The word ‘reservation’ when spoken in the education context, generates mixed responses from the student fraternity. In a one-sided picture, this seems alright, since from the general student’s perspective, the reserved category of students not only encroaches upon the seats available, but they also get admitted with much lower scores and lower fees. One may feel that the comments come out of the hapless situations they face, and also due to the reason that not many are aware as to why this quota system was set up in the first place. Not that any of them are interested. Forget competing with close to two lakh fellow-contestants for a couple of thousand seats in the IIMs. Forget the months – no, years – of preparation to crack the CAT/ JEE/ CET, et al. The idea of losing out to a student from the reserved category, who in your eyes does not deserve the admission can be a hopeless situation. Besides, it’s quite obvious that political motivations will always ensure that these quotas do not diminish, if not increase. So why debate it out?
“We have very few premier institutions for a crowd of a billion people!” exclaims the aspiring engineering student Dhruv Kumar. He adds, “Sure, it may not be impossible for all aspirants to get into one of these institutes, but reservations make it that much more difficult. By the time my generation gets into the race, I doubt if we will have any option of trying for the top institutes in our own country.”
Kumar’s sentiment is echoed at campuses across India. Sample this: “Point one, I think that the percentage of seats given to reserved classes is just too much. In many colleges it is as high as 40 to 50 per cent. Second, treating all the reserved classes as the same does not help the cause of providing a level playing field to all students,” says FYBCom student Shikha Keswani.
“The word itself sounds like a dirty word, a sort of taboo among my friends who could not get into institutes of choice,” states Priyanka Kulkarni, a final year engineering student at Mumbai University. “If we take a list of the institutes or offices where seats are reserved, more often than not, the person who came in through the quota is looked down upon, since he or she is not considered to be up to the mark,” she adds. She also says that the general feeling is that the person has come in through his background. It may so happen, even if such a person is genuinely good at work, he or she is discriminated against. “In school, we were in a situation where one of the teachers was from such a category. I can’t say much about discrimination in the staff room, but I do know for a fact that students often thought her to be incompetent, and she was made the centre of their jokes. It perhaps led to her always remaining in the shadows. Is this what they really want?” Keswani asks, rhetorically.
Dr Indu Shahani, principal of HR College and Sheriff of Mumbai sets the thought straight: “The quota system is often required, otherwise students from underprivileged backgrounds may not get equal opportunities.”
Most students feel that caste is a non-issue in urban India. “The distinction may be more visible in rural areas, but not that much in the daily events of cities like Mumbai or Delhi. Many students have rhetoric questions like why can’t the money that is spent on maintaining these quotas be used for developing the areas and providing opportunities locally? If you must have reservation, then why do we not provide adequate number of education institutes?
“If we have a larger number of institutes, there will be hope and scope for everyone,” says 20-year-old college student Lakshmi Kumaraswamy. This discontent has been brewing under covers for a long time, but it may not take long to surface.
TYBA student Meera Raman warns, “Uneven distribution has led to internal conflicts for a long time. Reservations were introduced to provide equal opportunities for those who would have never made it by themselves just after independence. What I fail to understand is why the successive governments, in 65 years, have not worked towards developing the country and the system in such a way that reservations are not required, everyone would get equal opportunity. That apart, if the situation continues as it is now, an uprising from the general category students may not be far. Besides, I do not even feel that the situation will remain stagnant, it is bound to worsen with time.”
But 21-year-old Sukriti Pandit begs to differ. She argues, “I do understand that these students have suffered for a long time, but now it is time to realise that students like us are suffering as well, and that too seems like injustice, since the playing field is unequal. If seats need to be reserved, why not just make special institutes for them, so that they stop encroaching on our seats?” She further suggests, “I feel that any student from the economically disadvantaged background should be given a chance, by giving them a slight relaxation in marks and may be a greater relaxation in fees. But the range when the general cut-off is 90 per cent and the reserved cut-off is 50 per cent, is just not fair.”
Many students point to the lack of accountability in the system as one of the reasons quotas are not likely to work. So what will work? 22-year old Sandhya Madan, a science graduate, has a possible solution, “Has anyone tracked the careers of OBC or other reserved-quota students who have already completed college?” she queries. According to Madan, “How many have actually finished college? How may have dropped out? Before the government churns out greater percentages of reservations for reserved categories, they need to survey the trends. They need to know that just providing admission relaxations does not work. Who is going to help them get through the programmes? What about the academic part? They have to live up to the expectations of the average student in the institute as well, and that is where most of them fail.”
Whatever be the case, the very core of why the reservation system was set up is lost in the rat race to claim a seat.
Volume 1 Issue 9