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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Once upon a time, I rode buses everywhere. The singularly most irritating thing would be for you to rush up to grab a seat only to have someone plonk a handbag, towel, handkerchief, piece of paper or baby and claim their seat. I don't ride buses anymore, but that feeling of irritation hasn't stopped gnawing at me. Only, the seats being reserved now are in colleges and offices.

When the DMK first came to power in Tamil Nadu, they went on an anti-Brahmin drive that saw the Mr. and Mrs. Iyers and Iyengars changing their surnames, in the hope of escaping blacklisting by virtue (or not) of their birth. An accident turned into a curse. Now, two controversies rage over the caste issue - the Gujjars and St. Stephen's.

Vasundhara Raje has done one of the most politically correct and most inflammatory things; appeasing everyone, she has granted 5% reservation to Gujjars and another 14% to people of the economically backward but congenitally forward classes. Chances are that the quota for the people of the forward classes will be shelved.

And then there's St. Stephen's - one of the most prestigious colleges in India, lowering its bars so that people with shorter legs can jump over it. Wait, let me correct that analogy - lowering its bar for some people and pushing its bar up to waist level for others, when all of them have the same length of leg.

I finished my graduation from a college that was well-reputed because of the creme de la creme who won its medals for it. Fooled by the reputation, I hadn't banked on the 50% reservation for Catholics, 20% reservation for SC/ST, 15% reservation for Other Backward Classes, 10% reservation for Most Backward Classes, some other percent reservation for the nonexistent sons and daughters of nuns and priests or whatever else. What it boiled down to, of course, was that intelligent people who had none of the advantages of belonging to these "disadvantaged" communities had to fight tooth and nail for their seats, while the "disadvantaged" dullards would waltz in. And then, just in case the syllabus was too much for these "disadvantaged" dullards to cope with, it would be dumbed down further. So my three years of education, under teachers who asked me whether Measure for Measure was written by Shakespeare or Marlowe, and an HoD who said, in response to my question on T S Eliot, "aaal that is naat nusussury from yegzam payint of view, ma" (English Translation: "All that is not necessary from exam point of view, ma" [sic.]), the effort I went to to get a seat in an institution whose repute I would eventually enhance, and the money my family spent on sending me to study were pretty much wasted.

Take a look around an see people of more or less the same wavelength working. You couldn't possibly scan the room and make out which caste or religion or even region who belongs to. And yet, why is everyone harping about the need for reservation? Does anyone care about whether people who don't have access to education get the education they deserve? Does anyone believe this is not a drama structured around increasing votebanks? And do elections matter so much that an entire generation's potential will be wasted, as the quick runners are forced to take two steps back so that the ones with the fictitious limp can overtake them?

So much for undoing the damage wreaked by the caste system!


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