Sunday, April 09, 2006

Backward Bending

If you've so much as ventured near the blogosphere in the last 72 hours, chances are you've caught some discussion on Arjun Singh's plan to reserve 50% of seats in the IIMs and IITs for the backward classes (BCs). There's been much outrage over the issue - many, many bloggers have argued that the policy is flawed and unethical and will serve little purpose but to effectively destroy the handful of high quality educational institutions that we've somehow managed to create. That if the government really wants to help the Backward Classes they should focus on primary and secondary education, so that children from these classes can get access to better quality education and be put on a level playing field for competitive exams. Anything else is just blind populism [1].

Personally, I think these critics are missing the bigger picture. How do a few decades of sustained economic growth, of growing international competitiveness matter, when there are centuries of wrongs to be righted? Why bother with something as arcane as development when there are moral principles to be corrupted? So what if destroying the best educational institutions in the country sets us back in the global war for talent, surely that's better than letting all these rich upper class types get away with the hypothetical crimes that their great grandfathers committed? What does the destruction of the IITs and the IIMs matter - it's not like they were set up to provide education, you know, that's just something that happened along the way. No, the real reason we have the IITs and the IIMs is in order to serve as instruments of social justice - it doesn't matter how little an IIT / IIM education comes to be valued, as long as the backward classes get full access to it.

And besides, the BJP got to destroy the Babri Masjid, we have to come up with something more harmful than that, don't we?

No, if there is reason to fault Arjun Singh & co. it's only because they're not taking this reservation thing far enough. I mean, if you are trying to give people things they don't deserve for no better reason than the fact that their forefathers were discriminated against, then why put them through all this bother of attending classes and working for grades. Why not just give them 50% of all bank accounts? Rename the RBI the Reservation Bank of India? That way at least you'd just be redistributing the pie, not destroying it [2]. From each according to his ability, to each according to his family's need in 1836. In fact, come to think of it, why should BCs have to work at all? What about their right to laze about at home watching daytime soaps. Why not pass a law requiring 50% of all housewife positions to be reserved for BCs, irrespective of gender?

And why stop at money? If we are going around keeping 50% of everything aside for the BCs, how about other, more basic stuff. I propose that we reserve 50% of all trouser legs for BCs. Nothing like walking together cheek to cheek to inspire some real inter-caste bonding. And how about sex? Why should all these random Bollywood starlets get to choose who they confer sexual favours on? I say we reserve 50% of all such favours for the Backward Classes. Oh, and music, what about music? How about a ruling that restricts the B side of every tape to songs written exclusively for the BCs. Upper caste swine trying to listen to tapes will just have to get to the end of side A and rewind all the way back. That'll teach them to let their grandfathers be Zamindars.

Come, come, you'll say. All this is hardly practical. Perhaps. But I still think that the government is wrong to pick on just the IITs and IIMs. What we need I feel, is a more comprehensive No Behind Left Behind policy, that will ensure that wherever there's a seat, 50% of all assholes filling it will come from the Backward Classes. Here are some specific proposals that the minister may want to consider:

1. 50% reservation in all cinema theatres

Who are we kidding? Getting into an IIM is a piece of cake compared to getting tickets for the first show of the new blockbuster at PVR. I propose that 50% of all seats in all movie halls be reserved for BCs. Further, in a show of solidarity, 50% of all rear stall and balcony seats be reserved for front stall ticket holders.

2. 50% reservation in all car pools

Why should these damned Zamindars get to ride about in their cars with their families, while the BCs have to walk? I propose that the back-seats of all cars be henceforward reserved for the exclusive use of the BCs. Any card-carrying member of a backward class should be able to halt any passing vehicle and climb into the back-seat. To commemorate this landmark legislation, we should rename the BCs the BDCs - the Backseat Driving Classes.

3. 50% reservation in all public and private lavatories

50% of all stalls in lavatories across the country to be reserved for BCs. A special seat to be reserved in all lavatories for the exclusive use of Arjun Singh, because he's so full of it.

4. Reservation in India Fashion Week

The entire left side of the ramp during India Fashion Week to be reserved, so that 50% of all future wardrobe malfunctions will be available only to Arjun Singh and his cronies. After all, that's the closest they're going to get to seeing a half naked woman in their entire lives.

5. 50% reservation in the Electric Chair

50% of all criminals executed using the Electric Chair to be from the BCs. A great opportunity to redress the shocking wrongs of the past.

6. 50% of all seats at your table in the restaurant... be reserved for Backward Classes. Thus giving a whole new meaning to the phrase dinner reservation.

7. 50% reservations in all sit-down strikes

50% of all places in sit-down strikes to be reserved for the Backward Classes. Upper Caste scum trying to protest this legislation are allowed to stand however.

8. 50% of all dogs trained to 'sit' to be owned by BCs

A critical first step to establishing a more cordial 'handshake' between dog owners of different castes.

9. 50% of all furniture sales to be made to BCs

A bold move to strike at the very root of the problem. Possibly called the Chair and Chair Alike policy.

10. And finally, 50% of all seats not reserved for BCs to be reserved for BCs.

After all, these are seats that BCs don't have a fair chance of getting into on a purely competitive basis, do they? So let's reserve 50% of them. And then let's reserve 50% of the 50% that's left. And 50% of that. And you know what, we could keep doing this for every election in the foreseeable future. (Apparently it's a principle of something called Ma-them-at-ics. One of those things I didn't bother to study because I knew I'd get a reserved seat anyway). Hurrah! Who needs the Nehruvian legacy anymore. Permanent power, here I come. What's that? They've given my seat away to some illiterate farmer because he happened to be from a BC [3]. NNNOOOO!!!


If you're against the reservations and think I'm being too flippant: Okay, okay, I know it's not funny. I know it's a serious issue. Believe me, I'm mad. If you really want to know how I feel go see the last two minutes of Planet of the Apes - the bit where Charlton Heston goes "Damn you! Damn you!".

If you're for the reservations and are offended: All I can say is, notice how the post is entirely consistent with the new policy. I personally have reservations about exactly 49.5% of the jokes in it.


1. The other thing I wonder about is, even if it's just a cheap political trick, is it a cheap political trick that will work? I mean, if you're a starving and oppressed Dalit farmer somewhere in Eastern U.P. do you really care that some fat businessman's son with a fake BC certificate is now going to be able to get into the country's premier institute?

2. That sort of redistribution is supposedly already happening, btw. It's this thing called taxes. And god knows they're close enough to 49.5% already.

3. Actually, come to think of it, that's not a bad idea. If there's one position that we can safely reserve for the Backward Classes without running the risk of ending up with someone less competent, it's Arjun Singh's position in cabinet.

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J. Alfred Prufrock said...

More rant than writing, F.

I share the anger, but you have your standards and your public. Can't lower one and disappoint the other! ("Chair and Chair Alike"? Jeepers!)


~SuCh~ said...

yeah falstaff.... theres less of logic in ur post than anger...
agreed the reservation is crude and insane.. but wud ve expected a more argumentative approach rather than mere fist-shaking from your side..
50% is a ridiculous percentage..Me being a benefactor of existing BC policies in the past, was thrown aback at the mindlessness of this proposal.. blatantly populistic..
being a member of the so-called BC classes that is likely to benifit, i would rather prefer that the government takes measures to prepare the economically less fortunate classes, and even there, efforts mus be made to prepare them for the competition in the world out there, rather than temporarily eliminate the competition itself.. For, once we step out of the gates of the instituition, its an open market, where reservations arnt there to help u cruise along..
Reservation is an area where much thought and foresight has to go into, before even making the slightest progress..
Coming from down south, where people from different communities are haggling to get listed as backward, i d say that theres much of arm twisting and body-shoving happening amongst the BCs too...
Besides this reservation would remove the charm and inspiration for fighting out in the open and also the satisfaction of getting into a great insti on ur own merit...

Heh Heh said...

nice rant. :)
Didnt really expect it from you, but I have been ranting about it to P and T for the last couple of days, enough for it to have become painful for them.
I guess the proposal is so idiotic that to argue logically against it would be stating the obvious.

dazedandconfused said...

oh, what a rant! You are human after all, falstaff!

But reservation is not just limited to IITs and IIMs, as you mention but to all 20 centrally funded universities.

I would actually want to know how much of the current reservations (22.5%) is actually being filled up, at IITs and IIMs. I think there's a significant shortfall even now. As far as I know, the elibility criteria is relaxed and not altogether withdrawn (I would also want to know to what extent the criteria is relaxed). I personally feel that one should not be required to be in the top 1 percentile to be worthy of a place in the IITs and IIMs. It is just a sad state of affairs that we don't have enough quality institutions which impart higher education right now. Who knows, if I didn't have to slog during my school days, I might have finished my guitar learning and cricket coaching courses.

So per se, I am not against reservation as a concept (but I would be if it included places in theatres and trouser legs), though 49.5% does seem to be an awful lot. Plus there are questions which need to be raised regarding the motives, execution and performance of the current reservation policy before going ahead with more reservations.

Disclosure: I am not from an SC/ST/OBC background and I made it to an IIM.

Anonymous said...

thats a terrific post and i loved every word of it.good going...more please :-)
btw what is akanksha (pardon me for being inquisitive)

Crp said...

This is an issue that deserves to be taken VERY seriously.

I used to think that the IITs were crap until I came into closer contact with other colleges (as part of my work). More than anything else, the state of the educational institutions and their teaching staff, (not to speak of the quality of the graduates) frightens me.

We boast of the number of graduates we produce, talk of becoming a "knowledge superpower" ... bollocks. Call-centre superpower is more like it.

Diluting the seriousness of our flagship institutions will be the beginning of the end -- a one way ticket to perennial serfdom in the international scene.

Falstaff said...

JAP: True. But I think I'm entitled. Plus it's always good to challenge people's expectations. Specially when my 'public' as you call it seems to think I'm getting too formulaic and always sticking to the pattern. Plus, okay, so there were a few really crummy ones in there, but you're seriously telling me you didn't find it funny at all?

soliloquist: Oh, completely, I wasn't trying to be logical.

Two reasons: a) As heh heh puts it in his comment below, arguing against reservation just seems like stating the obvious and b) A large part of my frustration with this thing is that I can't see a real way out of this mess. If the Government seriously wants to go ahead with this idiocy there's almost nothing I can do to stop it. Sure we can sign petitions, etc. but who outside of IIT / IIM alumni cares? And I doubt they're ever going to be a significant enough vote bank for politicians to care. It almost makes one lose one's faith in democracy. Almost. (What makes this especially ironic is that when the Congress government came to power I was happy because I believed that, unlike the BJP, they were too ineffectual to do any real harm to the country. Talk about Famous Last Words).

That said, there is something to be said for affirmative action on education and what can (and should) be done to ensure greater opportunity for people from economically backward sections. I promise to put up a post on that sometime in the next few days. But sneak preview: the word reservation will not put in an appearance.

heh heh: Exactly. Spent all of yesterday and today muttering about it under my breath at regular intervals, so finally decided I might as well get a post out of it.

d&c: I couldn't disagree more. I fundamentally do not believe that there is ever a case to be made for reservations of any sort in higher education programs. If there is a shortfall in high quality business schools, that's all the more reason that those limited opportunities should go to the people who'll make the most out of them. Plus it's not like we're saying that you can't get an MBA if you're not in the 99th percentile. There are plenty of good schools out there - schools with reasonably high standards of input and fairly smart students. if there is a constraint, I would think it's at least partly from the job market. As for learning guitar vs studying:

a) the reality is we live in a resource-constrained developing country and we just don't have the luxury of allowing easier competition. That's not because there aren't enough business schools. It's because there aren't enough jobs.

b) You do have the option of making the trade-off you know - you could spend your school years doing all this other stuff, then join a non-IIM school that's still in the top 10. So you won't get the fat-cat I-banker jobs (those will go to the people who were killing themselves all through school) but by any reasonable standard you'll still do extremely well and do you really care.

c) It's not clear to me that one couldn't do both. I spent my high school and college years reading like crazy and doing every extra-curricular lit activity I could find, and I still ended up at A. And I know a bunch of my batchmates had years of Indian Classical training behind them.

d)I'd be the first to agree that the IIMs could do more to consider extra-curricular activities as an entrance criteria. I do think personality matters if we're talking about who ends up being a good manager, and I don't think we focus on it enough. So if you were to come back arguing for reservations for musicians, say, I might actually be less sceptical.

At any rate, all of that is argument for having less limited supply of high quality schools. Not for giving the few seats we currently do have to people who couldn't win them on merit.

anon: Thanks. For more on Akanksha see:

Anonymous said...


I am with you on this one. I dont give a fuck whether it was a rant or you did not make any arguments...Now somethings are obvious right? The Earth needs Sun for life to be sustained, whats there to argue about that?

I think your so called rant conveyed the sheer stupidity of the idea better than any ''well thought piece quoting Hemmingway''.:P if you know what I mean.

Frankly, this idea is so preposterous that anyone can make an argument against this(including Aan idiot like me), we need your talents for more powerful rants and yes perhaps a little better jokes. They were funny, but could have been better.


Cheshire Cat said...

I propose reserving fifty percent ognitirw drawkcab rof stnemmoc lla f.

dhoomketu said...

Propose forty-nine point five percent reservation on your blog posts. Either have almost half the post written by BCs (bad acronym, if you come from North India), or have almost half the posts written by them. U choose.

Since ur blog is getting popular (so much so that readers have started asking for minimum social and literary standards), we have to turn it into an instrument of social justice.

I am marking Arjun Singh a copy. Hope you will understand.

Kusum Rohra said...

I have been ranting about it like hell, but I decided that I won't ever write anything that makes sense or inculdes profanity ever on my blog so won't be writing a post about this.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, come to think of it, why should BCs have to work at all? What about their right to laze about at home watching daytime soaps. Why not pass a law requiring 50% of all housewife positions to be reserved for BCs, irrespective of gender?"

Are you by any chance insinuating that all housewives do is laze about at home watching daytime soaps? Because you've just opened up a whole new battleground...

Anonymous said...


I completely agre with you.

Infact, I just send a note to Arjun Singh that 49.5% of the posts in this blog should be written by LBC's (literary backward class)..or atlast written for them.

Hows that Falstaff?

Falstaff said...

crp: Couldn't agree more. Watch this space for more serious posts on the issue.

confused: thanks

cat: :-) I couldn't aerom eerg.

dhoomk2: Why not? And in JAPs defense, he's been asking for literary standards, etc. ever since he became the 4th person to start reading this blog. So popularity has nothing to do with it.

kusum: ummm...okay. Thanks for letting us know.

going to school: Mummy! no, no. Not touching that one with a barge pole. I'm sure housewives do tons of work, much of it unappreciated. In fact, come to think of it, we should have reservations for housewives as well. Why not?

Siddharth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Siddharth said...

i think this is a great piece. i do not think that a post has to be based on perfect reasoning and logic to get its message across.. this one isn't, but man, it does get its message across well!
brilliant post, loved it.

? said...

come come falstaff - as a fan, i expected better.

Falstaff said...

buddha: thanks

?: see the next post. Hopefully that'll make you happier.

dazedandconfused said...

ah well falstaff, you missed my point. Maybe even I should have taken issue with you inadvertently mentioning about housewives not doing much work...

You know, I did learn to fly an engineless biplane when I was in college.

Anyway, see you on your next post.

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Anonymous said...

Backed by facts or not, this is a good post. 50% is stupidity at the extreme. And not backed by any facts.