Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sorry Prof. Parthasarthy, you got it all wrong! 

Dr. Parthasarathy, a sociology professor in IITB (the link again due to sudeepks on Sulekha, and I don't vouch for the authenticity) posted a write-up on reservations in IITB's discussion forum, it seems. Disappointing then, as being alumnus of that institute, I have high respects for the quality of its teachers. Well, when one become a bleeding liberal, though the first thing that happens is you start losing focus... It doesn't matter if you're an IITian prof.
The first thing to be aware of is that de facto and de jure reservation is accepted is and practiced by all societies in many different ways, most of which are not opposed at all, since they benefit especially the rich and middle classes.
Starting on a wrong foot! One -- two wrongs don't make a right. Two -- as we'll see, they're opposed -- some of them at least.
One example is inheritance rights. Going by the logic of anti-reservationists that merit alone and not accident of birth should be the criteria for seats or positions, one can ask why a son (or rarely a daughter) should get the property of a parent when the parent dies. Should not the merit of candidates be assessed before passing on the property?
Well, spoken like a typical statist. Individual property is not state's to dispose of. Someone earned it, and wanted to decide what's to be done with it (through will, generally). If there is no will, there have to be arbitrage -- that's when inheritance comes into picture. Jobs are not not individual property.
Some of the great thinkers of the last couple of centuries including Mahatma Gandhi have opposed inheritance rights on the ground that it rewards those who are not necessarily the most deserving. How many of those opposing reservations speak out against inheritance rights?
Inheritance rights are the only protection a person has got (the original property accumulator) that mobs won't kill him for property. There is no right to life without right to property. In any case, the property rights have been a subject of intense debate themselves, and have been questioned, reverted, re-established time and again. So the claim that they're not contested is a false on to say the least.
Even if one accepts right to inheritance, why should property be reserved only for sons and not daughters as happens in reality in most families in India. Is it that sons have no merit and cannot fend for themselves and therefore need the property, but daughters don't since they have more merit?
Bleeding heart! The civil law already holds sons and daughters as equal entities for inheritance. Yes, the patriarchal society has tried to sustain itself through injustice toward the women, but that's what it is. Injustice! And it is also questioned time and again.
How many of those opposing reservations speak out against business and management inheritance?
This is like asking, why does a mother give meals only to her children and not do a merit analysis? A business empire is not created out of thin air. Someone's vision creates it, sustains it. That person has a right to close it, sell it or hand-it-over to whom-so-ever he sees fit. It's the socialistic invasion of intellectual realms that has created these so-called contradictions. Yes, it is not in the best interest of the society to hand-over a successful business to incompetent successor, but such common-good is short term. It's the desire to leave for one's progeny one's wealth, making their life easier, that propels people to engage in commerce. Otherwise, socialism would have been a runaway success.
How is it that fairly young family members are pushed to the top whereas those who have worked for a company and proved their talents over a long time never get the top positions? Mr.Bajaj asked for a level playing field when it comes to competition from MNCs, but doesn't believe in a level playing field when it comes to the underprivileged! Mr.Bajaj should justify to his shareholders why the CEO position is reserved for his son, before he retires and starts a movement against reservations, which he has reportedly stated.
Talking of justification, it's the government that needs to justify what right they have to fiddle in the private sector's functioning to start with?
Many companies including some top ones are biased in their recruitment. Mr.Dhoot of Videocon publicly stated that his company does not take women at the executive level. (This is against the Indian constitution by the way). How can you speak out against reservations when you exclude some groups and reserve positions for others.
Well, I abhor Mr. Dhoot's policies, and would rather not buy videocon products. But he at least puts his money where his mouth is. On the other hand, the government wants to put their mouth where other's money is! In any case, no one is opposing a level playing field... This whole strawman argument just wants to take the focus away from the central point of conflict: will reservations provide level-playing-fields? No one, will oppose a PIL against Videocon for it's recruitment policy! No one is defending that as good. But one extreme example doesn't prove a wide-spread bias in private-sector recruitment... (refer to my thorough analysis of this point in Caste-o-cracy.)
If you do an informal survey, it is easy to find out how many big companies have senior staff belonging to members of the company owner or major shareholder or founder's caste, community, gender, region, linguistic group. The Birlas do not permit women family members to work in group companies. One could go on and on with examples. Contrast all this with companies, government agencies, and universities in the US who in their advertisements put in a special line: "Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply".
Why informal? Do a formal survey! And we're all for removal of biases. We're against institutionalization of further biases as a anti-dote to those biases. As it is, people of all castes are victims of these biases. This reverse-discrimination would double victimize them.
Bias enters in other ways too. Many software companies recruit new employees by asking existing employees to recommend new ones. So they contact people in their networks. Two ongoing studies by sociologists show that this leads to concentration of people from similar background in terms of gender, caste, and community within companies.
This is utter rubbish argument. Companies turn to personal recommendation (even give bonuses for it) because they cannot get them through other sources, or the cost of other recruitment drives are too much. Any ad in paper fetches thousands of resumes, just scanning them is a Herculean task. Referrals, on the other hand, have a good hit ratio, as the employee knows he cannot refer absolutely incompetent people. Many referral candidates are routinely rejected. This is business sense that we're talking about not biases!
I have heard from many management graduates from premium institutes in India that large corporates and MNCs in India prefer candidates who may not be very good but who come from influential families, so that they can get their jobs done using their contacts and networks. What happens to the candidates with merit? And yet these very corporates oppose reservations in the name of merit!
Again, the straw-man! Yes, we're not living in a perfect world! Yes, there are shady practices going on. How does this justify reservations? What happens to those non-influential (and so called upper-caste) meritorious persons in this new scheme? More of the pie is now inaccessible to them! Is this social justice?
A fourth example is in the field of education where there is reservation on the basis of ability to pay, which no one opposes. There are hundreds of private professional colleges where you may have very good marks but can't get in because you can't afford to pay. My own brother many years ago had to settle for a branch he did not want in a government run engineering college rather than a preferred branch in private college, because we couldn't afford the capitation fees. How many of the anti-reservationists oppose this?
The issue therefore is that there are already schemes of reservation operating in society, which favor those who are more privileged.
Yes! And we don't need more of those schemes!
There would be little or no need for reservations in the public or private sector if these other schemes were non-existent, which is how it is in many economically developed countries.
Gross non-sequitur. Plus, developed countries do not have problems of scare resources, huge populations. In any case, caste-based-reservations do not solve any of these problems. They'll, I'll repeat, double harm the people who are of certain castes.
If positions or seats went to those who had the best ability or skill, then there would be more equity in society. But that is not the way things happen.
Not entirely true. And if partly true, does it mean we should worsen it? How much equitable society has turned in last fifty years of educational and public sector quotas? The legacy is complacency, incompetence and a complete degeneration of politics.
This is not what happens in western countries. Why is it that even factory workers, construction workers, or s municipal cleaners can afford to educate their children and even own a car in these countries? Because these societies realize the importance of dignity of labor, that minimum wages are to be given to every worker for society to progress; whereas in our case, a vast majority do not even get enough for self-subsistence, and we justify it by arbitrarily imposing different values on different skills.
More gross non-sequitur... Western countries do not have the problems of huge populations, colonial history of loot, legacy of a faulty educational system created for babus, and hazaar such problems. Yes, they are problems for India, and they need to be tackled. Caste-based-reservations won't change any of those. They'll worsen them, by creating more inequalities, and will buy governments more time to ignore the basic problems facing the Indian society. The medicine, is worse than the disease!

PS: The author accept in the end that The policy is essentially a sop, doesn't change things much, but keeps certain groups happy but is comes too late, and too lame. It's like a lip service to the opposite camp. Consider this also, My objective in writing all this is not so much to provoke a debate, as to help you make an informed statement next time you support or oppose reservations. After pages after pages of data that tries to justify reservations, and virtually nothing that questions it, how does one make an informed statement? Afterall, where is the other side? The refusal to debate makes it worse. It's like, hey, I'm a sociologist, you're kids, I told you the facts, now go away and make your informed decisions. More is expected from professors from elite (couldn't resist that one!) schools.

The Logic (?) Behind Reservations 

I am amazed at the total abandon of logic, reason and consistency with the pro-reservation arguments. Over the last few days, despite my resolve not to come back to the subject again, I kept coming across gratuitous arguments made in support of the (private sector) reservations.

On Sulekha blogs, sudeepks posted a blog A case for reservation in private sector recently. He didn't add anything of his own, but quoted from R. Jagannathan's guest column on Rediff : Why there should be job reservation

So let's look at the points raised therein:
"For the corporate recruiter, merit should merely mean competence -- the ability to do a job well. It is not ultimately about marks and academic brilliance..."
First, it's for companies to decide what competency means for them.
It is easy to say that affirmative action should begin with education, but the problem is that our education system is seriously flawed -- even for the upper classes.

It should not take 17-19 years of school and college to learn the basic competencies needed for most jobs, but unfortunately that is what the Indian school system is all about. It is an elaborate scheme to keep the better-off sections away from the job market as long as possible. Dalits can't afford this merry-go-round.
Splendid! So now the failure of government's long stint in education is somehow to be used as an excuse to allow them to force private sectors to bring in the so called affirmative action. If Dalits can't afford this merry-go-round, how come most other lower-middle class upper-castes can afford it? And why are they out of this affirmative action?
If the economics of education is so adverse even for people who can afford it, why suggest the same for those who can't? Dalits simply don't have the money or the time to waste on this kind of 'education.'
The typical illogic that reservationists would imply... Who are these people who can afford (by author's own calculation) 4-5 lakh per child on Student's education? How do they afford it, if not by extremely focused priority -- of educating their kids, at whatever hardships. Do they have that kind of money to waste on education? Really? Which country is the author talking about?
Against this backdrop, the question businessmen must ask themselves in not 'whether' they should be doing affirmative action, but 'how.'
How convenient! Let me summarize -- government's education policy is a failure, dalit's cannot waste their money on such education, so dispense off with education, and give them jobs instead. QED!
But before that it is necessary to dispel some myths about 'merit.' The word means different things to different people.

For the person who's just entering the job market, merit means academic excellence. For Dalits and others who can't wave a high-90s mark-sheet in a recruiter's face, merit is an entry barrier erected by society to deny them a decent job.
Let's substitute merit with some other words, say honesty.. now let me rephrase it: For the person who's just entering the job market, hardworking means ready-to-toil. For lazy people who cannot prove their readiness to toil, a recruiter's face, hardwork is an entry barrier erected by society to deny them a decent job. Intelligence? Is it a barrier to deny dumb people a decent job? So yes, merit is a fuzzy concept is a point well taken, but to ask companies to discard academic excellence as a metric of it is in simple words stupid! And BTW, companies look at a lot more than academic excellence.
For the corporate recruiter, merit should merely mean competence -- the ability to do a job well. It is not ultimately about marks and academic brilliance.
And is it written on the face? How does a corporate recruiter gauge it?
Going by the corporate recruiter's definition, affirmative action immediately becomes a possibility. The truth is you don't need 17-19 years of education to do most corporate jobs competently.

Any adult, with just two or three years of targeted learning and exposure to elementary language and arithmetic skills, can do most non-specialized jobs in any office. He may not become a heart surgeon or civil engineer, but most other jobs will fall within his area of competence with just some additional training.
What about: mechanical engineers, marine engineers, lawyers, doctors, chemical engineers, architects, financial advisors, CAs, Teachers ...? What about those who are out there trying to make themselves competent for the industry in one form or another? They should be abandoned in favor of those who despite quotas haven't raised themselves to the level -- which according to the author should not take more than 2-3 years!
On the other hand, competence and job success depend not so much on the initial fund of knowledge one acquires in school but on the willingness to learn and determination to succeed.
And Monsieur, is it stamped on the faces?
Today, most companies prefer to employ women in many areas not because they bring great new skills (though there is some of that as well), but because they bring in better attitudes and a will to succeed.
Well these better attitudes are over and above the minimum competency criteria. Prey tell me, do they employ incompetent (academic excellence and other selection criteria) women these days!
As a general rule, the disadvantaged always bring a greater determination to succeed than the rest. Applying the same logic to Dalits and minorities, I believe they will bring a greater motivation to succeed against the odds.
To tell you the truth, yes, disadvantaged always bring in a greater determination to succeed. Like those poor-to-middle-class upper-caste kids who are guaranteed no quotas, and have to miss their tryst with dreams because of couple of marks. It's they that the reservationists betray. And for what? A caste based social-justice?
The corporate sector should, therefore, work on a new agenda for affirmative action. The first thing to do is an internal audit -- two of them, in fact. One should check how many members of the poorer sections they are actually employing, and at what levels.

The other audit will involve assessing jobs where the skills/knowledge needed can be easily imparted to anyone
So far so good.
Two, based on the above audits, companies need to earmark an HR budget for making investments in identifying and training people from the target groups of Dalits and other backward castes.
See the silent dropping of poor (which was there in the first audit -- of any caste! So much for consistency...
Affirmative action is not about charity. It is about building workplace diversity and competitive advantage by using the innate motivations of the disadvantaged to succeed in life.
Well, those who insist merit means different things to different people, however think that disadvantaged somehow means the same thing -- the dalits and the backward castes... Well, there are hundreds of metrics one could apply for this disadvantage... caste, religion, intelligence at birth, quality of parental care, place of birth (rural vs. urban), gender, aptitude and what not! Why are the reservationists obsessed with only one of them -- caste?

Monday, June 28, 2004

A Step Towards A Civil Code? 

There is a liberal school of thought that believes that the so called uniform civil code should come into existence more through consensus rather through legislation. That viewpoint has its skeptics (I was one of them), but The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) seems set to renounce its covert (and overt?) support to a regressive and anti-women practice of triple talaq.

Muslims to divorce talaq norms

This is a major development in the recent times, and is a sign that there is non-trivial will to reforms from within the Indian Muslim community. Yes, it stops short of the goal of uniform civil code, but it's nonetheless much more civil than the earlier (outdated) religious law.
The new talaqnama, carefully drafted by the Board clerics after carrying out deliberations for three years, disapproves of the age-old three-talaaq system and replaces it with the Shariat-approved 'phased-talaaq'.

Under the new talaqnama, the separating couples would be given a minimum of three months to reconcile, instead of shauhar (husband) just firing talaaqs to separate without giving any chance to his begum.

Muslim women, who virtually had no separation rights till now, have also been given equal rights to approach the Qazi for separation against their erring husbands.

The Board is also recommending increase in 'Mehr', which is fixed at the time of marriage. Parents would be advised to fix a staggering amount to protect matrimony of their daughters.
I think those who are really concerned about the plight of Muslim women (and for that reason demand UCC), should at least partly welcome these developments.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Patronising Secularism?  

The Leader Article in today's TOI (Patronising Secularism: Watching Dev Through Muslim Eyes by Farah Naqvi) got me thinking. On the onset, let me say that the author makes some interesting points. But at the same time there is much in the article that needs to be addressed. Let me also stress, that I've not watched the film, so I cannot speak for/against it; that's not the point of this post at all.

The basic approach taken in the article is wrong -- in that she first insists that Dev is about Gujarat, the Mumbai specific references notwithstanding, and then insists that to those events [i.e in Gujarat] Nihalani has done a grave injustice. This is strange to say the least. First you insist that it's not a donkey but a bull, and then question why it doesn't have horns! But that's a minor point.
Far worse, Nihalani reinforces the action-reaction justification for the carnage. (The burning of the Sabarmati coach at Godhra and the killing of the kar sevaks is here substituted by a motorcycle bomb which kills devotees at a Ganesh temple.)
Again, as I've not seen the film I don't know if it really justifies such a carnage. But then can a filmmaker start in a vacuum? Any communal riot starts with some event. That not same as saying the event justifies the riot, but just that the event still is the nominal cause.
While the true facts of Godhra remain a mystery (which we hope our new and esteemed railway minister will soon unravel), Nihalani does not engage with such bothersome detail. In his version, an evil Muslim don is responsible for the bomb blast which begins the cycle of revenge-massacre of Muslims.
Again this strange obsession with reading something wrongly, and then accusing the film-maker for ones irrational conclusions. It's the author who's insisting that the film is about Gujarat, not Nihlani. But the main point as far as I'm concerned comes much later.
At another level, Dev is a narrative about an Indian nation whose salvation lies in soft, patronising secularism. The upright police officer mouths platitudes about the samvidhan or Constitution. He will not violate the samvidhan at the behest of the wicked CM, he declares time and again, with portraits of Gandhi-Nehru prominent in the backdrop. It would be fine if things stopped here. But his secularism is made greater, its generosity even more generous, because he has ample reason not to worry too much about the samvidhan . Dev lost his young son to a terrorist's bullets. (The religious affiliation of the terrorist is never specified. Nihalani leaves it to our imagination.) In this, Dev is India, a nation wounded by Muslim terrorists. Yet, Dev is magnanimous enough to embrace all religions in his secular person.
And what is wrong with that? The fact is, for those who have not lost their near and dear ones to terrorists supported by ISI money, it's easier to be secular! As a film-maker, Nihalani through his protagonist, seems to be asking even those who have lost their keen to such religious fanaticism to not to forget the secular ideal, and not to lose the thought of what is right. Whatever else mica be wrong with the movie, I don't believe this is wrong! Afterall, where else does India's salvation lie? I'll come back to it later.

Naqvi's problem, however, is expressed in a nut-shell in this next few sentences:
Secularism, the narrative seems to suggest, is not a matter of right but of patronage by a large-hearted and forgiving nation-state. Indeed, so great and inclusive is this secularism, that Dev even begins to see Farhan as his dead son, wooing him away from the influence of Muslim don Latif...Finally, Farhan sees the truth. Only in accepting the moral leadership of Dev, the high secular Hindu, can the Muslim community get justice and salvation. Farhan (read as legitimate Muslim anger) is neutralised. Long live secularism.
The problem then is with (as the title suggests), watching Dev through Muslim eyes. (Why can Naqvi watch Dev through secular eyes?). There are so many contradictions here, that they deserve a full length article. But let me be brief in addressing them.

First, what is this legitimate Muslim anger? The author abhors the very possibility of Godhara being used as justification of Gujarat (so much so that she starts reading those things in a film). But by calling the Muslim anger (that misguides a youth to pick up a gun and join hands with underworld) legitimate, isn't she justifying almost everything from terrorism in Kashmir to serial bomb-blasts, to latest Mumbai blasts? How can you have it and eat it too? Why is Farhan's anger justified, whereas the anger of those hindus in Gujarat is not? This is a contradiction that the educated Muslims need to address very soon! Because India's stability practically hangs by these issues. Any anger, that leads to killing innocents in revenge, is illegitimate. No amount of rhetoric can justify either Godhra or Gujarat or Akshardham or ...

The other point about secularism being projected as not a right but a patronage or a favor is another point that the liberal Muslims need to introspect on. How do they want it? As a right? But then any rights in India (or any nation-state for that matter) are fragile -- considering that it's human beings who run nation-states. Laws can assure you rights (as they are already assured -- to the level of appeasement), but not that those rights would be upheld. In a day to day word, it boils down to goodwill of the enforcing agents (who will be by statistical laws, more likely be from the majority community). Then again goodwill isn't really a right. It has to be earned. And herein lies the paradox. That goodwill cannot come without magnanimity from the majority community, in the present scenario. To attack a film that urges the majority to be magnanimous and at the same time rooting for on paper rights is really suicidal for Indian Muslims, IMO. It's these magnanimous ethos of the indic culture (call it Hinduism, or call it composite culture) that has sustained the fragile secularism in whatever form it has managed to survive. And the minorities need this secularism more!

Monday, June 21, 2004

Enuf is Enuff! 

The Ishrat Tamasha and the Modi Tamasha (which are linked for sure, only the extent is unclear) exposes how shallow Indian political scene is, for the umteenth time. We have a chief minister with serious allegations of state-complicity (at best) and state-involvement (at worst) in the genocide (yeah, the shades of orange are going to dislike the word, but who cares!) of Muslims, getting a landslide majority. This happened with the same party in power at the centre. Well, apart from a few poetic musings, there was not a word of condemnation from the party chiefs at that time. Suddenly Atalji realizes that it was Modi that cost them the recent elections! Well, suddenly the ELM sniffs a chance of Modi Hatao. More hungama, more U-turns. Opportunistic state level leaders suddenly on the attack. And then, what the kids call fuska-baar (when a fire-cracker instead of bursting just gives out smoke)!

Enter LeT. The Lashkar-e-Toiba hand allegedly tries to reach Modi, in another assassination attempt! (Guys, don't create a Mahatma Modi now, please!). It's chopped off, and very efficiently at that. Knowing how the Gujarat machinery runs, questions will be raised about the authenticity of the encounter. In fact such questions are a testimony to a vibrant democracy, where state is also under the gaze.

Enter the Maharashtra government, and other usual suspects, however, and the ugly face of the farce is evident. Even bleeding heart liberals would be left wondering if they bleed enough! This time NCP-Congress combine has beaten them in the race.

Cong calls Ishrat's encounter fabricated

They didn't stop there! One NCP MLA, Vasant Davkhare gave an aid of Rs. 1 lakh to the family! No need to wait for a CBI probe? No need to even wait for preliminary reports of routine police enquiry, eh? I mean, we're not talking about Dube case here (how much did Davkhare sent Dube's family, BTW? Any idea?). We're talking about alleged LeT connections. Surely, one would want to wait till some information is out! But hey! Assembly elections are out on the corner. And Muslim votes cannot be ignored. So what if later you had to chew your own toes. That's what they teach you first thing in politics, don't they!

Of course, the liberals can't be left behind! TOI was quick to roll its sleeves. Do one thing, go to TOI site and search on Ishrat. There are a whooping thirty odd (relevant) links! And look at the language:
The most disturbing question, however, concerns Ishrat. An 18-year-old girl, who had just entered the second year of a graduate course in Mumbai's Khalsa College.

Everyone college mates, neighbours, family insists she was a girl who stuck to her studies and household chores, besides giving tuition lessons. Many flatly refused to believe she could be a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist who'd gone to Ahmedabad to help assassinate Modi.
Couldn't it be that she was living two lives? Why does it not occur to (allegedly) intelligent reports to ask question like, what was a girl from Thane who stuck to her studies and household chores doing with three men in Ahamedabad? Was her family that liberal that it would let a lone girl roam around in other town with male friends? But then I forget, when heart bleeds, logic deserts you. We must forgive them these lapses.

Well they don't stop raising questions either! Look at the timing of this special report:
Rise And Fall Of The Killer Cops

And then, the sole protector of human rights in the fascist India, the NHRC turns its eagle eye.. whatever that means!

Can it get any more ridiculous than this! Those who believe in secularism, please don't remain silent while these jokers are abusing it, twisting it beyond recognition, and destroying it slowly. Speak up, through blogs, through comments sections on the main-stream-media, letters-to-editors (which won't be printed, but then put them back on blogs). Because, if secularism is murdered like this, India has nothing to look forward to. There comes a time when one must say, Enuf is Enuff!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Code Coolies or Code Daddies? 

Came across this interesting question on slashdot:

Parenting and a Career in Coding?
Thinking back on all the software development groups I've been in, it seems most of the coders were not parents, and the coders that were parents seemed to have trouble with things like dealing with unplanned death marches and not being there for their family. So my question to the programmers with kids out there: How does a programming career jive with family life?
Positively nerdy question, I know, but the discussion that follows it is amazing. Even nerds, then, are empathizing with the dilemma of family vs. work life.

On a relevant note, married software professionals (at least in India), seem to face another problem. The field is ruled by bachelors, who live away from their families. Workplace is their home, gym, internet cafe, TT room and canteen combined. These guys come at obscene hours and leave at still obscene hours. It's almost embarrassing to walk out at 7 pm for married guys/girls. And since even bosses come in late many a times, all they see is you being one of the first ones to leave. Or am I the only one imagining that?

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