Reality Check India

Wahrheit macht frei

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 29, 2007

 

Tension is brewing once again in the elite AIIMS medical college. See here for more details. 

The health minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss today claimed :

However, he was quick to state that: “It is unfortunate that AIIMS has become a manufacturing unit for producing doctors for the US and the UK.”

Source: IBNLIVE

It is even more unfortunate that the lack of data in India’s social justice programs have created caste based interests that allow such brazeness to have little or no effect.

Blog title translation : The truth shall set us free. A variation of the Nazi era slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work shall set you free)

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Brahmins in the age of incredible coolness

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 25, 2007

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O Lord, the glorious One,
Make me glorious too.
Lord, you who are the custodian of sacrifice for the gods,
Even so may I be the custodian of Sacred Knowledge for men.

The Gayathri Mantra

This post has been in my drafts folder for months now. I am glad to get it out.

First, a personal story to prepare the stage.

Last year, I attended a Upanayanam (sacred thread) ceremony for a friends son. My friend (lets call him Rajesh) was your typical IIT/ Purdue/ Silicon Valley “success” story.  He is a genuine nice guy with a completely modern thought process. He has helped many people financially without expecting anything in return. He is completely westernized – used to play lead guitar, date American women, go skiing, eat hamburgers, married a Bengali girl, and owns a 6 bedroom house in the valley. There was one other thing : he was a loose atheist or atleast he revolted against tradition especially brahminical rules such as food restrictions, Sandhyavandanams, and temple rituals.  He made his views known to everyone – and that added to his coolness factor.

I asked him why he was wasting his “India trip” on this Upanayanam.  He said, “Yes, personally I am not a big fan of this stuff, but I want to do it for my son. When he grows up, I want to give him the choice of following tradition or choosing another lifestyle”.

His response really got me thinking. I knew there was something wrong with his line of reasoning. Yet, it seemed to hold up. What if his son did turn out to be interested in the Vedas or atleast not hostile to it ?

In any case, the event was a grand affair.  Rajesh dressed up like a brahmin, put on a temporary poonol (sacred thread), went through the motions of Brahmopadesam, Gayathri mantrams. There were a couple of jokes about the vaathiyars (purohits) and how one of them even had a Blackberry for crying out loud!  All these were of course in a lighthearted vein.

An overall enjoyable event, yet I had a sinking feeling.  Was the sanctity of the event torn to shreds ? The disinterested coolness without the required dose of faith seemed to cheapen the spirit of the event. Was I overanalyzing it ? Have I lost the ability to just have some fun ?

End of story

Everyone of us knows atleast a variant of the above story. There exists an extremely large population of “brahmins-by-birth” – who are uneasy with the rituals, and feel encumbered by the strict rules and what they perceive to be outdated rituals. Yet, they go through weddings, upanayanams, birth ceremony (punya-janam), and umpteen other events in the traditional way. A reasonable explanation is that people from their caste have always followed this routine.  Its a template – rubberstamp affair. Om Blah-Blah Swahaha.

Back to my friend Rajesh’s story. After some thinking I did settle my thoughts into a position that explained my uneasiness with his explanation. These rituals are not meant to have a “gap” like this. For centuries, it has been passed from father->son->father->son… based on caste only. The largely valid assumption was that a father from the brahmin caste would follow or atleast not repudiate the traditions. This was true then, but not true today. If a brahmin-caste father ridicules or displays a disinterest in the vedic traditions, he automatically loses the privilege of handing off to his son. Its like a 4x400m relay. You drop the baton and the race is over for your teammates downstream.

Time for another story : of Annamalai

I have another friend in our area. His name is Annamalai from Gingee area near Tiruvannamalai. He is from the Yadava (or Konar) caste.  He is a moderately successful building mason in Chennai. What is striking about him is his faith in the hindu religion. Every year, come what may – he collects money for his village temple, and takes off for a week to participate in the tiruvizha. He never touches alcohol or eats non-veg , even eggs. Come Aadi, and he blasts devotional songs from an old amp powered by a truck battery. His son is only 4 years old, but has already been to Sabarimala. His wife is even more religious than him.  I have known him for six years, and till date I have never seen him without the viboothi (religious mark) on his forehead –  even at 10 PM.

End of story

While comparing Rajesh and Annamalai, we should be careful to not search for virtue. Rajesh is a good man in his own right, he has helped many people with financial support. Annamalai is not perfect either, he does not believe in equality of sexes. What matters for this debate is, “What should the relative position of the two individuals be in the Hindu religion, esp with regards to the brahminical mandates ?”

Also note, this debate does not cover the present day Vaadhiyars (Purohihts), Sivacharyas, or other brahmins that are still involved in vedic activities (Vaideegam). The question is who is suited to enter their fold ? What is the connecting link between them and the ‘cool dude uninterested – brahmin-by-birth’ ?

I have forumulated several ideas that I want to share in the next post.

1. Make it really easy for a brahmin-by-caste father to opt out his entire future generation from brahminism.

2. Vedic rituals, which exhort tradition, devotion to gurukulams, pledges for brahminical austerity and sacrifice- cannot be bandied around to people who are clearly uninterested. In my view, this is more demeaning to the hindu religion than a thousand atheist movements.

3. Most importantly, the rituals / mantras containing pledges – must be offered to people like Annamalai. It is not a question of caste conversion. It is one of who is more likely to take the mantras containing pledges seriously.  When Annamalai’s son grows up, he will now have a choice of whether he wants to conduct upanayanam for his son or not.

4. When it comes to implementing this on the ground, there are problems but they are not insurmountable. Obviously, we need strong mutts – such as those in Karnataka as an enforcement point. 

Two implementation issues :

1) How do you identify “uninterested” brahmins-by-birth who cannot be administered vedic pledges ? Clearly public figures (like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kamalahaasan, etc) should be stopped in their tracks, but how about others (journalists, bloggers, cine artistes) who are open in their disapproval / ridicule. Could there be a system like the CSI Churches which announce upcoming weddings and allow people to object in the interim. I like that idea.

2) How to you identify and evaluate others who are likely to take the vedic pledges seriously ? The example of Annamalai above is an anecdote, but there needs to be a formal system. Could we propose a system based on “pilgrimage points” ? How about all Sabarimala guruswamis automatically become eligible and can initiate others ?

OBC Quotas and cut offs

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 22, 2007

Recently, Nitin wrote a post about the effects of caste based quotas on excellence.

Why would a marginal student aspire to be in the top 5% of the class if reservations guaranteed that person a place in an engineering college as long as he made the ‘cut-off’ for his community? And why would the marginal student in the engineering college attempt to score top grades, when quotas guarantee a government job? And why would the marginal government employee strive for excellence if promotions can be had with far less effort, as long as there is a quota?

Predictably, this drew counter responses arguing that Tamilnadu has no such problems due to the low difference in cut offs. Dr Bruno quoted the medical cut offs (General – 97.75%, BC – 97 %, MBC – 95.5%, SC – 94 %, ST – 90 %).

This leads to the question : What has this got to do with the OBC quota policy ?

This blog has covered the merit argument in so many posts ( Moily on Karnataka where the difference in cut-offs between OBC/Open is 0.2 – 0.3% , Quota for undeserving (just 4% cutoff difference between SC/Open at AIIMS, UGC Chief Thorat (the “affects merit” argument) , Impacts merit (will excluding bald men impact merit)

To summarize all the above posts.

Data such as low difference in cut offs are going to work against votaries of reservation to the current set of castes in the OBC list. The low differences in cut offs combined with the fact that a significant number of open seats are taken by students from castes that are currently in the OBC list – will invite scrutiny of the classficiation itself.

In the absence of caste wise admissions data, it can be safely assumed that castes that compete effectively in the open competition will dominate the OBC quota even more. This works directly to the detriment of castes in the OBC list that are not able to compete in the open competition.

This is a constitutional double red-signal :

1 ) Castes classified as OBC that do compete effectively in the open : The constitutionally guarantee of the right to equality of forward castes are destroyed.

2) Castes classified as OBC that are unable to compete effectively in the open : The constitutional right to social justice meant for the educationally backward are destroyed.

Of all the arguments, the impacts merit argument :

1. Cannot be used by anti-reservationists (because nothing impacts merit, see “excluding all bald men will not impact merit“)

2. Cannot be used by pro-reservationists (because if cut offs are very close, this calls into question the composition of the OBC group itself)

The question in front of us is a constitutional one, that of equality of the citizens of this country. Simply put, we are asking how strong must be the justification in the form of current data in order to deprive or abridge even a single citizen of this constitutionally guaranteed right.

History Book Recommendation

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 22, 2007

In a comment on my previous post, Suresh sought a book recommendation on South Indian History.

There are a lot of books by Romila Thapar, but my five star recommendation is :

“A History of South India (From prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar)” by Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri.

If you have not read this book – please do so ASAP. From the Cholas, Rastrakutas, Pallavas, to the anthropology of South Indian people, to the never ending battle between the Vijayanagar and Bahmani kingdoms, to the jihads and the sieges. It is all in here. The book is completely scientific and has a chapter on what material (copper plates, land grants, inscriptions) were used to support various events.

I thought I could get a picture of the book cover on the web, but I cant find it. I will take a photo of my copy of the book and upload it tomorrow.

To order the book (Paperback only) :

Amazon : http://www.amazon.com/history-South-India-prehistoric-Vijayanagar/dp/B0006CSLKI/ref=sr_1_1/105-8585522-9734811?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187759379&sr=8-1 

Oxford University Press (the publishers) : http://www.oup.co.in/search_detail.php?id=125987

Independence Day Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 15, 2007

As we celebrate our 60th year of Independence:

We hope the magic wand of the political forces to keep the Indian public divided is snatched away forever.

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When it comes to big ticket issues like the nuclear deal, to Kashmir, to tackling terrorism, to framing far reaching policies such as SEZs, to tax holidays, to globalization – a large majority of peoples representatives simply do not have an opinion. 

We want to enable Indians to gel around issues rather than along the fault lines drawn by the politicians.

We want Independence from these pigeon holes we are being stuffed into.

Happy Independence Day.

Willing to keep creamy layer out

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 8, 2007

Lex has good coverage on the ongoing hearing at the Supreme Court.

The meat of the proceedings :

Faced with the prospect of a resounding blow, the centre has offered to concede the “creamy layer” issue. This was a foregone conclusion as mentioned in this blog. The only surprise is that this concession was made so early in the hearings.

If the court feels that the creamy layer be excluded and says so, the Centre will obey,” Solicitor General G E Vahanvati said before a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan

Source : The Hindu

In the meantime, the SC has asked the government for a list of colleges where there are seats available.

He was prepared to give an undertaking that if the interim stay was vacated, OBC admissions would be restricted only to those institutions where the seat increase had been approved.

 The creamy layer issue will be quickly enveloped in modalities  (What is the creamy layer cut off is raised to 5 Lakhs p.a or higher ? ) 

We hope the central constitutional questions must be heard and ruled upon in a decisive manner. Everyone in India deserves it.

Haneef asks for Australian citizenship

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 6, 2007

This further reaffirms the point I made in my earlier post about Immigration and Indians.

Does anyone remember the round-the-clock support extended to Haneef by Dr Manmohan Singh, the foreign minister, the media, as well as the blogosphere ? Anyone recall the personal meeting by the Karnataka CM, Mr HD Kumaraswamy and the open offer of a job ?

Turns out, he now wants Australian citizenship !

Read on :

The Sydney Morning Herald talked of Haneef in Bangalore over the phone this past weekend.

Asked what he would say to the Prime Minister, John Howard, if he met him, Dr Haneef said: “I would ask for honorary citizenship of Australia.” Asked on what basis, he replied: “Because I’m a good doctor.”

Dr Haneef said he would like to return to Australia to finish his medical training. “It is a very nice place, actually.” He said he blamed the police for what had happened to him.

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

The funny thing is most people in India would think nothing of this request.

The Aussie PM, Mr John Howard was quick to retort (in characteristic Ponting / Mc Grath/ Warne style)

“I won’t be doing that,” Mr Howard said on Southern Cross radio.

“There is no case for that to occur and … I’m not sure that we have honorary Australians anyway, but he wouldn’t be the sort of person you’d make an honorary Australian.

“But I’m not aware that there is such an animal, such a person, such a beast. I don’t think so, I don’t think we have honorary Australians, do we?”

Source : The Herald Sun

I really hope the Indian media and the government stops the circus here. There is a danger of becoming the laughing stock of the world.

OBC admission figures in IIT

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on August 5, 2007

Even after a whole year of being in the limelight, the media has not been able to ignite an informed debate among the masses. We cant look even an inch past rhetoric and sweeping labels.

Consider this report on OBC admissions in IIT 2007. While this throws welcome light on the admission figures, it asks the wrong kind of questions. First the data :

The IITs had then asked students to declare in the examination hall whether they were OBCs or not. Of the 2.43 lakh students who took the JEE, 45,576 (18.75%) were OBCs.

..

The IITs had then asked students to declare in the examination hall whether they were OBCs or not. Of the 2.43 lakh students who took the JEE, 45,576 (18.75%) were OBCs.

Source : ET Report

Two things : (1) the OBCs whose representation in the candidate pool was 18.75% managed to secure 14% of the seats.  (2) the maximum number of OBCs who got in on merit were from the “Chennai region”. I am willing to bet that within the Chennai region, the overwhelming majority are from Hyderabad.

Then the story goes on to ask:

When there are so many OBC students who are doing well naturally, why set aside seats for them and demoralise them?’’ asked an OBC student who joined IIT Bombay. On the other hand, pro-reservationists declare that the fact that OBCs have done well even without any special treatment shows up the standard ‘no merit’ argument of anti-reservationists as false

What does this kind of data tell us about the OBC reservation policy ?

It tells us that the group of castes selected for inclusion in the OBC group are underrepresented as an aggregate in a certain institution. It also tells us that the within the group of castes, the ones from AP (perhaps the entire south) are doing quite well.

Anything else ?

What about the “quotas dilute merit” argument ?

Of all the arguments, this is one that must not be used by anyone who opposes the OBC quota. Nothing dilutes merit – because merit itself is a moving target. For example : you can give priority admissions to students whose names start with a vowel, or you can bar balding students from pursuing surgical disciplines. Will any of these affect merit ? Hairy students will gladly replace the bald ones in surgical disciplines, some may even go on to become great surgeons.

So what about the case in front of the court ?

I do not know if the court sees it this way, but my view is that we have constitutional issues in front of the court  – not simply the impugned OBC quota act. At the heart of the issue is the nature of the O.B.C group itself.

I have tried to get to the root question in 6 easy steps. Completely devoid of legal terms.

1. It is unlikely that anyone disputes the very existance of a group of citizens other than the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who are in need of social justice.

2. The form in which social justice is sought to be delivered is outright quotas to the target group.  This is a premise, so lets not dwell on the merits of outright quotas – or look at alternatives like Prof Yadavs JNU style affirmative action.

3. The preferred criteria along which the groups in (1), are to be identified are along caste lines.  The nine judge bench accepted the use of caste to identify classes of people other than SC/STs who need social justice in the form of quotas. This is one of the side effects of the Mandal judgement and maybe a larger bench can relook at this. For now, it holds the field. So lets move on.

4. A group of castes (other than SCs and STs) are selected and included in the group. It is then sought to administer social justice to this group in the form of quotas in education and jobs. We give a name to this group of castes and call it “Other Backward Castes (Classes)” or OBCs.

5. For whatever reason, data is not considered critical to validate the inclusion of castes in this group. Lets waive even this per-caste data requirement and see where this leads us to. Please dont bring up RTI as a solution here. The Supreme Court is seeking this kind of data, so the the government already has the ultimate RTI in front of it.

6. Let us assume that somehow there exists a caste X in this group. One that is capable of competing in the open competition. Not necessarily in all exams and in all disciplines, but it demonstrates a clear “presence of abilities”. For example : the caste X produces many toppers in board exams, takes a good (not necessarily proportionate) share of medical seats, has good political representation and so forth.

It is immaterial how caste X got to this enviable position. It could be  hard work, good community leadership, misclassificaton, or even due to the success of the reservation system. What matters is that at this time caste X shows the presence of abilities !

This leads us to two central questions that must be answered by the court.

1. Does a caste X as described above even exist ?  Does the non availability of current data impact our ability to predict the existance of this caste ? 

2. If a caste X as described above exists, what is the consitutionality of mandating a continued quota to this caste ?  How does this impact (1) OBC caste Y who may not have the abilities of caste X and (2) how does this impact caste Z who is excluded from the OBC list.