Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reservations for Education

Last evening, I saw a rally taken out by students protesting against the central government's proposed increase in reservations. Every thinking person I know is opposed to this - which is why I had not written about this earlier - it seemed unnecessary. But yesterday, I got thinking. For a year and a half, I went to school in a small town called Diphu in a hill district of Assam. That area is now torn apart by strife and bloodshed between tribes. Then, though there were rare incidents of violence (where is there not?), it was a sleepy town, beautiful, serene. I went to the best school in town - even so, most of my classmates were first-generation literates. I easily topped the class in every exam - a fact due more to my superior early education, given the fact that I spent most of my time exploring my new surroundings and making mischief. Though many of my classmates had started off with very few advantages in life, and though the convent-school education they were receiving was aimed at giving them a better chance - very few of them seemed disposed to make much of it. The reason was palpable - due to the quota system, almost anyone who graduated from school was guaranteed a place in the town's only college (a government college of which my dad was then the principal - which explains why I was there in the first place). Anyone who passed out of college (no matter in how many years) and came from the right race (i.e., belonged to a hill tribe) could have a government job for the asking - again due to reservations and the fact that so few had the qualifications to avail of them. The result being, none of my friends or acquaintances actually felt the need to work hard in order to make a good life for themselves. This attitude was contagious, infecting the non-hill tribe students as well - I barely escaped from it. My escape was facilitated by the fact that I graduated from school well enough to go back to Guwahati to attend college - where I was pitted against the best in the state and had to run as fast as I could just to stay in the race.

I now realize what an injustice it was to the children of those tribes - the feeling of entitlement that they had, the opportunities and laudation heaped on them for small achievements that diffused the urge to aim for more, the feeling that this was their lot in life and they could not make it any better or different. And yet, they were not devoid of talent or intelligence - they just never felt the need to stretch themselves. Compare them with me, brought up in much more priveleged surroundings, but always aware of the fact that I would have to fend for myself when I grew up, and my life would be only what I made of it.

Even if we grant it the best intentions (which are in grave doubt), the government needs to stop acting like an over-indulgent parent and allow these children to grow up and claim their place in the world, instead of coccooning themselves in the ensnaring silk the state willingly provides.

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