For OBC students, information works

The Supreme Court's sharp question on the exclusion of the creamy layer among OBCs in higher education has thrown the government in a quandary. Politicians are united in their desire to include the creamy layer, with the exception of the CPI(M), while there is wide disagreement among bureaucrats about the correct policy. The Supreme Court has also dared to bring up the issue of a creamy layer among SCs/STs.

As many sociologists have argued, OBCs are a very heterogeneous group whose number and socio-economic status has not been established convincingly. Clearly, OBCs have not suffered from the historical indignities and discriminatory treatment meted out to SCs. Certain OBC castes are socially/economically backward but many have made progress. Despite Mandal, the logic for quotas for SCs/STs does not apply to OBCs. Any policy for them has to be based on "new" evidence about discrimination.

Modern society has convinced OBCs that one of the routes to economic / social mobility is education. Since the quotas issue is emotive, mainly with regard to institutions of higher education like the IIT, let us look at the kind of people who make it to these institutions. It appears that it is the hard working, aspiring young Indian from the village/small town who enters the IIT and less and less the urbanised, elite youth.

Let me illustrate this with the story of two OBC boys who would be considered disadvantaged. The first is from a family nudging the poverty line. His father served in the army and retired on a monthly pension of Rs 1,500. The son studied in the village school until Class 5 and then in a school in another village until Class 10. He then went to a nearby town to complete Class 12. He did well and was told by his maths teacher to prepare for the entrance exam to a regional engineering college. His father borrowed Rs 1 lakh from a teacher in the village and the boy went off to Kota for coaching. Here he heard about the IITs and decided to try his luck with the JEE. He took his exam in Hindi and passed.

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