Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reservations on reservations

I've so far kept mum on reservations, but since that is the hottest topic of the season, I feel I need to add my 2 paise worth of opinion.

First off, I'm neither pro-reservation nor anti-reservation. The fact of the matter is there is socio-economic discrimination prevalent in the country, and we must do whatever is needed to achieve equality provided the following principles are kept in mind:

a) The beneficiary cannot have ever-lasting benefits
The biggest problem of a caste-based reservation is, since the caste doesn't change (not in normal sense), a beneficiary of the reservation would be entitled to perpetual benefits, regardless of how he/she has benefited from that. So, there is no end in sight - the reservations would continue as long as the caste exists, not caste discrimination. Thus it would not reflect on the sociological context of the future. On the other hand, if you have economic status based reservations, once a person has crossed over to say, lower middle class, he is now more equal to the others in terms of opportunities. Thus, he doesn't need reservations as much as someone else who might now require.
This is why the "creamy layer" issue is such a vital one. Also, caste discrimination is almost always absent if a person is rich (that's my cynical view), since everybody respects money ... therefore, a rich person doesn't have need for affirmative action.
This isn't unknown to the politicians - India has long argued for a time-bound elimination of nuclear weapons and the discrimination of NPT etc. I don't see how the issues are different.

b) Need for equality not more caste consciousness
Another biggest worry about caste-based reservations is it would undo the whatever little progress we have achieved (if at all) in the past so many years about bringing equality. Really, do I care which caste my colleague belongs to ? Do I care which caste my classmate belongs to ? Absolutely not.
The reservation policy tries to undo all of this by increasing caste identity in the subconscious. In the name of bringing in equality, you are bringing in reverse discrimination.

c) Reservation of opportunities not benefits
There is interesting concept in behavioural finance and especially in insurance called "moral hazard". An example would be, someone buying life insurance, if he knows he is not going to live for a long time (and thus doesn't have to pay full premium). Another is called "morale hazard" where the behavior of a person is influenced by the safety net of insurance - like not having fire-safety measures just because it is covered by fire insurance, etc.
The proposed scheme encourages people to declare themselves as backward, as the Supreme Court observed, and probably go beyond it into faking caste certificates, a manifestation of moral hazard. It would also cause demotivation, because now you can get the same benefits as the general pool, without as much effort.
In the quest for level playing field and true equality for all people, one should ensure that people make use of the benefits as much as they are supposed to. I mean, you must not just get into an IIT, and not do justice to the course. So, one solution is to address the supply side, and not the demand side: ensure free education, free participation in exams, but level-playing field in the evaluation/selection. This would filter off people who are not properly interested in undertaking the course.

I'm not in a position to pass judgment on the appropriateness of the reservations per se, but unless the above three points are considered, they would be counter-productive. But, a far subtler point is about why this has become an issue at all: we don't have enough IITs/IIMs and institutions of higher education. We don't have good huge private universities that can rival IITs and IIMs. That is the greatest tragedy.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Southies v/s Northies

My first sojourn to the North (north of South India, I mean), and I've already formed enough stereotypes to last a lifetime:

a) Southies love curds and buttermilk. Aravindan, Karthik and gang have a special order for curd at every meal. Northies don't have the same affinity, but if they are forced to eat, they add sugar to it. I've not yet seen a Southie who adds sugar to curds (they add pickles instead :), or one who prefers lassi to buttermilk+salt ... Bongs think curds is under-prepared food, and add enough sugar to make it payasam :(

b) Northies wear chappals in their room, and they'll have atleast ten pairs of footwear - one for canteen, one for toilet, one for bathing, one for class, one for going out, one for jogging, one for formal occasions. OTOH, Southies don't usually allow people to wear chappals inside Southies' rooms, and they don't unnecessarily enrich the chappal-makers.

c) Northies think Hindi is the only language of India and can't understand how a Tamilian like me be born and brought up in Karnataka, and can't speak Hindi. Southies think English is the common language of India, and can't believe the nerve of the Northies who keep speaking Hindi all the time.
I saw an interesting comment in a Pakistani online newspaper's "Letters to editor" section, where a guy simply can't believe that many South Indians don't know Hindi. Hehe, welcome to India dude !

d) Northies drink the dicoction that they optimistically call "coffee" and believe that is the best drink they've ever had. Since Southies can't take it at all (they are used to the filter coffee), they drink tea instead. So, ironically, a lot of Southies drink tea and a lot of Northies drink coffee.

e) Staple food for Northie (in hostel): Rice + dhal or Roti + sabji
Staple food for Southie (in hostel): anything + pickles or rice + curds/buttermilk + pickles (of course)
In general, Southies like "wet" liquid spicy food, Northies like dry sweet food.

f) Northies punctuate every sentence with the word "saale", either as prefix or postfix, making you wonder the real nature of relationship :P
Since no language has a monopoly among Southies, the Kannadigas use "lo", the Tamilians use "da". I don't know about about others ..

I'm sure other Southies have much to add, and Northies have much to counter-attack, so I suppose I'll stop here ...

Update: I'd forgotten the most important of all ... and that is:
g) Northies assume everybody has a surname. And that must be a family name. And not the father's name. They can't believe that my name is only Sridhar. Narasimhan is my father's name. Calling me by my apparent surname is not acceptable. Period.

The biggest problem is when calling call centres such as HutchCare. I don't know what they teach their euphemistic-termed customer care executives, but I get so pissed off when someone addresses me "Hello Mr. Narashimham", "Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Narashimham", "I'm sorry, Mr. Narashimham" ... despite telling them with gritted teeth that I'm "Mr. Sridhar" and not some "Mr. Narashimham". Yeah, I don't know why Northies add the extra 'h' in my father's name ... that happens even in project reports where the bakra who ends up adding finishing touches to a project report inadvertently but almost always mis-spells my name... Add to the fact that Northies replace 'r' with 'd' like Kharagpur is pronounced as Khadagpur, my name starts sounding really foreign to me ...

Poor dear me ....

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