An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Counter-productive Affirmative Action and Reservations

There have been many discussions and questions on reservations (or Affirmative Action as it is called in the US). Many have said and there are said to be innumerable research papers which claim that it works. I cannot and will not go into that kind of nonsense. For statistics is just another kind of lie.

What I am looking at is the ground reality – the lot of African Americans in the US and Lower Castes in India. Have their situation really improved? Have the “perceptions” really changed regarding them?

“Special Kids in Special Schools”

I worked for a Big Four firm when I came to US. We had a “Diversity Group” and the “Diversity Manager” had flown into our city to kickstart the group in our city. We were different colors in that room – Japanese-American, Chinese-American, Two Indians, One African-American (the manager was also African American). The manager started discussing ideas and brought up the point of lack of the firm’s proportions of recruiting minorities (really speaking African-Americans – AAs). That’s when this sole AA lady started her viewpoint – she wanted the “minorities” to get more training in “networking” and also in adequately tackling the Performance Appraisal requirements (because Whites “know” how to do it better!)… and completed the arguments by saying that minorities should be treated like “special kids in special schools”!! Now, for the record she had an MBA from one of the top 15 US schools and had been working in that Big 4 for at least 3 years!! If still she found herself at odds in tackling a PA, then there was something inherently wrong with her!!

To this I protested that I do not want to be treated any special – to which the Manager had a counter argument as did that lady.

The rest of the guys in the room became unusually quiet thereafter. I checked with them later and none of them wanted to continue their association later. They were just NOT willing to be treated as anything different from other “White” employees. They believed that an impression that they needed “help” would jeopardize their careers and movement up the ladder! I could not agree with them more!!

“Make Boston like Bangalore”

I remember when I had first come to the US in 1997, when one of my colleagues remarked if India had normal cities and cars ran on roads? He was hoping we just had bullock carts or elephants (which of course, we have but along with Mercs running alongside!)

Last year we saw the elections in the US where John Kerry was pitted against George Bush. Through the debates, I had developed a high regard for John Kerry and his knowledge and composure. In one of his campaign speeches, he reportedly claimed to ‘make Boston like Bangalore”! Little did he know what he was praying for 🙂

But that brought home an important point – that it takes JUST A GENERATION or a decade to change perceptions!

Springdales School and its Experiment

I have always maintained that the correct point at “intervention” to help he poor and the disadvantaged is to help the needy in their education! Give them ENOUGH wherewithal intellectually and subsidize higher education substantially for the deserving and QUALIFIED to go up the ladder. Making it easier for the weak amongst the disadvantaged WITHOUT the requisite wherewithal or incentive to excel makes them prone to even MORE NEGATIVE perceptions from the majority. If it is easier – and state sponsored – for the disadvantaged to come to positions that they would otherwise NOT get – and who in absence of such “help” crave for “special kids status” then it is OBVIOUS – that they will be viewed as having the same “defects” and “challenges” that “special kids” are assumed to have! That is hardly ever going to help!

I studied in arguably one of the best HIgh Schools in New Delhi – at least at that time in the 1980’s. Our school had a program that I have not seen elsewhere. In the sixth standard, a team of teachers used to roam the Government-run Schools (which are free for the population and have the lowest classes being represented) to search for deserving kids who could be inducted into our school with waiver in tuition and subsidized study material and uniforms! For three years, they were kept in separate sections and taught English to take them to the level of the rest along with other subjects.

In the Ninth Standard, they were “mixed” with other sections, as normal students and from then on no one knew who was from the “Weaker section class” and who wasn’t! The results were never skewed against them – and they performed in the top few percentiles of the class!

Many graduated to become doctors and engineers! They may have utilized the reservation policy – if they belonged to the “right” caste – but they really DID NOT NEED ANY HELP!

This is the ‘intervention” that is required for the disadvantaged to keep their IMAGE intact while they get “help” to move up! To crave and look for special treatment just makes them MORE susceptible to negative stereotyping and disastrous results on a community scale!

And it is always important to remember – that it took less than 10 years from perceptions of India without a proper city to change to Boston-like-Bangalore!! It required some young folks who believed in themselves!

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2 Comments
  1. nidhi says

    I liked your analysis and agree with it too. We can’t let go of reservations from India or US because it would mean losing on a major votebank. But initiatives like your school’s were really touching to read.

  2. nidhi says

    I liked your analysis and agree with it too. We can’t let go of reservations from India or US because it would mean losing on a major votebank. But initiatives like your school’s were really touching to read.

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