This is the personal blog of Ritwik Agrawal. I was a student of mathematics at Hindu College (University of Delhi), an activist with the United Students group and a co-founder of the popular cricket games site PlanetCricket.net - the largest site of its kind in the world. I now blog at http://www.ritwikagrawal.com


Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Caesar of United Students

As many of you might be aware, I am part of an organization called United Students [US] which contested the Presidential post of the Delhi University Students Union this year. Our presidential candidate was a a guy named Aaditya Dar [his blog], a final year student of economics at Kirori Mal College.

Now Mr. Dar or Dar-Sir as he is respectfully called by his comrades in United Students is a natural born leader with several fantastic qualities - he is sincere [and more important, looks like he is sincere], trustworthy, intelligent, articulate and patient. He has these qualities in such abundance that all US members are now wondering as to whether we will get even a single candidate of the same calibre to put up for next year's DUSU elections. Such eminent personalities as Ishita "ishiavelli" Tiwary [her blog], "megastar" Aaditya Raj Kaul [the mega blog], "depressed poet" Aldeena Raju [her you-know-what] and Kush "toilets are my domain" Verma [unfortunately he doesn't approve of blogging - unfortunate because we would've all loved to hear his 'moaning housewife' routines reverbating on the blogosphere] have confided to the author that the chances of such a cataclysmic event [of another Aaditya Dar being found] taking place are as negligible as the "doped rapper" getting a haircut.

It is clear then that Dar-Sir is someone that all future generations of United Students can look up to. In recognition of this excellence I propose that just like Roman emperors after Gaius Julious Caesar attached "Caesar" with their names, all future United Students candidates for president must also afix the title "Dar" with their names. So do not in the future be surprised to find headlines such as the following:

" United Students announces Dar Abhinav Varma as presidential candidate"
"Dar Aditya Raj Kaul addresses the media on campaign expenditure limits and electoral reforms"

In fact, instead of using the long-winded phrase "Candidate for the presidential post of the Delhi University Students Union", we can just mention that this year's "Dar" is so and so. Apart from giving due recognition to the excellence of Dar-sir, this will also be in keeping with the organization's goal to simplify matters for students [basically in the same vein as our voter-ID campaign].

I'd like to conclude with a slightly modified version of the slogan we used for Dar-Sir's election campaign:

"Har party ko kiska Dar ? Is saal ka dar, is saal ka dar"


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reservations - Exploding the Myths Part II.


In continuation with the series on Affirmative Action vis a vis Reservations, today I seek to discuss an important element of the comprehensive Affirmative Action programmes in place in several American Universities - "Outreach Pogrammes". Such programs seek to reach out to students of colleges/institutions that have historically been predominantly "black" or "colored" - which means that a large portion of their pupils belong to historically disadvantaged backgrounds.


Affirmative Action (AA) in education in the USA was first started in the Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) in the year 1968.

The academicians behind this drive understood the need to improve the skill sets and educational accomplishments of students from disadvantaged communities before they were granted admission to Harvard - to bring them on par with others at the University lest a situation arises where they (or others) question their worth or talents. For this purpose Harvard started extensive outreach programmes to traditionally black institutions - helping out with both improvement of infrastructure and facilities as well as by providing counselling services and by inputs in pedagogy & methods of teaching.

"The decision [to extend affiramtive action-Ritwik] resulted in extensive outreach to historically Black colleges; faculty members volunteered time and out-of-pocket expenses to visit schools whose students had never dreamt of applying to Harvard. "
(Leon Eisenberg, M.D.)

Mantaining Standards of Academics & Research
It is clear from the underlying philosophy of outreach programmes, that even during its infancy, Affirmative Action was implemented in the USA keeping in mind that standards of academics and research of an institution must not be allowed to fall; prospective students have to brought to the level of the institution and not the other way round - because if an educational institution started catering to [and therby ignoring] the academic or technical defeciencies of its pupils it loses the credibility to impart learning.

Over the course of the last [nearly] 40 years, outreach programmes have continued to remain and have in fact grown in importance as critical elements of the Affirmative Action policies of all leading American universities and liberal arts colleges, as well as businesses in the USA and other countries. Since AA in such countries as the US is meant to a large degree as a tool of removing inequalities and increasing diversity [and not only a means of "harvesting" votes or an instance of what is popularly known as "vote bank politics"], significant changes have been recorded in the general situation of blacks, hispanics and other minority and disadvantaged communities. A positive change of this sort has only been possible due to their focus on providing AA in conjunction with improving the standards of education and health care at the primary and secondary levels, and also by a large degree through their innovative outreach programmes.

Sources & References
1. Thirty Years of Affirmative Action at HMS: What Has it Accomplished?
Leon Eisenberg, M.D.Professor of Social Medicine EmeritusHarvard Medical School
2. The Origins of Affirmative Action by Marguirita Sykes


Sunday, November 12, 2006

in focus: Reservations - Exploding the myths Part I

In this first part of my new series, I will focus on drawing the reader's attention to the main points of distinction between Reservations [as implemented in India, on the basis of caste] and Affirmative Action.

Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action is a broader concept as compared to Reservation. In fact it can be cogently argued that reservation is just one form of providing Affirmative Action.

Marguita Sykes defines Affirmative Action as follows:
"Affirmative action, the set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “ "

The actual phrase "affirmative action" was first used in President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 which requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

A comprehensive system of Affirmative Action, such as the one that is in place in the United States, concentrates on recognizing the various levels at which a person might be discriminated against in society - such as race, national origin, gender or economic conditions and then seeks to tackle all of the varied methods of exclusion working in society:

For eg: a poor black woman is usually thought of as socially more backward than a black woman who is from a middle class background. Hence, by demands of natural justice the former should benefit to a greater degree by affirmative action programmes. Also, a poor white American is socially disadvantaged inspite of the colour of his skin, and hence will receive certain benefits under the US Affirmative Action system notwithstanding that he is white.

Significantly, the American Model is based on the premise that standards of academic achievement and administrative efficiency cannot be compromised while providing for the cause of social justice - the focus is on bringing the underpriveleged to the same level as the other sections of society. The motto of prividing AA is "all things being equal, a candidate belonging to a historically deprived community will gain preference over a candidate not belonging to such a community". In this crucial element, caste-based reservations differ greatly from Affirmative Action, particularly from systems of AA in the United States. Having said that, let us now take a look at how Affirmative Action works in India [in the form of caste-based reservations].


The most prominent part of Affirmative Action policies in India has been the policy of extending caste-based reservations in government jobs and in government run and funded (and in some states even in privately administered) institutes of higher education. This is basically a "quota" or fixed percentages system - a certain portion of positions available in every course, discipline and in various government services are reserved for people who belong to historically "oppressed communities" or to communities which are not adequately represented in higher education and in white collar, high paying and/or powerful jobs.

The biggest problem that many have with a system of Affirmative Action based solely [or even largely] on reservation is that quota-based allocation of seats reduces efficiency by sacrificing "merit" or the requisite capibilites or professional training - reservation does not talk of providing preference to a person belonging to an oppressed or backward community over a non-backward candidate only when they are equally matched in all other factors of determining fitness for employment or admission("everything else being equal"); rather it talks about consciously lowering standards to satisfy the demands of "social justice".

Points of Difference

In summary, the main points of difference between AA as practiced in the United States [and several other countries] and reservations as implemented in India are as follows:

1. A comprehensive system of AA recognizes various factors of exclusion (race, sex, national origin, economic conditions etc) and seeks to tackle all such factors which might not allow an individual to achieve their true merit.
in contrast - reservation recognizes only caste as a factor of exclusion. Other things like gender are conveniently forgotten.
2. Standards of excellence and administrative efficiency are paramount under AA - candidates from historically deprived sections are first brought to the same competitive level as others through "outreach" programmes.
in contrast - a policy of caste-based reservation consciously seeks to devalue merit for the sake of "social justice"
3. Quotas and fixed percentages are squarely rejected under AA. Fixing quotas is banned in the US and the UK.
in contrast - caste-based quotas are the norm in India.
4. Each institute and organization is free to develop its own systems of AA. There is no central directive from the government, and thus no "one size fits all" approach to this critical issue. [For eg: Why should AA work identically in Delhi University having 150,000+ students and JNU with 5000 students ?]
in contrast - The central and state governments decide upon the extent and style of reservation for all institutes of higher learning under their control.

Selected Sources and References:
1. Harvard Medical School Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs
4. The Origins of Affirmative Action by Marguita Sykes
5. Department of Global Workforce and Diversity, International Business Machines [ibm]

TOMORROW: A look at how outreach programmes work in US universities, with the particular example of Harvard University.


Sorry and some more stuff ...

Dear reader (umm I hope that pisses you off, if it doesn't then shame on you!) I know that I promised that I will be starting the new affirmative action vis a vis reservation series from friday, but that has unfortunately not been possible due to 1.) overwhelming pressure from various sides and the imminent approach of several deadlines and 2.) the piece is taking longer than I anticipated in terms of research (in fact I've been intermittently doing research on this for the last two years). But I will try really hard to get it done tommorow (monday).

Ishita on
http://ishtiwary.spaces.live.com (her blog; knowledge of sms-speak is essential to decipher the initial postings) has said that she is looking forward to some debates over the blogosphere with me.
my response: ha ha ha :)


Friday, November 10, 2006

in focus: affirmative action vis a vis reservations

Starting later today, I will be focusing on drawing distinctions between 'reservation' (on whatever criteria) and the significantly broader concept of Affirmative Action.

This has been an issue close to my heart for at least the last couple of years, and particularly since the Union Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Arjun Singh announced that central government funded institutes of higher education all across India will extend the benefit of 27% percent reservations to the so-called "other backward classes".

Over the course of the largerly acriminous debate that followed this announcement, I have noted several instances where facts are being misrepresented or altogether obfuscated, in order to confuse people so that they think of Affirmative Action (AA) and Reservation to be one and the same. Later today (that is, Friday the 10th of November) I will post the first part in this series which will focus on the primary distinctions between these two concepts.

I will also be briefly examining how affirmative action is applied in the United States, and how a prominent Dalit leader has been consistently obfuscating facts regarding the implementation of AA in the USA.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

First things first

This - my first post on my new blog will hopefully herald many more, straight from the heart postings. I would use this first post to explain why I finally decided to get a blog, why this blog has been named the way it has, and what all I would like to share with you (my not-so-esteemed readers :)) through this wonderful medium.

I know it is very very late in the day for any self respecting netizen to start their FIRST blog in November 2006. Yet, here I am, both self respecting and a bona fide netizen, finally waking upto the reality of blogging (One of my friends would say "Good morning!" at this stage :)). Well, my way of looking at it is that once again I have proved how different, original and innovative I can be :)

On the surface, there's no particular reason that I finally decided to "take the plunge", so to speak. But I had this idea of starting a blog in my head for quite sometime now, since I was excited at the possibilities it provided in 1.) letting one organize and express their thoughts, 2.) develop and evolve one's writing style (of course for such a thing to happen it is paramount that blogs are not written in sms-speak :)), and 3.) influence others (and be influenced as well) in far off places in a regular and systematic manner. Whatever you might be thinking, the fact that Google Adsense allows you to earn money through affiliate advertising on blogs was NOT one of the reasons I decided to get into this game :p

As far as the nomenclature goes, I think RitwikVersionOnePointZero should be self explanatory (by now at least), since I am called Ritwik and this is my first blog, hence the version number.

Coming to the sort of content this blog will carry: since this is a personal blog I will not like myself to be
restricted in talking about anything and everything I wish. For obvious reasons, these would be things in which I am interested in, but the reader needn't worry on this count, as I have quite a variety of interests, and if a little perserverence is shown (which you are already showing my friend, to read uptil here :)) then I am sure that I can touch upon topics that would interest most people. More than that, I would endeavour to give my own, hopefully original take on such issues.

All comments are most welcome. I will not delete or hide ANY comment unless it is totally unrelated to the subject of the post (for eg, an advertisement for ever-effective viagara in a topic about affirmative action, although it might be interesting and maybe eventually profitable to attempt to link the two!).