Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I started this blog by copy-pasting an emotionally charged letter I wrote this morning to my engineering classmates' group. I thought, I could add value to the blog by chronicling the developments regarding this issue in as I see it.

HI friends,
AIIMS people have confirmed that this is a hoax. The earlier SMS (or
mail) reporting that certain students had collapsed during the strike
was also denied. I myself have no way to know. But I feel, in moments
when emotions are running high, a single hoax may cause things to go out
of control. Be careful in forwarding unconfirmed information. Lots of
people have already taken to streets, petitions are being signed, and
there is a general concern on the whole matter. Rest assured there's no
apathy in the intellectual community regarding this issue.

I don't know if we will succeed in stopping this bill from being
passed, but this will be a crucial point in the history of our country.
We had just started thinking that India is arriving. We thought that
with a bit of more hard work, perseverance and faith we could make our
nation what we think it actually is. This bill brings us down with a
thud! There isn't a way to tell whose fault it is. Perhaps, the notion
of India shining was a hoax. Perhaps because GDP and Forex is rising,
some handful of us are enjoying a more expensive lifestyle, we have been
fooled to assume that India is going ahead. May be in the dazzle of so
much riches, we have forgotten many of our fellows. Their jealousy is
not justifiable, yet it is understandable.

Or perhaps, it's being framed by social parasites who depend on merit
never realising its own value. There are definitely elements in the
society who don't have enough survival capabilities in them to survive
by themselves. They need a host whose vital power they can suck out for
their own survival. They will live only as long as the host survives.
They won't let the host die; nor would they let it go. Ayn Rand would
ask us to leave this country and go elsewhere. She would say that the
virtue we have been taught as 'patriotism' is the first vicious dope
that has been planted in us so we will never be able to free ourselves
from the clutches of our parasites. Perhaps, Rand would argue that at
this juncture forsaking the motherland would be the greatest service
that we could do her. Parasites will automatically dry away in absence
of the hosts.

I don't know! It's very tragic.


Interesting links:
Protest Rally in Bangalore (Pritesh's account)

A fumbling Arjun Singh
- Interview given to IBNLive

An Economically Divided India - Could these developments be but side-effects of the skewed development that we are so excited about?

Youth for Equality

Voting for the Closest Competitor

Mao's best students - Chandan Mitra


Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

My friends,
My letter to you in the morning, and the adjoining thoughts, have been
churning in my head. There was one old bookmarked link I had grazed
through once, and had refused to think over again, in a more optimistic
mood. Today, I was drawn to re-read it, and think a bit on it.,,1746948,00.html

No! Don't listen to Ayn Rand. There's still hope. We can bring up a new
generation that manufactures love and harmony at the same rate as they
manufacture money. We can't change the corrupt politicians. But we can
change their kids who can be gradually shown the falseness of the maxim
that one can't prosper (live) without dishonesty.

And don't think Adam Smith's postulates work in India too. Our
becoming rich doesn't ensure the nation's wealth.
It needs us to accept that there's something bigger than our individual
prosperity which needs a conscious design and intellectual and emotional
inputs. We can do something. We must!

We can change the world. Come back, you all! :)

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

This wonderfully balanced piece has been moving around as a forward. I therefore upload it without taking explicit permission from the author.

OBC Reservations: An IIT Faculty Member's View Prof. M. Balakrishnan, IIT Delhi

Nearly six decades after independence, this country is planning to announce that majority of its population is backward and does not have equal opportunity to pursue education and employment. Along with this, it is going to open up a Pandora's Box by various caste groups to be classified as "backward". What an interesting way to begin the 21st century when finally India was beginning to emerge as a serious player in
the new knowledge economy! The major carrot that is being doled out is the seats in the elite medical, engineering and management Institutes. What bothers me is no one is interested in even consulting the people who have built these Institutions and brought them to this stature. I have strong views on efficacy of reservations in general but here I would confine myself to the issues concerning IITs. At least here with my three decade long association, I can claim to know something. Many of these arguments may be applicable to the other elite Institutions in medical
and management disciplines as well.

Today IITs are considered excellent educational institutions. There is a countrywide scramble to get into these with many students spending the best part of their teen years in preparing for its entrance examinations. This should not be confused with ranking of universities where just a couple of IITs make it in the top 500. These rankings deal primarily with the research output and not with the quality of undergraduate education. I can confidently say that any ranking of quality of undergraduate engineers produced would put IITs in the top 20 worldwide if not in the top 10. And it is this achievement that is going to be hard to maintain with the proposed reservations policy. Before we go any further, it would be best to examine how this excellence has been achieved.

The fundamental contribution that the Central Government has made to these institutions is in generous funding (by Indian, not global standards)
combined with unmatched autonomy. The main point of engagement between the Government and these Institutions has been through the appointment of Directors. Except for a brief period during the last administration, the Governments had refrained from any major politicking in these appointments. They have by and large appointed the best available applicant Professor from the same or another IIT for the job. These venerable people had themselves a great pride in these Institutions and have ran the Institutes with the best of their abilities (maybe not always
efficiently but always fairly) without major vested interest.

For someone outside IITs to understand the power of this position is not easy. The Director virtually appoints the complete senior administration including the deputy directors and deans, chairs all the faculty selections including that for the Professors, is the chairman of the senate and thus the academic head, is the financial head and also the administrative head. For most people living in the campus, which includes 90% of faculty and students, he is also the chairman of the local municipality (all major complaints on water, electricity, sewage etc. would reach him). This ensures that the buck almost always stops with him and thus decision making is unavoidable. This autonomy that has been the hallmark of these institutions is being eroded. There were attempts in the last Government (fortunately not vigorously pursued) to tell IITs what to teach. The present decision would strike at the fundamentals of IITs as the Government no longer feels whom to teach and how many to teach is best decided by these Institutions themselves. This in my opinion is the most dangerous fallout as it strikes at the very core of the success of these Institutions. Once the lines of control gets blurred, there would be no stopping, as today's political functioning is clearly not dictated by long term vision. Soon we could have reservations in faculty and create a caste based patronage system which has destroyed many of the once excellent state universities.

In IITs, the faculty selected and promoted solely based on merit has maintained a high standard of ethical behavior, have taken their teaching and
research seriously, refrained from politicking themselves and supported the Institute in many ways to fulfill its commitments. Who are these faculty members? A large number are our own alumni (undergraduates as well as postgraduates), majority of them have studied or conducted research in the west and almost all of them have had opportunities of pursuing financially much more lucrative careers in India and abroad. Thus each faculty member is here by choice and he/she has exercised that choice with one major attraction - opportunity to teach, interact and work with extremely bright students perhaps unmatched anywhere. It is this attraction that is being tampered with. In a situation where all IITs are short of faculty and desperately trying to innovate to attract faculty under the constraints of the pay commission dictated salaries (while competing with Sensex based salaries), this is not a pleasant development.

IITs have had reservations for SC/STs for decades. Why would this be different? Aren't these students likely to be better prepared than the students admitted under the existing reserved category? Here I would like to share some of the facts with the readers. IITs have been admitting SC/ST students for years under two modes. From the general category, a significantly lower JEE cutoff is decided and reserved category students scoring above this cutoff are admitted directly to the UG programmes. Another still lower cutoff is decided and reserved category students from
this set are admitted to a one year preparatory course conducted by IITs themselves. After passing this course, they can join the programmes without having to appear in JEE again. Even this exercise collectively yields less than 15% in IIT Delhi though the quota amounts to nearly 22.5%. Half of the reserved category students manage to clear courses comfortably while the other half struggle on the margins. What
would be called a good performance (cumulative grade point average or CGPA of 8 and above) and is achieved by nearly forty percent of general category students, is rare and occurs once in many years among the reserved category students. It is not that all general category students do well. There is nearly a 5% "dropout" rate even among them which is a cause of concern but mainly attributed to the burnout due to JEE preparation phase. The "dropout" students have no effect on teaching as they neither are regular nor make their presence felt in classes. The remaining
part of weak students is too small and at present hardly any instructor would pitch his / her course at that level. On the other hand, the present policy may introduce a large band of weak students which no instructor can ignore. This would definitely result in drop in the quality of education. It is the hypocrisy of the highest order that on one hand the reservation for SC/STs is considered a success and quoted for extension to OBCs, and on the other hand, no hard data on the performance of these students is available in the public domain. Some administrators I talked to
consider this data as sensitive! Analysis of where the reserved category students go after graduation would be enlightening. I do not have the sensitive data but my experience shows that most of them either go to services like IAS/IES or to the public sector companies. Normally this choice of careers by IIT graduates should be a matter of satisfaction except that both these entries are again using the reservation quota. Is it empowerment or crutches for life?

In this whole episode, the most stunning news for me was when the Hon'ble minister announced increase in intake to compensate for the reservations. This would amount to nearly 56% overall increase in undergraduate intake in the IITs. This showed complete ignorance of
what makes IIT undergraduate education tick. There are few Institutions in the world where undergraduate students get to interact one to one and so freely with such high-caliber faculty. Students are advised on courses in small groups, interact over hostel dinners, go on industrial trips and finally carry out a well supervised project. Every undergraduate student does an intensive "novel" project either individually or in groups of two and he/she is effectively "supervised" by a faculty member. Many of them result in publications. This system evolved when the student-faculty ratio was 6:1 and is getting strained at the seams when it has reached 12:1. In some disciplines like Computer Sciences and Electrical Engineering where market competition is heavy, it has already gone to 20:1 and above. Though currently producing excellent results, it is a highly non-scalable mechanism. Intake increase on this scale, when effectively faculty strengths in key areas are decreasing could sound a death-knell to one of our few international brand names.

I have a poser for Prof. Jayati Ghosh, my well renowned colleague from JNU and a member of the knowledge commission. She has justified reservations in IITs based on the poor ranking of IITs internationally. Her argument is anyway these Institutions are not great, why they should crib about the quality of intake. She nowhere states that any of the 400+ odd Institutions worldwide which are ranked above IITs have achieved their status through reservations. In that case all Tamil Nadu Engineering Colleges with 69% reservation for decades (openly defying the Supreme Court suggested norm of 50%) now should be at the top.

Postscript: Finally, I would like to seek opinion on the composition of our next Olympics team. We have admittedly done much poorer in sports than education. Should our next Olympics team be chosen on caste basis or perhaps with adequate representation to athletes aged 40+ who are at present completely unrepresented? After all we do not have much to lose as we only win one bronze medal in alternate Olympics. I would no longer be surprised if some future Sports Minister considers caste based quotas for our national cricket team. After all that would be worth a few votes and the nation would have been well prepared by then to cheer only for its own caste brethren!

The author is a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at IIT Delhi. He has been with IIT Delhi since 1977 except for a three year stint outside India. Currently he is on Sabbatical and working with a startup. The views represented here are completely his own.
M. Balakrishnan (
5, Taxila Apartments
IIT Delhi Campus,
New Delhi - 110016

Pritesh said...

I have read both the links Sujju, the Guardian article and the letter from the IITD prof.

I don't quite know what to feel except for sorry for the people who sit quiet and let the handful of idiots decide their fate and their generations to come!

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Interesting anti-reservation account


Sun is rising as usual in the east. Im standing here outside the
for my 10 yr kid. He studies in
class 2. Only this year he could get admission into the school. For the
last 5 yrs, admissions were closed for the general category students.
School bell rings. I can see a lot of happy children
coming out of the gate, i waited for half an hour and my kid came at last
after other children. Genaral students are not allowed to cross the gate unless
other OBC/SC/ST students have crossed the gates. OBC/SC/ST fathers drive away their children in classy cars. But i hv to
walk back home with my kid a 5km stretch. I lost my car some years back when Govt. came with a rule that general
people have to deposit a tax equal to cost of their cars. Failing which i had to
sell the car. As far as buses are concerned, the seats in buses are reserved for
OBC/SC/ST. So no place there also. After walking some 5km in scorching heat i finally reached home.It was
wednesday ... shit , no electricity.Every mon,wed,thu,sat is power cut in the houses
of General category population .So that SC/ST/OBC can be uplifted by providing
them with every opportunity and in that consideration electricity is an
important factor. Its 10:00 pm in night no electricity at home. Its very hot inside the four
walls of home .So i dare to step out in park with my wife and kid.I seated myself
with my family on a secluded bench in garden. It was hardly 5 min ... a guard came to us strolling in the park.He asked
me what caste you belong to. I said with some hesitation .. G..General.He asked me to pay a fine of
Rs.200 and get out of the park. My Fault... The bench i was sitting on was meant for again the SC/ST/OBC. For their upliftment, peace of mind is an essential things. So govt came with this
decision to reserve benches for them.Kudos to them... Its early in the morning ...the newspaper wala just knocked the door.I took
the newspaper and started reading ..,its independence day . i never used to
forget this days some 20 yrs back. My kid hardly knows wat 15th august is,because
i never told him any stories of greatness of our country or
anything realted to country.I don't feel like telling him the failures
after freedom. On front page of newspaper, in a corner their is a news about a OBC member
getting 6 months impriosonment in "BAL SUDHAR GRAHA" from a juvenile court
for murdering and raping a six year old girl. Yes the rules have been amended
,since the last 5 years.The Culprit was a 25 year old OBC so age relaxation was provided
for trial of crime.So he was taken to juvenile court, since there is an age
relaxation for OBC/SC/ST. About 11 am some one gave me the BAD news about demise of
one of my neighbour and friend Mr.Mehta. I went to his house for condolence
next day,his body was lying there still rotting in the heat.I asked his son
about the Cremation .His son told me
" Many reserved category have died yesterday so we are not getting entry to creamtion ground ".
This rule is the latest from Govt.Where the seats in creamtion ground will
be reserved for SC/ST/OBC for their upliftment.
Finally next day Mehta ji was creamted.i could see the sun setting through
the Flames burning a libarated Body, liberated from caste n creed.I was
surprised sun still sets in the west.?
it was about 9 pm , i was about to sleep in my bed my son
came to me with innocence in his eyes , inquisitively he asked me the
question:"what is reservation?"
i asked me where u listened that .
he suddenly burst in tears .. i asked him to keep..quiet
But i could listen through his sobs "mujhe bhi reservation chahiye".
How can i convince him its no other toy in the market i can get for him? He
kept cryin that night ,claiming many of "his classmates have got reservation".
To make him quiet i said ok ,i'll buy you reservation at your next B'day.
HOPE he understands the bloody concept soon ...