It is a misgiving and prejudice that fetching relatively higher marks in examinations and knowing a language better constitutes merit. This concept of merit is based on capital acquired over generations that had access to good education, institutions with decent infrastructure, the advantage of parental gudiance, private tuitions and participation in governance. On the contrary, when people who do not have the advantage of a privilleged background score relatively less marks in examinations, they are condemned as unfit for jobs; the hard work and perseverance behind their achievements is ignored.
The merit myth may have taken root during the British rule. When the Britishers introduced the education system in India, there were only first and second divisions. The third division was introduced for Indians and meant to create educated labourers. The British idea of merit was based on cramming study material and writing examinations because it suited the colonial rulers. Independent India adhered to the same form of merit, which does not factor in creativity, hard work, honesty, field work and empathy. Recently, a senior executive at Apple said Indians lack creativity. For decades, those had who availed of reservation in education and employment have been on the defensive, but new research has found that the idea of “merit” is flawed.
A study by Alexander Lee and Rikhil R Bhavnani — “Does affirmative action worsen bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service” — looked at MGNREGA, the world’s largest anti-poverty programme, and found that officers recruited through reservations performed no worse than others. In fact, members from castes eligible for reservation but recruited without affirmative action were found to have done better than others. Another study by Ashwani Deshpande of Delhi University in consultation with Michigan University (“Implication of Reservation in Railway Department”) found that where SC/ST employees were more in number, efficiency improved, and productivity got enhanced. The SC/ST and OBC have just started entering the domain of research and soon there will be more evidence demolishing the myth of merit. As of now, the so-called upper castes control research and education and most of them will not conduct studies that may yield results in favour of reservation.
The Supreme Court judgment regarding the roster point in teachers’ recruitment in universities has irked SC/ST and OBCs. Earlier, the percentage of reservation was calculated over the entire strength of teachers in a university and the formula of calculating vacancies was derived from the percentage of reservation — that is 15 per cent for SCs, 7.5 per cent for STs and 27 per cent in the case of OBCs. According to a recent judgment, the university will no longer be the unit to calculate the percentage of reservation, instead the department will be treated as the unit. As soon as the UGC issued a circular calling for implementation of the SC order, universities advertised the vacancies in teaching posts that have been pending for a long time.
It’s being done in haste to exclude reserved categories, in case the circular is reversed. Recently, Tamil Nadu Central University advertised 65 teaching posts, of which 63 went to the unreserved category and two to OBCs. SC/ST category got nothing. Similarly, Indira Gandhi National Tribal Central University, Amarkantak, advertised 52 teaching vacancies of which 51 went to the unreserved and just one for OBCs. Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi University, Bhopal advertised 18 posts and all in the unreserved category while Haryana Central University advertised 80 posts on contract basis with none in the reserved category.
Ironically, the judges are judging the merits of others when they themselves do not come through merit.
When a chief justice of any high court recommends the name of a lawyer, is it on the basis of any examination or interview? Are the cases handled by the prospective candidates scrutinised? On March 20, the SC diluted the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. It’s a special act and can’t be altered by the Court.
For centuries, specific castes have occupied the fields of education, trade and administration. This exclusion is the reason outsiders could conquer India and the society would be devoid of mass education, innovation and wealth. Inclusive societies that allow everyone to participate in any field, without letting caste restrict participation, have prospered. Diversity in all fields alone can guarantee the prosperity and progress of a nation.
The writer is a BJP MP in the Lok Sabha