Social Disadvantage and Meritocracy


Of late, I have been encountering some interesting and poignant articles on the above rather complex topic. The relevance of this topic comes up time and again during wide-ranging discussions with intellectual friends that I am fortunate to have.

Again, this is not the first time I am touching upon this sensitive area as it pertains to India. I have always been sensitive to the socially disadvantaged sections of the Indian Society. I was given an education on the same by one of my engineering school classmates, who was from what we call in India as “lower caste” – a caste that successive Indian Governments have categorized for special treatment due to centuries of penury and depravement. When I see poor people in Singapore (!) who need three meals everyday to be provided by charity, I am reminded of those sections of the society who do not have three meals in India. Disclosure: I try to work at the Willing Hearts Charity and contribute in cooking/packing meals during weekends, as I believe money does not solve everything, and our personal time commitment is called for.

While I never had a superiority complex within myself during my school days, I was kind of different from many others in my network as my father was a lawyer and author, who was open to fresh perspectives and ideas, and treated everyone equal when they arrived in his office. There was no special treatment for anyone, and neither did he indulge me. He asked me to read complicated texts much beyond my age, and always insisted that I should be good in English writing, and be sympathetic to the poor on the streets and not despise them.

I learnt from my secondary school days that Jesuit Fathers who taught me (I was lucky) treated all students in the same manner – there was no preference because some students practiced Christianity. My primary school days were also very good as I was in a Catholic School which inculcated values and equal treatment of everyone. This does not mean that I changed over from Hinduism to Christianity – I just liked the structure that Christianity put in place as compared to the unstructured Hinduism, though I have to say that Hinduism perpetuated an openness and creativity due its amorphous existence. Well, this is becoming a discussion on religions, which it is not!

Let us get back to casteism and the perpetuation of the same in Indian society. Unfortunately the Caste System exists even today in India, and people belonging to different castes and even sub-castes get treated differently by the powers that be. Vote bank politics is the cause of many of the ills plaguing the society, and the perpetuations of the caste system is a direct result of the same.

In my opinion, meritocracy has no relationship to the caste system. It is a surprising derivation to most of my friends, who beg to differ. My perspective is as follows: the presence of merit is uneven in any society. There are excellent students in lower castes of the Indian Society (as is often proven via results from competitive exams), there may be more excellent students in the “upper” castes due to the conducive environment provided to them by their established family background and systems. The concentration of merit is surely uneven, and given the proper learning and supportive environment, no one should be surprised if students belonging to lower castes outperform students coming from upper castes.

But it is not about the caste system – the very analysis of caste-based performance in everything ranging from academic excellence to business to economics to politics is ruinous as has been evidenced by over six decades of India’s existence. It is critical to support the lower rungs of “untouchables” who were led by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s to enter Hindu Temples. Many of these untouchables still continue in their old profession even 90 years after Mahatma Gandhi “touched” them. Less than 10% of these lowest rung of society has climbed to higher levels with regard to standing in society. Should we be ashamed? Yes, of course. Democracy is supposed to do far better. Is there a caste system in the U.S. or the U.K.? Why do we have one in India?

However, for the lower castes which have matched the upper castes in their economic performance, measured in terms of GDP per Capita, the government need not continue to provide support. These lower castes should hold their heads high and march along with the upper castes towards contributing to the economic predominance of India in the coming years, and should not let votebank politics dictate terms to them. A similar advice is applicable to the upper castes – no upper caste is superior to any other caste or person coming from any kind of background. People are created equal. We should get this into our “hard” heads. Unless we mingle with everyone in a casteless society (like what you see in the Silicon Valley – would anyone even mention India’s Caste System when setting up a company and recruiting professionals in the Valley?), India cannot progress towards an egalitarian society.

I would like to repeat that the economically disadvantaged sections of the society, the “untouchables”, the lowest rungs of the society – these are people who need everyone’s support to climb the ladder. Let us not knock off this ladder.

Government should re-engineer the society; every eligible individaul who is economically disadvantaged should be given limited entitlements for a period of time so that he or she can upgrade himself or herself. And, this starts with compulsory education for ALL.

THINK DIFFERENTLY! India is rising to the top of the world’s pecking order, and we need to rise ourselves!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th August 2016

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One comment

  1. vijayaraghavan

    Good one…who to tie the bell, yes vijay indeed good reforms,as u said political vote bank and for power craven politician from top to bottom are equal in this matter irrespective of their party or their ediology. Good thought vijay………vijayaraghavan

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