It is extremely difficult to imagine that the so-called premier institutions of India like the IITs and IIMs successfully evaded the reservation norms all these years in the name of institutional autonomy and using an archaic notification issued by the Department of Personnel and Training. “As of January 2018, of the 642 faculty members across the 13 IIMs, four were from the SC and one from the ST categories,” according to a survey conducted by an IIM Bengaluru alumnus and its faculty. This means just five people from more than a quarter of India’s population. If this does not indicate the collective hypocrisy in the name of social justice, then what will?
Even though the principle of reservation was constitutionally guaranteed, previous governments conveniently looked the other way as institutions remained tardy in fulfilling the quotas.
No wonder then that the level of social sensitivity was extremely discouraging at these institutions. “Caste plays a significant role in handholding and mentorship in the entrepreneurship ecosystem,” wrote R. Vaidyanathan, a retired professor of finance at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru.
In his book, Caste as a Social Capital, Prof Vaidyanathan repeatedly asserts on the role of caste networks and the ancillary benefits they provide like access to credit, sharing of ideas, and exploiting connections for profitability. Therefore, caste and individual growth are inextricably linked with each other and viewing it in silos would be misleading.
Towards equitable representation
The recent notification from the Ministry of Human Resource Development for reservation for socially disadvantaged groups in IITs and IIMs will ensure equitable representation and social diversity in the faculty positions. The Modi government has walked the talk. This decision reflects that ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas’ is indeed an article of faith for his government.
Milind Kamble, founder chairman, Dalit Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry who is also serving as chairman, Board of Governors, IIM, Jammu, said, “We welcome the decision of the central government to allow preferential treatment for candidates from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories in recruitment of faculty members at IITs, IIMs and other premier institutions. This is an excellent policy decision that would provide opportunity for growth to everyone. There was very little semblance of social diversity at the leadership level of these institutions but with this move of the government, we will soon see people from SC and ST categories assume the deanship and directorship of these institutions.”
Reservation’s broad reach
Reservation has long been mistakenly viewed as a poverty alleviation scheme by a section of our intelligentsia. But it goes beyond that. Reservation is a tool for upward social mobility, dignity and respect. A huge section of the Hindu population has suffered oppression and institutional exploitation in the name of caste for a long time. The new Dalit assertion is focused on representation at key decision-making positions in government, media, judiciary, civil society and so on. Milind makes a powerful point when he says that Dalits now seek deanship and directorship of these institutions and they are not satisfied with a mere job to make ends meet.
A Dalit head of a centre at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) also embraced the Modi government’s decision but with a caveat. The professor said on the condition of anonymity, “Since the inception of the UGC (University Grants Commission) in 1956, there were attempts to provide reservations in faculty recruitment in these institutions. Only in 1974, in a vice-chancellor’s conference, concerns for reservation at the entry-level were raised and subsequently applied. The idea of positive discrimination at senior level was mooted by the UGC in 2006 but ignored by successive central governments. This move will be effective only if the executive authority becomes more socially compassionate otherwise after handful recruitments, Dalits will be isolated, humiliated and finally forced to leave.”
Having more Dalit faculty in institutions like the IIT and IIM is especially significant because their students go on to take up jobs in the private sector and multinational corporations. These are spaces that must expand and diversify their talent. They often operate in a vacuum with no caste understanding or empathy.
Thus, a fair share of the burden now lies upon the implementing authorities to realise the Modi government’s policy for recruitment. The government and society need to work in tandem to undo years of oppression and exclusion, and usher in a new era of social, political and economic justice. It cannot be more relevant than today when we celebrate 70 years of adoption of our Constitution.
The author is an Assistant Professor at Patna University. He is a member of the state executive committee, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, BJP’s youth wing, Bihar. Views are personal.