I got slightly involved in this year's notebook drive. But only slightly. I am perhaps not in a position to aggressively participate in social activities right now. But more importantly, I realised that the whole thing was not my type of stuff.
I became a member of 'IISc for Equality' orkut community. I sympathise with anti-reservation protests. I personally don't think that reservations do any good to the country. Hence, I joined the group. The other day, while I was sipping on my tumbler of milk near the mess, these people started gathering for one of their meetings. Quite nonchalantly, I joined them. I was quickly given some small responsibility. I realised that I was getting sucked into the thick of activities quicker than I was comfortable with. Perhaps, I chipped in at the wrong time -- when the activities of the group had already gained momentum; members were pretty excited, almost hyper. I didn't get a fair chance to refuse the little things I was being asked to do. However, my only reason for joining the meeting was coincidence and curiosity!
They are still busy in a very successful notebook drive. A commendable collection of nearly Rs. 80,000 has been done. More is coming. And there's additional contribution in the form of notebooks and other stationery. These will eventually go to the students of the nearby schools which are under-provided with facilities of teaching and learning. A very noble cause! And done with amazing effectiveness.
When during the meeting I came to know of their plans, my interest started getting somewhat kindled, and hence the lack of resistence to responsibilities.
However, in the night, another aspect came to light. 'Notebook Drive' is an event that has been going on in IISc for the last 5 or so consecutive years. It's fairly popular, has earned itself a name, and was already going to happen this year too. There weren't any fine prints to the movement. No political messages.
This time, however, the movement has been taken over by this 'IISc for Equality' people. The message of equality is being passed around along with the notebooks. The idea is: 'This is how you uplift the underprivileged. By providing them with their need for basic education. Not by reserving seats in the premier institutes.' I again nearly fully agree with this message.
I am therefore fully supportive of both 'IISc for Equality' and the 'Notebook Drive.' However, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of mixing them. ND has earned itself a brand name over the last several years. Especially because, noone could call it names in terms of its political leanings. This year, the scenario has got changed. Its effects will probably be felt even in the subsequent years.
I mentioned this issue to the leaders of the movement. They were quite logical in that this was more of a compromise solution, in preference to not doing anything at all or putting in divided efforts as two different teams. They had a point. I suggested that perhaps a better solution would have been to back the 'Notebook Drive' people as outside supporters. Another solution was to make the message of equality loud enough so noone felt cheated after contributing to it. I strongly felt that a person wishing to contribute to ND and not sympathising with IfE should neither be cheated into contributing to a cause he doesn't support, nor should he be prevented from contributing to ND. There's got created a sacrosanct aspect to the concept of ND. Mixing IfE is like violating that!
Unfortunately, these suggestions weren't listened to. I realised that there's some significant amount of game-playing involved here. Negotiations over control, over which message should be louder were going on; statements were being smuggled into the poster which passed IfE messages without letting ND people having a strong argument to oppose it due to its indirectness. I could also sense that there no more was any place for people raising any kind of doubts. I was listened to patiently only perhaps because I share good personal relations with them. But, I could see that their regards to my Devil's advocacy was also almost reaching its limit. The team, all due to its leaders, was all set for action. Time for doubts and arguments was assumed to be past.
Things are overall good. A noble cause is being served with great zeal that's not always seen in IISc. It's being done without too much noise. There's this glitch which made me uncomfortable. But I realise that it's not my business to term the whole thing wrong on that basis. I must say I still support them, although I still say that they should've kept away from the Notebook Drive. They could've actively supported it, and could've posteriori endorsed it. It was somewhat wrong taking control of an almost holy movement with political motives. The response created is a confused mix of people supporting the EfI and those for ND. If EfI claims that the collections denote how much support there is in IISc for their cause, it will be propagating a fallacy.
My stand was therefore to observe caution. I decided to be reactive. I was with them, but was not ready to take strong stands. I am sure, that earns me the status of a coward in the appraisal of the stalwarts of EfI, the way they have been functioning in the past couple of days. But voicing an opinion that's not mine is further from my nature than not voicing my opinion at all.
This episode is a proof of how good things sometimes have to be done with non-ideal methods. I appreciate the EfI/ND people for being active. Their status in this whole game is above mine who is judging the sides sitting in his armchair. This blog is with all due regards to their spirits.