Saturday, August 30, 2008

Caste-based Reservation System

I consider the biggest hurdle in resolving an issue is either the communication gap or the reluctance of people to accept other person's point. In the context of reservation, both of these hurdles are acting simultaneously. This is a very sensitive issue and hence politicians often bypass it on discussing over it at public forums. However, if you've ever participated on any chai-ki-thadi-discussions (coffee house debates would sound more sophisticated) or get a chance to listen to any of the daily up-downers debate in train or even the canteen gossips, this issue rises almost everywhere. This is where the major problem lies, people proposes but politicians disposes. Anyways, I'm free to give my opinion over it and here, I'm.

Reservation supporters often argue that affirmative action schemes are in place in many countries including USA, South Africa, Brazil etc. However, these people forget that these affirmative action programmes especially in the USA, differ significantly from the caste-based reservation system in place in India. Affirmative Action in the USA recognizes that there are multiple factors of exclusion and discrimination working in society (such as race, gender, economic factors etc) while caste-based reservations focus only on caste at the cost of addressing social justice concerns more effectively for the sake of narrow political ends. I believe that reservation only on the basis of caste tends to only perpetuate caste in society rather than eliminate it as a factor of social consideration, as envisaged by the Indian Constitution. It also weakens the notion of democratic citizenship by evaluating a person not on the basis of his/her merits or achievements or personal characteristics, but rather on the basis of accidents of birth.

One very interesting thing about reservation in India is that the "new beneficiaries" of the reservation system has been on a steep fall for last two decades or so (refer ISI survey). Can anyone please explain me why it was so when we've yet not touched one-tenth of the lives which we aimed to. Let me tell you, it is just because of the lack of logic and sense in prevailing system. Whatever is going on, is nothing but a political melodrama where politicians (one of them who used to change diapers in a school is now a billionaire in such a short time) are playing with the lives of the people who elected them. People often say that to provide social justice to the most marginalized and underprivileged is our duty and their human right. Their argument is that reservation will really help the marginalized people to lead successful lives, thus eliminating caste-based discrimination which is still widely prevalent in India especially in the rural areas. (about 60% of Indian population stays in Villages) But they forget the basic point which is that villages consist not only of the so called "lower classes" but also of the "upper castes"(30% rural population comprises upper castes according to national surveys). The economic conditions of the latter might not be much better than the former due to the fact that India's rural areas are generally not developed and lack in basic infrastructure and education and health facilities(More than 25% of Upper castes are illiterates and 65% upper castes income is below Rs 525/Month). In light of this, it is unfair to exclude the poor amongst the "upper castes". It is also unfair to not to exclude the rich or the influential amongst the "lower castes"(Many people from backward classes & minorities appear in Forbes rich Indians list).

People often argue that the basic feature of the caste system is endogamy. According to them, reservation is everywhere in India - The head of a big firm is always the son of the company's chair, irrespective of the fact that there is another meritious person. They say that the post of Temple priest in some temples is reserved only for a man from the Brahmin Caste, even if there is another person who knows the mantras. They believe that there is no opposition to these kinds of reservations, since these are for the benefits of "upper castes" while the only opposition is the reservations in education, since those would benefit people from the "lower castes" to climb the social ladder. For all those arguments, I want to comment that a distinction has to be drawn between the actions of a family-owned company or a religious foundation and the policies of a state founded on the principals of Secularism and Democracy. Meritocracy does not mean father has to transfer his wealth to best person ignoring his son and mother has to feed food to best child ignoring her own child. Inheritance of family owned properties is accepted practice all over the world. Denial of rights to section of population only based on birth without considering other factors was being followed in countries like South Africa in Apartheid era and being followed only in India and Malaysia currently. The most loaded question of present hour is – Whether this prevailing system is serving the purpose of unifying the society or is it rather worsening the divisions within society!


Well, let me tell you the truth that this is an excerpt from just another nukkad-discussion which took place today and I've tried to keep the arguments .and counter-arguments as it is. More views are always invited as it would provide a broader approach to our thoughts.

Weekend, Naah still a week day

Today is the sixth day of the week and technically, weekend has begun but not for us, the Reliance people. I thought of writing it, after knowing my other colleagues' status. They all are having 5-day week but still are struggling to strike the work-life balance right due to huge over times and work pressure. However, in Reliance, overtimes are not looked upon as some dignified thing neither huge work pressure and that you can say is an USP because in current era of cut-throat competition, everyone is pushing their employees to extreme.

The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to himself and to the public welfare. Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him. No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day's work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load.

Now, Reliance mightn't advocate this philosophy directly otherwise they would have readily accepted and incorporated the five day week concept but as they say, "Not everything at the workplace has to be policized" It has percolated in the work culture here, intentionally or unintentionally- that is a different case, though. People should not be made bound to work; rather they should be doing the work which they enjoy the most. They should be able to do something which makes them satisfied. Those who say that a pay-cheque or a big title on your visiting card does the needful need to conduct a market research with a broader sample size; I am sure, they would experience that most of the people derives satisfaction out of their work itself, and many-a-times through small pats on the back. Anyways, the purpose of me writing this post was basically covered in second para itself so I would discuss rest of the things in some other post.

Have a nice weekend! :P

P.S. – Sorry for being away from my blog, for such a long time. It was mainly because of my long vacation trip to homeJ. Hopefully, I'll regain the momentum shortly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Winning - An enigma

So, finally India has bagged its first individual gold medal in Olympics. It's good to see someone standing on the top of the podium with "jan gan man" playing in the background. It took whole country on a ride of happiness and rejoices, which incidentally made the cricket-freak-public forget about India's defeat in a test-series. Well, this is the best thing about "Winning". It takes away all the pain and agony and replaces it with immense pleasure. Winning simply changes the whole outlook of a person or a community towards every micro and macro aspects of life.

As this new century unfolds, though, the competitive urge is aimed increasingly at winning in everything you do -- and not necessarily at the expense of others. Leadership today involves motivating people, not killing them. Flatter organizations reward performance rather than title. And more people pick the places where they compete, easily moving in and out of jobs, industries, or even the workplace altogether. Today's competitors want it all -- career, family, and adventures that push them to new highs. Indeed, constantly trying to best previous winnings is the hallmark of some of the most competitive people in the world. Witness the intense discipline that prompted 19-year-old Santosh Kumar to borrow books, sell vegetables, tutor others, and study his way into the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, becoming a hero in his rural village in the northeastern province of Bihar. He's competing for a life no one in his family has ever had. Like Kumar, members of today's connected generation increasingly are driven to achieve more than their peers. Rivals make the game more challenging, serving as momentary roadblocks or even fuel.

What drives these people? Dopamine, perhaps, since scientists have found that activities such as winning tend to prompt a release of the feel-good brain chemical. Some eminent psychologist have correctly pointed out that the most chronic issue facing competitive people is "their excessive need to win not just the big points but the small points." So they attack a debate over where to eat with the same intensity as they negotiate a takeover. Yes, ambition can run amok. The world is full of people who compete in destructive ways, from despotic politicians to greedy corporate titans. That's the dark side of competitiveness, and those killer instincts are often fueled by insecurity, desperation, or vindictiveness.

In the context of competition and winning, I can remember one famous American quote, "In basketball you have to shoot 50pct. If you make an extra 10 shots per hundred, you are an All-Star. In baseball you have to get a hit 30 pct of the time. If you get an extra 10 hits per hundred at bats, you are on the cover of every magazine, lead off every SportsCenter and make the Hall of Fame. While in life, you need to hit it right only once in a lifetime and you are done" I think for rest all odds are still the same however for life, odds are getting different day-by-day. Now-a-days, everyone has to excel in almost every field he venture into and for that winning streak going, he need to remember just one truth – Winning.

Here lies the major problem; truth can never be changed so to identify something else like winning as the sole truth, the person is cheating himself. It results into pushing hard for certain thing and finally not getting much out of it (obviously, there is only one winner possible in most of the combats) This further leads to either suicides or many-a-times what some people call "burnt-out-syndrome". So, this needs to be taught to every person (if he's not learning himself) that there is a subtle difference between the winning and the desire for winning. Desire for winning, and not winning, should be the philosophy of people which will subsequently keep the competition, a competition and not make it a combat. However, there is one more issue with desire which somebody correctly pointed out- "Most of the desirable things in this world are either very expensive, or banned or committed to somebody else" Now, how to deal with this, I don't know!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three Mistakes

After a factual post, I thought it would be good to refresh all of us with a total time-pass post. This post would be more relevant to those people who have already read Chetan Bhagat's recent novel – Three Mistakes of My Life. For rest, it might be a spoiler (though, seriously there is nothing to spoil). Here, I'm trying to analogize three mistakes made by Govind (the protagonist of this novel) and three books by Chetan Bhagat here.

The first mistake of Govind was of taking risk in his business. Well, there was nothing like a mistake there; he was performing great and was doing that with not so risky bets. That time as well, he just bought a space in mall for his shop which was basically a risk taken on "anticipating the future trend". This was exactly the same thing done by Chetan Bhagat when he penned his first book; he just anticipated the future trend of Indian youth's growing interest in Indianized English fiction stuff. The only difference between Govind and Bhagat was that the Govind just proved to be not as lucky as his creator and faced the cruelty of an earthquake which shattered not only the mall but also his dreams. Bhagat on the other hand fortunately hit the gold with the success of his very first novel, though a rightly deserving one indeed.

The second mistake of Govind was a deliberate one though and it could have been avoided or handled in a better way. Anyone would agree on the fact that he should have dealt with Vidya thing more sophisticatedly and so is very true for Bhagat. He should have dealt with call center thing more sophisticatedly. Bhagat was right when he decided to capitalize on a contemporary idea but he should have framed the story in a much better manner by confiding with the demand of his readers and fans like me. Again in context of Govind, love is not a crime but he should have framed everything in different manner and should have tried to take Ishant and other stakeholders in confidence beforehand.

The third mistake of Govind was technically not a mistake; he was just playing safe by taking time to keep his life on the stake; actually anyone would. So was the case with Bhagat; he didn't want to write a pathetic novel but it just happened. Bhagat was basically taking a safe bet by including all the "hottest" discussion topics of Indian public like cricket, religion, politics, love, youth, and money. But he failed miserably because he missed the most important element of a fiction work – "good story" and Govind failed because he forgot the essence of life is not in living for oneself but in "living for others"

Lastly, but most importantly- Govind got a chance to make up for his mistake and he grabbed that opportunity to maximum. I hope, the same would happen with our Bhagat and he would make a strong comeback and would give Five Point Someone a worthy successor.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ye hai bambai meri jaan - Part 2

For my last post, I got comments like ‘it raised many questions but no answer’ or ‘it was just fun, nothing in-depth’. So, I’m back here and would like to address all those things now, though I never planned to come up with this topic yet again. First of all, I should say what organizations like “Bombay First” are doing is really remarkable but I think there are certain issues pertaining to the famous red-tapes of our country. Apart from them, I came across few more things which can be looked into, while reading through various articles over past one month.
As been rightly said by one person (sorry for not remembering his name), “Currently, Mumbai is a divided city — a city of the rich and the poor who live parallel yet inter-dependent lives.” It is a city that has edged away from manufacturing, which defined its central character, towards services without dealing with the messy leftovers of the move from one to the other. It is a city that projects and protects its cosmopolitan physical heritage while at the same time falling in with political demands by certain parties/organizations which emphasize their locations within Maharashtra. A vision of a city caught between so many contenders — the industrialist and the worker, the son of the soil and the world citizen, the elite and the poor — all claiming its citizenship must necessarily integrate their needs.
Two crucial areas in terms of transforming the city are transport and housing. Currently, Mumbai's record on public transport is average while on housing it is poor. This is evident from the fact that more than half the population lives in slums. The image of Mumbai as India's financial capital has gradually been replaced by its reality as India's slum capital — Slum-bay. This image of deterioration and physical decline has also contributed, to some extent, to the decline in its growth rate, something that worries the corporate world. In the last three or four years, Mumbai's GDP growth rate has declined to less than even 2.5 per cent per annum. The cost of doing business in Mumbai is just too high because of extortionist land prices and a deteriorating and over-stretched infrastructure.
Another question is that of raising the finances to implement improvement schemes. Multilateral agencies like the World Bank will be approached as they have been in the past. But the Bank has only just concluded negotiations for the $542 million Mumbai Urban Transport Project II (MUTP II) after a process that took an incredible 14 years. Over this period, the State Government, the Railways and the Municipal Corporation had to agree to institutional reform to ensure what the Bank sees as "sustainability" of the project. One of the prerequisites was the creation of an autonomous corporation, the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) that would straddle Western and Central Railways and take care of the railway component of the MUTP.
Another criterion for the MUTP was addressing the issue of poverty. Thus, the resettlement and rehabilitation of the 20,000 or so families that lived along the railway tracks and on land belonging to the Railways had to be negotiated. The Bank made their resettlement a precondition to the project. The three entities, the Railways, the State Government and the Municipal Corporation had to reach a consensus on how this would be done. Only after this was agreed to did the Bank clear the project. In fact, the model that this has created is one that can be replicated in other infrastructure projects as inevitably when a new road has to be built, a railway line expanded or water and sewerage pipes laid, people and their habitats are directly affected. Given this long and complicated process of negotiation for the MUTP, funding will be neither instant nor easy.
The McKinsey report does carry some useful suggestions. For instance, it suggests the creation of a single transportation agency that combines the roads department of the Municipal Corporation, the MRVC, and the Mumbai-related transport functions of the Public Works Department of the State Government, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation. Taking off from the model of the MRVC, which will facilitate the expansion of the commuter railway lines in Mumbai, such a step would help. Similarly, some of the suggestions on raising additional revenues so that the funding of the needs of the city is not dependent on external borrowings or donors are also worth examining.
In my opinion, major focus should be on generating momentum through quick wins, may be by focusing on some quick "on the ground" implementation that will be visible in a period of 1-2 years. This will not only help in developing a mindset but would also develop certain degree of confidence in people that “Yes, something can happen even in Mumbai”.
The long term things would be of immense significance, too. First and foremost of them is Maharashtra Trans Harbor Link (MTHL). Once completed, the MTHL will help decongest Mumbai, which now has a population of nearly 15 million. The design would comprise the main bridge across the harbor with approaches on sides, a 15-km dispersal system in Mumbai and a 35-km dispersal facility on the mainland. It would be an intelligent superhighway with a 4x4 road bridge and a corridor railway bridge equipped with sophisticated systems, multi-storey parking lots, shuttle bus services and other facilities. It will also prove to be a boon to a slew of economic activities coming up in the satellite township of Navi Mumbai and neighboring Raigad district, including Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport. There were many newsflashes across all the channels about two big bids for this project by Ambani brothers. However, both the bids were found to be unrealistic, and hence it was decided to cancel the tender process. Then, within a fortnight, MSRDC was asked to come up with its proposal for the project and then work will be taken up by year-end. So, again it seems like another dead end for a project which has been proposed in last century!!!
But my optimism takes the better of me again. Second big project, the Mumbai Metro recently received a big boost with the Central Govt. saying that it will take care of the viability gap. Well, this is another important development because this might help a lot in resolving the traffic and distances issue. Clearly, it is time for both the State and Central Govt to do something about the MTHL as well otherwise; it will remain where it is - a missing link.
Moreover, apart from all these physical characteristics, there has to be a change in the attitude of mumbaikars. How does the current situation stand up to these criteria? Driving without a license is easy to get away with (in any case, the punishment is just a 300 rupee fine!). Even a licensed driver has typically learned nothing beyond control of a vehicle. Priorities at intersections, correct behavior at traffic lights, avoiding obstruction of traffic, safely entering busy roads, carefully changing lanes and moderating one's speed - these notions might as well be abstract mathematics for a driver in Mumbai today. At the highest level, our traffic police needs to focus on its primary job - providing guidance. An analogy with parenting is appropriate here. Research shows that parents who are overindulgent most of the time, but occasionally inflict harsh punishment, are the worst kind. Their children do not follow principles of good behavior but only learn to avoid getting caught. The situation on our streets is similar and our response is that of badly brought-up children. The remedy for both problems is the same: an emphasis on guidance and training, explanations and stern warnings, with punishment reserved for repeated and deliberate offences. As this is the exact opposite of current practice, it will take time and a major publicity campaign - for the idea to catch on.
There is no question that something fairly drastic has to be done to deal with the urban crisis in cities like Mumbai. But it is essential to have a vision that encompasses the realities of these cities, how they have grown and who lives in them. Cities are increasingly a joint enterprise of the rich and the poor. A vision for their future must integrate the needs of both — being "world class" should not mean catering only to one class by creating a few islands of comfort for the rich while neglecting the rest of the city. And the question here is not if the city can afford this wrongly quoted “world class” status but whether we can afford to live in this reverie!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ye hai bambai meri jaan

There is a small section, a minority one, of already very-much divided Indian society which read my posts. Those people have been shouting on me since the day 1(rather say day 10) of my blogging that I scribble very rarely. Well, so here I’m with another edition for all of them and believe me this time they would be shouting on me for just the opposite reason because I’m gonna make it just as frequent as my diary-writing. Now, this is what I call Reliance-effect which has made me aim big. Let me get back to ground and rephrase my sentence saying that I aspire to get as regular as possible(now this was the b-school effect). So, this time let me start with something which I experienced in last 1 month or so.

Mumbai or Amchi mumbai (as the mumbaikars prefer to call it) may be a symbol of crowd for some people or may be even a symbol of distances or may be even a symbol of mechanized life but for me, it is the city of dreams. It is for the first time that I’m here (except for a small stint at IIT-B) and I’ve just fallen in love with the city for some unknown reason. There is something here which makes you believe that everything in this world is possible; this place makes you believe that you have got ‘the power of universe’(he-man fame).

Many-a-times I use to think that I’m an unlucky chap and missed out at many occasions by just very small margin however at many other times, I consider myself to be very lucky as wherever I go, I find such a great reception to my persona and overall, an opportunity to develop myself. Well, this has been true from school to engineering to IIM and is true even in context of Mumbai. It’s not very long since I landed here but have already got acquainted with some really nice chaps around. All these things have not only instilled hope in my heart but have also enhanced my confidence. I’m actually getting positive vibes out of this place despite all the evils which we talk about Mumbai all the time.

Yesterday night, I was surfing through news channels when I found a hue and cry by some “activists” about the growing obscenity (in context of more couples hanging around hand-in-hand) in Mumbai. Well, I do agree that people tend to go overboard with their loved ones and should take care of surroundings but seriously, tell me where else can they go? In local trains where it would take an age to reach your partner’s hand, which are so jam packed that you would be lucky if u can wipe sweat on your forehead. Or in the Best buses which make you realize that the population of India has crossed a billion mark (I tell you, you’ll get a bus per minute for at least 10 hours each day and still they are crowded to more than maximum) Or on the polluted streets where hawkers and venders take any nook or corner available. I bet you 100 bucks to walk on any footpaths of Mumbai for a stretch of 1 KM. People walk on roads like zombies returning from their office while autos n buses keep on honking their horns for sides. There is a limit to what a city can absorb and there is a word called 'planning' in dictionary. Hope our Mumbai administrators realize it some-day and people can have 'decent' living with 'breathable’ air, 'walkable' roads and 'commutable' rails n buses. Seriously when other day somebody told me that Mumbai is dead as far as any further development is concerned, I wondered and will have to accept that he had lot of merit in his argument. So, when somebody sang some 50 years back, "Ae dil hai mushqil jeena yahan, zara hatke zara bachke- ye hai bambai meri jaan" He has been very relevant since then and at least till now :)

Anyways despite all that, Mumbai is Mumbai, and I would love it any day any time........