AIIMS students and doctors (no longer in active strike) are in protest against Arjun Singh’s proposal to add 22.5% reservation to the people who belong to so called other backward castes (OBC). I did a podcast on this issue when this announcement was actually made (April first week). There was quite a lot of attention given to the issue in blogs and media and to an extent by the students (as they show in TV) in India as well. But nothing close to what’s happening now. There’s been a clear 40 day gap between what’s happening now as a “reaction” to Arjun Singh’s announcement and the announcement itself, don’t know if they took the time to consolidate themselves. Still, a month seems like a long period for planning a protest and hunger strike.
If you are wondering why the medical students are so active and there’s been next to no response from students from other faculties (engineering and sciences), it’s because of this:
-->The reservation scheme suggested now includes postgraduate studies as well.
While postgraduate studies in India is not a big deal for UG students in Engg, it is for the med students; especially when the number of seats is halved or less than that in most of the institutions. Since what I write here is not going to change anything, I’ll save myself the effort and time of searching the exact numbers. I’ll just give a shallow theory based on my assumptions.
It appears as if the majority of students of the AIIMS belong to OC. Let me make up some random numbers (out of 100)
No of students who belong to OC = 50
No of students who belong to OBC = 27
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 23
We should keep in mind that the OBC students who are currently enrolled in AIIMS and other such institutions, got in through open competition. So Arjun Singh’s announcement would actually favour the existing OBC students. Now let’s see what the case is when they try to go for PG studies.
Again I’m making up some ridiculously extreme numbers here (this time the GPA),
All OC students have an average of 90%
All OBC students have an average of 85%
All of SC/ST students have an average of 80%
As we saw earlier the number of PG seats is half or less than half of the UG seats. So if there are 50 seats for PG,
13 seats are allocated to SC/ST students
12 seats are allocated to OBC students and
25 seats for open competition
Hmm… seems like it’s close to 50% chance for each student to get in to the PG program. The obvious problem is the difference in credentials required for each student. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Let me play with the numbers, this time a bit more on the dangerous side,
No of students who belong to OC = 65
No of students who belong to OBC = 12
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 23
Now, the OC students have 38% chance, the SC students have 50% chance and OBC students have a 100% chance of making it to PG studies. And there are always self-respecting students from SC/ST and OBC category who not only have high average but also high moral values. Assuming half of SC/ST students (say X) choose to fight it out in open category the no of students in OC changes a little but with wider ramifications,
No of students who belong to OC + X = 77
No of students who belong to OBC = 12
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 13
Now, the OC students have 32% chance, the SC students - X, have 100% chance and OBC students have a 100% chance of making it to PG studies. Woah that is scary! ridiculous, yet scary. My assumption is that this is pretty much the case now, and that’s why so many medical students have jumped in to protests while others have not.
The arithmetic above also may explain why virtually no student from TN has joined AIIMS students’ protests (not even symbolically). How? TN already has 69% reservation for the so called OBC, MBC and SC/ST students. I’m not sure of the exact split, but only 31% is for open competition. So it’s very likely that we’ll have the spread as follows
No of students who belong to OC = 30
No of students who belong to OBC/MBC = 60
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 10
Again there are those students from OBC and SC/ST who got their seats through open competition (meaning, they did not use their reservation when they entered UGS but may use it while entering PGS).
The majority of the existing students have already gotten their seats using reservations, and that’s how it’s been for over 15 years. Why the heck would they protest when what’s happening up north doesn’t have any effect on the existing system in TN? And that’s exactly why you see so many students from TN completely apathetic to this issue or in some cases show support to the proposed scheme. There’s also the anti-Brahmin sentiment fostered by the Dravidian parties for decades. A lot of students truly believe that Brahmins control most of the academia by crooked means. Others just don’t care as long as they are benefited by the scheme.
This is not to suggest that the AIIMS students and those who have joined the former’s protests are doing so just because they are personally affected, but that seems to be a major contributing factor. No disrespect to those students--few as it may be--who are protesting for meritocracy1 just for the sake of it, without any personal motive.
My claim above is supported by the fact the IIT students all over India have so far made no strong protest independently or with the med students (sure “they have shown support”). Then come the school students who don't seem to be bothered by this at all.
There are schools that have 500 plus students studying in them every year, if anyone should be concerned, it should be them above everyone else. The reason I mentioned about the schools having 500 and above students is to counter the claim that school students cannot act as organized as college students. +1 and +2 students are mostly 16 or 17. If those teenagers have cell phones and girlfriends/boyfriends, I would be appalled if their age is given as a reason for their lack of action.
What am I trying to say from all this? I’m saying that while the AIIMS students’ protests may be seen as the “awakening of the youth of a country”, it, sadly for India, is not. What you are witnessing, in my opinion, is just a bunch of students who are angered by the immediate “injustice” they are going to face. For, they did not oppose when the reservations were already in place for OBCs in TN and few other states. Did they not know that such reservations (actually more) were in TN or did they not care enough to voice against it? Neither of the scenarios paints a good picture of the current or the past students.3
Yes my pessimism is screaming loud here. These students were definitely at some level inspired by the young protesters of Nepal. They probably thought they can snowball a rally as days pass by. But to their dismay it’s turning in to a miserably failed coup with the killing of the entire militia. Yes, Manmohan singh has finally setup a committee to look in to the issue and I hope that there is a positive outcome notwithstanding the lack of support from other students and pro-reservation rallies.3
This is where we differ from Nepal and other countries that have had "successful" protests and rallies. India has a lot of people who just don’t care. The OC students in school would rather slog for 2 more hours a day than organize a protest or request a judicial enquiry through the court. Ironically though, this group is what is contributing to the development of India. They just work hard to beat the politics and bureaucracy that constantly stand as hurdles in their path. Some escape them and go abroad, but some, thanks to their complacency and parochial view of the world, stay back. Of course, there are those exceptional souls like Kalam and Kasthurirangan who neither escape the system nor surrender, but fight it out.
To restate what I said about IIT students earlier, the existing students don’t care, they are going out. Not many of them continue their higher studies (if they choose to) in India, another reason to not care.
I’m generally against protests of any kind, especially in India; because protests have long been carried out by people who don’t have a just cause to back them. So governments, for whatever reasons, have gotten used to ignoring those protests too. If AIIMS protests are going to be successful it may set a bad precedent. Threatening the government, whatever the cause is, should be entertained only to the extent of setting up a judicial enquiry in to the issue. And if the Supreme Court has already passed an unqualified judgment, there shouldn’t any more protest regarding the issue.4
Let’s see how this issue proceeds further. I’ve expressed my take on the reservation issue in my podcast. I don’t feel like spending the time to type it out (knowing that it’s been discussed well by a lot of others).
Disclaimer: The use of OC, OBC, SC/ST in the post above is simply to indicate what is used in government records. The grades and spread of people from various castes in the equations above don’t mean that OCs generally have a higher average or vice versa. The term FC (forward caste) is no longer used and it's been replaced with OC (other caste). OC is also used interchangeably with open category or open comptetion in related dicussions.
1 The way meritocracy is defined and assessed is debatable and needs a separate discussion.
2 The pro-reservation rallies are just political gimmicks as most of those who took part in the rally did not even know why they were in the rally (as shown in NDTV). Not to mention the fact that there was literally no student from AIIMS or other universities that are going to be affected by the scheme in question.
3 There werent any large scale protests in TN--when 69% reservations were introduced--for obvious reasons. Protests of this kind would have been disastrous in TN 15 years ago. Some of the students might have even been burnt alive by the anti-Brahmin DMK cadres.
4 Like that of Medha Patkar’s protest against the increase of height of the dams across the river Narmada. She even went to the extent of criticizing the Supreme Court’s latest judgment – a criminal offence.