacements would prop up crippled medical services. ...

Along with the doctors, tens of thousands of medical students and young software programmers, engineers and bankers have protested the plan to increase places reserved for low-caste Hindus and ethnic minorities in colleges and certain professions.

On Tuesday, doctors and medical students blocked traffic in a handful of cities across India. Protesters in the western city of Ahmadabad briefly scuffled with police, while in northern Chandigarh, doctors squatted on railroad tracks before being forcibly removed. In eastern Gauhati, more than 500 medical students and interns staged a protest at the city's largest hospital but did not disrupt it.

Dozens of doctors and students also have gone on hunger strikes.

The government's plan would increase the quota for low-caste students in state-funded medical, engineering and other professional colleges from 22.5 percent to 49.5 percent.

Backers say the policy would help undo centuries of oppression and continuing discrimination. Hinduism divides people into various castes and, while the system has been officially outlawed, discrimination remains common.

Critics say the lower castes should be strengthened through education rather than an increase in the number of study and work opportunities, because many jobs and school spots already reserved for low castes remain empty.


At 11:23 PM, Blogger Prasanth said...

Indian professionals do not have a protectionalist attitude - They are opposing reservation in all forms of education, government jobs and even may eventually be imposed on private sector jobs. There is a huge difference between affirmative action as it is practiced in U.S and "reservation" as it is known here in India. Unlike affirmative action, reservation is mandatory and if a "reserved seat" is not filled then you cannot fill it with a person from the "general merit category" even if that person is well qualified to get that particular job or admission to the institution concerned.

India always has reservation in some form or other - We have 27 % reservation for so called Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (the untouchables you were referring to). Now, a new law says that another 27 % of the seats in all educational institutions (engineering medical colleges, central institutions like IIT's etc) should be reserved for so called OBC's or "Other Backward Castes". That means the number of seats will reduce drastically for the general merit category.

The bone of contention seems to be the definition of who an OBC is. It is left to each state to define which castes belong to OBC's and which castes are "forward" castes. So you may be an OBC in one state but a "forward" caste in another. Also, if you go by the broad definition of OBC's, then more than 70% of the Indian population will fall into that category.

I'm personally against reservation - it kills merit and leads to an entitlement mentality among the people in the reserved category. I'm all for reservation based on economic criteria - and not for reservation based on caste or religion.

BTW, here is an interesting anecdote - In Tamilnadu (The state I'm in), 70 % of the engineering collage seats are reserved. What that means is that if you are unfortunate enough to belong to "forward" caste, then even you get say a rank of 200 in the entrance exam, you may not get admission but a person from the reserved category with a rank of say 2000 will get through. How is that for fairness?



At 11:01 AM, Blogger R. Lawson said...

So are you saying that seats at universities are left empty in the quota is not met?

That makes no sense, if that is the case. Also the definition does seem arbitrary as it varies from state to state.

I much prefer a meritocracy. But do you think there is still an injustice (or was an injustice) done against some castes and if so what is the best way to resolve that injustice?

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Prasanth said...

Yes, reserved seats at universities are left empty if they cannot find suitable candidates. As for untouchability and discrimination, i personaly have not seen it till now, but have heard stories about such stuff going on in villages and remote areas - Foriegn news networks like BBC (especially BBC) and CNN show such places (Oh yes, also a stock shot of a cow in some city street) whenever they show India - do not know how they manage to find these places in the first place !!




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