Sunday, May 21, 2006

Protests mount in India over college caste quotas et al

Protests mount in India over college caste quotas - Reuters

Doctors block roads in India caste quota protests - Reuters

Thousands of Doctors Strike in New Delphi - AP

Indian police beat students backing caste quota - AP

India Threatens to Fire Hundreds of Docs - AP

Taking a look at India’s ‘reservation’ program, that country’s analog to U.S. affirmative action, is independently illustrative of why over 40 years of this initiative, with all its promise, has done little to pull the whole of 39 million US Blacks from the economic doldrums.

India, a third-world nation of 1.1 billion people, is struggling against a historical backdrop of a caste system whereby five groups are roughly distributed across socio-economic strata determining jobs, housing, salary, and wealth. While it was officially abolished over 50 years ago, it remains in predominant force.

The lowest caste members, including the ‘untouchables’, must traverse countless barriers their entire lives to attain special consideration for a university education or government job. The ineffectiveness of challenging disparity by reserving spaces at the final developmental stop, before a group member enters the economy, is much studied and indisputable, but nonetheless the mainstay of their initiative.

Mitigating the caste system by legal means has proven impossible, just as civil rights laws in this country have failed to bring about true equal opportunity and parity. Laws do not make people do the right thing, but rather set limits on how much of the wrong thing they are allowed to dispense, before deserving sanction.

The right thing is paying attention to schools in poor neighborhoods with the same vigor as those in wealthy areas. The right thing is creating education programs that are optimized to preparing disadvantaged kids to go to college, not to pass a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) tests, that point the way to a spot behind the counter at McDonald’s.

Urban Advanced Placement (AP) programs are great for ferreting out the subset of Black high school kids, who like the ‘talented-tenth’ of lower caste India, are able to muster themselves to the front of the line, for their reserved spot. But what happens to the greater group of Black kids who do not fit AP curriculums originally designed for White kids? They simply disappear into the statistics.

India has the excuse that they are a poor country, simply unable to help their kids at the beginning of their journey to parity. This may be true, but what excuse does America have when we provide hundreds of billions of dollars of aid to the world, while our own children get so little of what they need.

When you control for the differences in industrial status between India and the US, their version of affirmative action, like in the US, helps a fortunate few, while leaving the masses to feel even less adequate and supported to the challenges of contributing citizenship. However well intentioned, affirmative action’s dismal results merit a complete overhaul of how this country challenges and supports minority progress.

James C. Collier


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