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Fighting the Good Fight May 26, 2006

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.

I had the privilege of attending a General Body Meeting at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences two nights ago. First of all, hats off to the exceptional people I met there. Nothing I could put into words would ever do those great men and women justice. Consider this: We are all – well, mostly, anyway – extremely affronted by the way the government, nay the legislature, has approached the issue of reservation. Everyone, not just the ruling parties but also the Opposition for keeping silent, is at fault. I am not directly affected. Neither are the residents at AIIMS. What is at stake is a principle. Higher education is a responsibility only those who truly deserve can shoulder. Only those who can use it for the welfare of others, only those who can realise its true worth and only those who have earned it through sheer hard work and the gift of ability should have higher education granted to them. Ceteris Paribus there is no difference between a student of a lower caste and that of a higher one – why we still talk in terms of caste is a question that merits an entire piece to itself – so why reserve seats for either? The Government submits that since several students belonging to the OBCs have not had equal opportunities for quality education at the lower levels they have to be spoon-fed at the higher levels. So, if it is being freely admitted that the fault lies in the education system and infrastructure at the lower levels isn't that where the Government's focus should be? Why then, Mr. Prime Minister, are you ruining the lives of millions and making things no better for the rest? For, we know reservations don't work. Setting aside every fact and study Karan Thapar threw at Arjun Singh in their interview the other day – the interview was basically Arjun Singh harder and harder to look like an idiot and Karan Thapar trying desperately to get out of the way (both succeeded, by the way) – our experiences from our stints of graduation and post-graduation have shown us that reservations don't work. Whether it be Osama or Bush, the world around us seems to be telling us that the only way to survive is extremism. Whether it be religious extremism (bin Laden) or extremism of stupidity (Dubbya) all signs seem to be leading the UPA to believe that only by combining extremism in stupidity, denial and a general detachment with reality can it hope to celebrate another anniversary in office. So the UPA has done what it has done and is doing what it is doing despite every academic, corporate and semi-literate advising it to the contrary. False assurances were given of maintaining the number of General category seats in every institution and now those futile promises have also been renegued. Today's announcement of increasing quotas in one go without any mention of timeframe of increasing the total number of seats is a slap in the face of not just the hundreds of thousands of people protesting Reservations but in the face of justice and democracy itself. The Prime Minister states that, "The Reservation issue is settled." How could it be settled without accommodating, in the least bit, the rightful demands of the multitudes of students whose lives they have effectively ruined?

But hark, I digress. I must pay homage to the people at AIIMS and the other institutes, medical or otherwise, who have joined them in this movement. Every regressive, divisive step by the Government has created fresh doubts in the hearts of all those who still hold the principles of equality, meritocracy and the dignity of labour sacred. Every day has brought news of despair to their hearts. Yet they have stood resolute in their convictions. The only regret they have is that while they have been claiming their right their patients have been suffering. This is not to say that the striking residents have shunned their duties. Sleepless days have given way to sleepless nights and one sleepless week has led to another. The residents have maintained parallel OPDs and no critical patient has been denied care. The only consideration in their struggle with the Government is the welfare of their patients. However, on the whole, they realise that it is better to divert a few patients to other doors today than have the incompetence of the quota-products thrust upon them tomorrow and so they have stayed firm in their path. Special mention must be made of some of the other participants in this struggle which, surprisingly, has not found much organised support from the business and academic community but I will address that later. All Government medical colleges and several colleges of the Delhi University have joined hands with the striking residents at AIIMS. The students of IIT Delhi have devised several innovative means of "affirmative protests" including shining shoes and sweeping the streets to show the Government what the meritorious would be reduced to once the quota system kicks in. A hundred students have been on a hunger strike for the past thirteen days. Of the medical students on an indefinite hunger strike in Surat one student has been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and another has been diagnosed with acute renal failure. The media has either been gagged or has lost interest in the life and death of the only people determined to save this country from mediocrity and shame. I attended the GBM and pledged my personal support to their agitation and its demands. I swore that I would do what I could at my end. I write, but I am not content with merely writing on this issue. This is too big. This is too personal. I am working on a couple of other inititiatives but this is a fight that will ask a lot more from many more of us.

It was away from all this struggle and debate that the enormity of the situation really hit me. My grandmother passed away yesterday. She died at home, in the presence of all those who loved her and all those she had loved. But I talk of the time we had rushed her to the ICU a day earlier. With all the agitation at the Government hospitals and its effect on the services we had little choice but to take her to a private establishment. The doctor on duty at the time was not of the highest calibre and I feared for my Grandmother's life. It was then that it hit me. Once the quota system was in place and entire batches of non-merit students had joined the ranks of the doctors everyone bringing a loved one to the hospital would feel the same doubt and fear I felt for my Grandmother. When the very competence of the person in charge of a patient's life was in doubt what incentive would there be for the sick to come to the hospitals? For that matter, what faith would you repose in a bridge designed by a non-merit engineer? Would you feel safe in your car? Your home? Using your electrical appliances? Making an online transaction? Sending your children to school or college? After all, what kind of education would they receive if the competence of the teacher was suspect? What good would any education do your child anyway if you knew that he or she would end up competing with people who already had reservations in seats of higher education or private sector jobs? Wouldn't the queues move from the tuition centres to the registrar's office where you could get a caste certificate made? Albeit, for astronomical sums of money because, after all, tomorrow a caste certificate would be a guarantee of education, employment and who knows what else.

I am single-mindedly opposed to Reservation and I support every peaceful protest against it. If you wish to help go show your support to those who are fighting the good fight and ask how you can contribute. Write to your Member of Parliament and demand to know what he/she is doing about this. Write in to the newspapers and express your shame at the autocracy of the government and the dictatorial manner in which it has handled this issue and its dismal abandonment of the starving medicos. Organise groups and think of how you can help. As a last resort write to me and I promise I shall channelise your energies towards helping achieve a society based on merit. If you still haven't been moved to helping out you are either brain dead or worse – already a Member of Parliament, in which case I say Shame! Shame on you!

If you are fighting the good fight, however, I would say this to you. This cause is bigger than me. It is bigger than you. It is, possibly, the biggest cause our generation will ever have the chance to fight over. There is no putting a value to this cause. Is it worth 10 days of hunger strike? Most definitely. Is it worth 100? Absolutely? Is there a limit to how far we are willing to go to in this fight? None at all. Is it worth my life? A hundred times over. Only, you and I are most useful alive. Save your strength for we have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep. And miles to go before we sleep.



1. does it matter? - May 28, 2006

i agree with your post as far as the need for a detailed study based on accurate statistics is required. why (after making this sensible request) you suddenly decided to pass judgement on the issue, i couldn’t fathom.

to quote: entire batches of “non-merit” students join the ranks of the doctors…

please get off your “meritorious” high horse. students entering educational institutions through reservations will have to study the same courses and pass the same exams to join the ranks of doctors and engineers. i’ve passed out from both an iit and an iim and i’ve seen many students who entered through reservation do extremely well for themselves. (yes some did badly, others excelled…even joined the ranks of toppers, not an insignificant feat considering they entered on an unequal footing).

on a related note, with ur obsession for “merit”, do u ask ur “general category” doctor/engineer his cg/rank before enlisting his services?

2. anon - May 28, 2006

One of the most offensive and arrogant rants I’ve read on this issue!

I would have expected an educated person to have a more balanced view.

I suppose, your next post will suggest deporting/executing these “Non-Merit” classes of society? Obviously any service they provide after graduating will be looked upon with suspicion and disdain by you!

3. Arindam - June 2, 2006

You are right! Say for medicos, I know for sure, people don’t opt to be treated by a ‘quota’ doc. Same course doesn’t guarrantee the same skill level – it’s an absurd proposition. Neighbourhood business schools at Ahmedabad also teach the same stuff as does IIMA – but the difference is in the quality of students. It’s a knowledge driven society and definitely merit is the chief concern. Otherwise, what harm a general category student with 97 percentile has done not to be included in IIM A, B or C? Does any one have the idea from what socio-economic profile the quota students come? I know quite a few here and many of them are from better socio-economic background than most of the general caste students. You can try checking how many are really worth of the reservation facilities provided to them.

If the move to reserve 49.5% seats is not stopped immediately, in future we’re sure to see quota for SC/ST/OBC in private sector.

4. Arindam - June 4, 2006

Another ridiculous decision to be implemented by the UPA Govt.
Kids born to SC/ST mothers may get quota benefit
Arun Kumar Das
[ Saturday, June 03, 2006 11:55:00 pmTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
RSS Feeds| SMS NEWS to 8888 for latest updates

NEW DELHI: Even as the heat generated by the HRD ministry’s decision on quota extension shows no sign of abating, yet another ministry is finalising a blueprint that may have far-reaching consequences on quota politics.

The social justice and empowerment ministry wants to grant the status of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to children who have a non-SC/ST father but a mother who belongs to SC/ST category. At present, the father’s caste determines the caste of the children since Indian society is largely patriarchal.

Confirming the move, a senior ministry official said, “A proposal to this effect will be placed before the Cabinet for approval shortly. It will allow the child of a non-SC/ST father and SC/ST mother to claim all quota benefits, specially allowances.

Though no survey has been undertaken yet to ascertain the number of such cases, demands for granting quota status for progeny of such parents have come in often. Hence, the decision”

The decision will also be applicable to those children whose mothers belong to the ST or OBC category once the government gives the go-ahead. “The legislative department is working out the modalities,” the ministry official added.

Though the move is likely to ignite fresh controversy, the ministry is going ahead with the plan. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court in a recent judgment clearly stated that no person who is not an SC/ST by birth will be deemed a member of SC/ST merely because he or she marries a person belonging to the SC/ST.

Asked how the ministry would get around this roadblock, additional secretary, ministry of social justice and empowerment, Sandip Khanna said, “It has been agreed in principle to prepare a road map to extend benefits to those children who are not SC by birth.

There are several factors involved in the issue and it is being examined threadbare before being sent to the cabinet for approval. The legal view is also being ascertained because of the Supreme Court decis-ion. The ministry is trying to evolve a consensus on the issue.”

How many such ‘surprises’ are we supposed to ‘tolerate’?

5. Ash - July 10, 2006

Melancholy or Awakening: Firstly I feel a bit ashamed for not keeping myself up-to-date with the issue that still brings back bad memories – those days of standing in DU queues to get the college applications in only to be rejected over seat shortages. No wonder so many NRIs like me call ROW home. But then some people might judge us as being escapists while other may nod their heads in agreement. Secondly, after reading through other wise comments posted, it breaks my heart to see how some people can only see the author’s personal tradegy to brand him as being biased and call his judgement clouded rather than address the issue that is unfair from A-Z. I totally agree with you how we are not doing enough to make our voices heard as where on one side India emerges as a young, rapidly developing economy, in its core we are still dealing with laws that were only relevant in the first few decades after independence. I understand we are an impoverished nation, but then there are other means of providing aid to those who are in need. Reservations is a slap on the face of students – we cannot talk about equality only on the Independence Charter. If the Govt. cannot feel the pain of those medicos, then there is no point calling it representative of the Indian people. Why do we always have to face fatalities to make it to the newpaper headlines, why do we always have to resort to extremeties to get our voices heard. I will try to initiate something in the young Indian community in Australia and see how I go. I am sure all of them have faced the aftermaths of reservations.

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