It is festival time here in Mumbai. With so much lighting on the streets, pandals at every corner, music being played, excited people running around and making sure that every small detail is attended to, one would guess there’s another big Indian festival around the corner. No, this is not the IPL. There are no idols either, inside the pandals. Instead, what we see is a giant framed picture of a man who had himself, in his last days, given up on the Hindu way and had converted to Buddhism. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in his last speech at the constituent assembly on November 25, 1949, warned against three things. The foremost among those was hero-worshipping or Bhakti. It seems he has himself fallen as victim to/has become the subject of a practice he wanted his followers to forsake.
Enough has been written about his political stances by pens far more learned and competent than mine. I shall, therefore, focus on one decision of his that directly touches every student’s prospect in this country – his stand on reserving seats in the public institutions for those belonging to categories that had faced oppression for centuries. This had been argued as an effort to provide relief to the marginalized people.
However, in recent times this policy has become increasingly unpopular among certain sections and despite the ongoing political debate, no party has been adventurous enough to do away with this in the past 70 years. At times, when there has indeed been some alteration, it has been the other way around and thus, increasing the percentage of reserved seats even further.
Many believe that this one policy is holding India from becoming a developed, self-reliant country. At the same time, violent protests are instigated in parts of the country by people, who want their community/caste to be included in the reserved category. However, is this system that flawed? Doesn’t it actually benefit the deprived? What happens to the category students once they are inside the walls of the institution?
It’s been about a year that I have been studying in an IIM. However, there hasn’t been an instance where I could have inferred that a particular student is here merely by his birth, and not talent. In fact, this is the biggest mistake one can commit here in an IIM – underestimating your peers. We students have a camaraderie that is well beyond our places of and status at birth. Here people make friends based on common interests and practices, and not on beliefs, religion or status. We celebrate every festival as our own and (to our relief) have special food on each festival day. It doesn’t harm that we, being so diverse, celebrate more festivals than any other nation does.
Imagine this happening in pre-independence India, when, at times, the mere sight of a Dalit used to “pollute” a Brahmin! One might argue that the marks secured to get in, can reflect the category to which one belongs. However, once you are here, you are valued primarily for you skill-set, not how you fared in CAT 20XX. No one knows you for what you were before. Your reputation is solely dependent on what you do inside the premises in these two years.
IIMs are places that have some ugly truths, as has been documented here. Fierce competition, sheer professionalism, the secrecy and haughtiness of some committee/club members – yes, these are all present. However, at the same time, this is where life-long friendships develop, people receive one another with open arms, have night long debates on myriad topics and a place where petty quarrels based on imagined categorization at birth is absent. Here, students choose a group they want to be a part of, they choose subjects they want to study and [sometimes] they also choose a partner they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
I imagine this is what Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar had foreseen when he argued that the marginalized sections be granted reservations in public institutions. And despite their differences, Mahatma Gandhi would also be proud of a place where such brotherhood exists. The later politicians, who were not visionaries of his stature, furthered this to meet their own political ends. It is past time that we students, having enjoyed the fruits of this unity, having understood that there is no dearth of talent in any individual, irrespective of his birth status, had taken this comradeship and these practices outside our campus walls.
About the author: Hi! I am a current student at IIM Rohtak and at present, I am interning in Mumbai.