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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reservations - A simple problem of 'framing'

The government want’s to increase reservation in higher education institutions and there are widespread protests against the same. The government proposes to reduce the impact of this move on general category students by increasing the overall number of seats so that the number of seats in the general category remains the same.

But the issue being protested is one of ‘merit’ and whether number of seats are increased or not – is not the issue at hand.

I myself have been aghast at the proposed move. I simply find it impossible to accept the fact that a bunch of people get entry into a college inspite of their poor performance in the entrance test – but because of their caste. It's outrageous..

But then this morning, I was watching telly (as usual nothing interesting ever seems to be on) and a thought came to my mind. What if the issue was framed differently? What if the government were to announce that they are going to set up new engineering, medical and business schools specifically for backward caste students. All of a sudden, I find that this move is not quite so abhorrent. Why? Both things ideas (reservation with increased seats or new colleges) tantamount to essentially one and the same thing – but the difference in reaction is stark. And although I have not explored this with others, but my sense is that there will be quite a few from the ‘opposition to reservation camp’ who would react in a manner similar to how I reacted.

Yes, when I think deeply I can find flaws with this idea as well – but the violent initial reaction that the idea of reservation generates in me was (almost) completely absent here. The difference in initial reaction could not have been starker.

If I think deeper as to why my reaction changes so drastically – the answer is simple. In the reservation idea, one gets a sense (at least I do) that something is being taken away from one section of the society and given to other (rightly or wrongly is immaterial). But in the second idea when the issue is being framed differently, one does not get a sense that something is being taken away. It’s just that something is being created new and given to a section of the society. While one may argue that in the same token something should also be created for the other section of the society – but not creating something for one section does not evoke the same negativity and strong views as when something is taken away from one section and given to other.

Does herein lie the solution for the current imbroglio? I do not know – its for the ‘guardian’s of our constitution’ to decide!

But, this has been a true eye opener for me. I mean I have read in books about the problems associated with ‘framing’ and how humans react differently to what is essentially the same problem if it is framed differently. Fine – but when you yourself experience it, it springs a set of completely contrasting emotions. Firstly there is disappointment – because you’ve just realized how gullible/irrational you are, and then there is elation – because you have probably discovered something new about yourself, something new on the issue at hand and somehow I felt as if I made a connection with the theory!

This incident is going to stay with me for some time.

That’s it for now….

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