Monday, September 21, 2015

Alternate Undergraduate Education - A proposal

In Tamil Nadu today, we have oversupply of Engineering colleges and seats. Too many seats are lying vacant. But the Arts, Science and Commerce colleges are fewer in number with limited seats for many courses. It is not possible to create Arts/Science/Commerce colleges overnight. The requirements of a University may not make it viable today to open self-financing Arts/Science/Commerce colleges. The land requirement, cost of building, hiring faculty under UGC pay scales etc. mean it is a failed venture even before you start. Plus, education is anyway seen as a not-for-profit venture and hence only fraudulent fellows willing to ride roughshod over the existing laws will enter the field of education. That is what see around us today.

So, on the one hand you have a huge demand for at least select courses in the Arts/Commerce/Science fields, and not enough supply.

Take Vivekandanda College for Men in Chennai. It is an aided institution. The Government of Tamil Nadu pays for the salaries of the faculty members. The Ramakrishna mission undertakes the responsibilities of administration, maintenance of the buildings etc. from its own funds. This is called the "Day College". The same facility is used in the evenings to offer "self-financed" courses. In the Day stream, the annual fees are highly subsidised. For B.Com, the annual fee is Rs 265/- That is all! In the evening course, for B.Com it is between Rs 22,000 to 27,000! That is around 100 times more.

This is understandable. The Day faculty will be different from the Evening faculty and they have to be paid from the fees. I am assuming Vivekananda College may not ask for donations, capitation fee or whatever. Maybe I am naive. I do not know. But around the city, colleges which offer self-financed Evening college charge under the counter as well as over the counter. It could cost a student well over Rs 1.5 lakh for a three-year B.Com course under the self-financed model. To my knowledge, The Government under huge budget pressure has simply stopped aiding Arts & Science Colleges. So any new college built today is left to fend for itself.

For those who cannot pay much and cannot get into one of the Government colleges or the Aided Colleges, there is an alternative. The distance education programs of various Tamil Nadu Universities. Madras University will charge approximately Rs 2,000/- per year for B.Com. Along with various exam fees, mark sheet fees and other such funny things, the total for a three year course would come to around Rs 8,000/- and not more. But the downside? You are left on your own. The contact classes are pitiably hopeless. For a young undergraduate, there is no one to guide him or her. No one to teach the intricacies of the subject.

If you look at the Information Technology revolution in India, it was fronted only by NIIT, Aptech and such training institutions. Organized colleges and university curricula had no clue about the programming languages or the requirements of the market. It was only later that Engineering Colleges stepped into the game. But to this day the Engineering Colleges are failing to teach the necessary IT skills to the students. Students waste most of their time trying to write theory exams and many fail miserably. Unfortunately, with no support from the student/parent community, NIIT, Aptech etc. withered away.

Something similar can be planned for the Science/Commerce streams now. Training academies (not colleges, not universities) can be set up by entrepreneurs. Students join them, get themselves enrolled with the distance education programs of Madras University or similar such, but learn in classrooms daily all the subjects taught by skilled faculty.

You may ask: how can such an institution impart good quality education by charging a lower fees? How can they attract quality faculty by paying them 'fair' salaries when colleges are struggling to do.

I am of the opinion that in the current system, the colleges are highly inefficient. They have large buildings, incur massive expenses, use outdated modes of teaching and are controlled by the affiliating University's archaic rules and UGC's overbearing circulars. They are also localised monopolies with hardly any incentive to innovate. There is no drive to minimise wasteful expenditure and maximise fair profits because at least in paper, they are not supposed to act as profit making centres.

I propose to change all that with my model. Firstly, the institutions I propose will be profit driven. Law cannot stop this (at least for now). They will openly claim to be profit making (like Brilliant Tutorials was, like NIIT was) and will pay taxes on their profits. They will operate from small, short offices and learning spaces. When they hit reasonable numbers, they can create viable campuses. They have to be based within the city, and not in the suburban, unconnected areas. They cannot run buses like the Engineering colleges. Ideal size would be holding 100-150 students at most.

The focus will have to be great teaching. This would mean, identifying great teachers and rewarding them well. Best IIT coaching institutions and IAS coaching academies pay their best teachers good money. Here, the quality can be evaluated. The good ones will demand and will get their pay. Next, they do not have to have the UGC mandated PhDs or NET/SLET nonsense. We just need good teachers. They could just as well be a mere B.Coms to teach B.Com. Heck, they could even be Engineering dropouts to teach B.Com students.

Right from Day 1, this kind of institution will focus on the Internet enabled resources, course videos, information system for better management of the entire course etc. There will be no attendance requirement. You come and learn if you truly want to learn. Or else, you can go to the nearest movie theatre. Of course, you have to pay the monthly fee. You can drop out any time. You can join another similar institution if you do not like this one, any time. Your enrollment with Madras University will remain intact anyway and you can write your exams anyway, if you can prepare on your own.

Because this kind of institution will focus only on teacher costs, keeping other expenses to a bare minimum, it can charge a relatively a lower fee and still make a profit. For example, I guess a decent quality education can be provided for around Rs 25,000/- per year (inclusive of Madras University annual costs) for the B.Com course. Since there is no limit in terms of seats, you can educate thousands of students.

Vivekananda College evening course offers around 540 seats for B.Com, and 50, 70 and such for BBA, BCA etc. and nothing at all in the BA, BSc streams. That is why I am focusing on B.Com. It appears that there is a huge demand for that course. But there could be significant demand for some select BSc courses, BBA/BCA/MBA/MCA etc. in the coming days. As i explained earlier, there is no way regular colleges can be built to offer these courses in the coming years.

Now, who will join these programs? It is the middle class that finds no seats in the best colleges in the city. In a recent interaction with the humanities students of IIT-Madras, I asked them where the Chennai students would have joined if they couldn't get into IIT, they could come up with Stella Maris, MOP Vaishnava, Loyola, MCC and WCC. Only two of them for men (or selective co-ed), the rest women only.

What will the teachers teach here? Take the basic syllabus of Madras University's distance education, clean up the nonsense there, add the best from various other syllabies, make the whole thing contemporaneous, and then teach this. The teachers can focus on all kinds of interesting educational experiments not possible in the traditional colleges. Such students should easily excel in the exams of Madras University and score well.

If the 'academies' do a good job, their students will be preferred over the students from regular colleges in the job market. Once the word spreads around, these academies will be chosen over the traditional colleges.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Banking the unbanked, insuring the uninsured

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been giving a major push to the following schemes:
  1. Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana: A no-frills zero balance bank account
  2. Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana: An accident insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh for an annual premium of Rs 12 (or a monthly premium of Rs 1)
  3. Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana: A life cover of Rs 2 lakh for an annual premium of Rs 330 (or roughly a daily premium of Rs 1)
  4. Atal Pension Yojana: A sort of annuity with a promised return of 9.6% per annum.
Any adult having a bank account is eligible for 2 & 3. For the pension scheme (4), one has to be between 18 and 40 to be eligible. The monthly premium paid is determined based on the pension one opts for (capped at Rs 5,000 a month) and one's age. The monthly pension will be paid once you hit the age of 60. There is also a one-time annuity purchase if one has already hit the age of 60. This gives a guaranteed return of 9.6%.

It is very clear that 2, 3 and 4 are the best possible deals in their respective categories. Though I believe I have sufficient insurance cover, I will be insuring myself and my spouse in 2 & 3.

Modi and BJP PR talk about Jan Dhan as a unique scheme which they introduced. This is incorrect. P Chidambaram had introduced this no-frills account during the UPA rule. It was not promoted that heavily then. It was seen as a drain on their P&L by the Nationalised banks. Now it is promoted heavily, but it is not clear how the common folks see value in this. The Nationalised banks probably still see this as a drain but cannot complain given that the PM has made it his pet scheme. It is quite likely that many banks have registered the same person in their books (after all, it is a zero balance, no-fee account!) and Modi's PR bandwagon is trotting out numbers to show that this scheme is a big success. This is unfortunately part of any politically driven scheme in India.

Despite these PR stunts, I think this package above is a fantastic one. Forcing people to have at least a no-frills account to be eligible for the very attractive accident insurance and life insurance will encourage them to understand and use the banking and the insurance systems in the country. Then, they can slowly be moved to start using these systems better. It appears that some degree of traction has happened with the insurance schemes.

Indian life insurance sector dominated by LIC mostly used to sell endowment and money back policies. Private players pushed unit linked policies (market driven). Risk coverage has not been the priority. Life insurance policies are mainly seen as investment instruments. A senior insurance expert who runs an insurance industry magazine made me see the light a few years back. I was randomly taking whole life policies, unit linked policies and the usual LIC endowment policies. She explained that the best value for money was to go for a pure risk term insurance plan combined with an investment in a mutual fund (or a fixed deposit) instead of investing in any unit linked insurance policy. You get better liquidity, better returns and the best risk coverage. LIC's term insurance plans are the most awful in the country. Today, the best deal you get from a private insurer is around 200 times the premium (for my age ~ 45 yrs). The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana offers 600 times the premium. Quite unbeatable, but limited to a cover of only 2 lakh Rs.

What is to be appreciated is, for the first time, instead of the usual dole-outs that Indians are so used to, our government is coming up with a scheme which rewards action and initiative on the part of the individual. You enroll, open a no-frills bank account and pay up the premium and only then you will get the benefit. You can't just sit there doing nothing and be compensated for your losses.

One worry however is, whether the insurer will find it breaking even. Finance ministry is providing sovereign guarantees but that is generally not a good idea. One has to also see whether private players will be happy to participate in a scheme like this.

Another problem is bridging the gap between these government schemes and the available market schemes that can help the middle class. The current government schemes are all targeted at the poor mostly.

However, the success of schemes like these may encourage private players to start offering interesting products to the public, to graduate them upwards.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New BC commission needed to fix loopholes

(Published in Times of India, 24 Mar 2015)

New BC commission needed to fix loopholes

By Badri Seshadri

CHENNAI: The judgment by the Supreme Court of India on inclusion of jats in the Central OBC list (Ram Singh & Ors vs Union of India) is a landmark one.

Seen along with Indra Sawhney case judgment, the court has called for a complete overhaul of the reservation system in the country. The most important change will have to happen in Tamil Nadu, the forerunner of the social justice movement in India.

Tamil Nadu is the only state which is in perpetual violation of the Indra Sawhney judgment given by a nine-judge bench.

The judgment says that reservation should be capped at 50% and the creamy layer of any caste group should be excluded from reservation. But Tamil Nadu has 69% reservation and no creamy layer exclusion.

Every year, the state government is challenged in court and every year the government is forced to create additional seats to compensate all those who lose out because of its flawed policies.

The Ram Singh judgment establishes that governments cannot act in an arbitrary manner and should go by data. It restricts governments from rejecting sound advice given to them by commissions set up by them unless there are strong reasons for the same.

Tamil Nadu formed the first Backward Classes Commission under Sattanathan in 1970, which suggested 17% reservation for BCs and 16% for MBCs along with criteria for the removal of creamy layer. The DMK government headed by Karunanidhi clubbed BC and MBC together and offered 31% in total and did away with creamy layer.

A subsequent AIADMK government headed by M G Ramachandran introduced the creamy layer but, after an election defeat in 1980, removed the creamy layer and randomly increased BC reservation to 50%.

In 1982, the second Backward Classes Commission under Ambasankar recommended that reservation for BCs be brought down to 32%, 17 communities moved from FC to BC and 34 communities moved from BC to FC.

The report was not tabled in the assembly and the suggestions were not implemented. Instead of removing any community from the BC list, more and more communities were added.

It took a serious agitation from Ramadoss's Vanniar Sangam to split the 50% BC reservation into 30% for BC and 20% for MBC with vanniars included.

Many other caste groups that do not have the numbers or the political might of vanniars are therefore at a disadvantage. Now, with the Ram Singh judgment, a time has come to challenge the state government's reservation policy. From this judgment, we can glean some directions. First is the need for accurate and current statistics on social, educational and economic backwardness. Second is the need for regular updating of the BC, MBC list with removals and inclusions, as determined by thorough studies that can stand critical scrutiny. Third is, considering not just caste but other social groupings such as, for example, transgenders for the definition of backward classes. I can think of women as a non-caste group that deserves support.

Fourth, an earlier wrong inclusion of a group cannot be used to justify inclusion of a new group on the same principles. This would only mean that wrongly included groups will have to be removed at the earliest.

We need a new Backward Classes Commission in Tamil Nadu to determine which castes and groups should be considered for inclusion or removal from BC and MBC lists. This commission will also have to decide the total quantum of reservation for BC and MBC so as to be in alignment with the Indra Sawhney judgement. This may mean that scheduled caste quota may also have to come down proportionately.

Many castes which are today included under BC may have to be moved to FC and some castes in MBC may have to move to BC. At least some castes in BC may have to move to MBC. This will bring much needed relief to many castes currently squeezed out by dominant castes within their groups.

If the government will not initiate this move, one may have to go knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court soon.

(A co-founder of, the author is managing director of New Horizon Media Private Limited)

Ruckus against books a Dravidian blowback

(Published in Times of India, 10th Mar 2015)

Ruckus against books a Dravidian blowback

Badri Seshadri

Tamil Nadu is a deeply caste-ridden society. A recent, nationwide study found that Tamil Nadu ranks very low in the prevalence of inter-caste marriages. Kerala and Karnataka and even the northern states, often considered to be regressive by Tamils, are ahead.

TN's rural and semi-urban economy is controlled by intermediate castes who dominate the society here. In the villages where feudal values still thrive, dalits continue to live in 'colonies' away from the main settlement which is still largely the exclusive domain of caste Hindus. The practice of untouchability such as the two-tumbler system is common in many villages. Dalits mostly remain landless and are dependent on rural landlords for their survival.

However, thanks to the governmental policy of taking education to everyone, the disadvantaged castes have made the most of the opportunities and have steadily got into government jobs. This upward mobility of some dalits has caused much tension, which time and again erupts into big clashes.

A particularly infamous incident happened in 2013 in Dharmapuri district when Divya, a vanniar girl, married Ilavarasan, a dalit boy. Goaded by his relatives, Divya's father committed suicide. A mob ransacked dalit houses and set them on fire. Divya informed the courts that she would like to separate from Ilavarasan. Soon, Ilavarasan was found dead near railway tracks. The police called it suicide.

It is in this background that we need to look at two important events that have happened in the last three months. Writer Perumal Murugan's novel Madhorubagan (One Part Woman) talks of an archaic custom in Tiruchengode where women without children attempt to mix with men in a ritual held during a temple festival, in the hope that this may help them get pregnant.

Organizations belonging to the dominant caste in the region, kongu goundars, went after the writer who, incidentally, belongs to the same caste. The writer was forced to withdraw the book in a meeting mediated by a local government official. The writer who works as a college professor has been transferred to the relatively safe environs of Chennai.

Whether the custom as described in the novel was prevalent or not is not the major issue here. Both in the story and in the real life agitation, the actual issue was caste purity. The temple ritual as narrated by the author allows for men of any caste to copulate with women. Caste purity would be marred if the custom had a historical basis.

A more sinister event happened last month. Puliyur Murugesan, had published a short story collection, 'Balachandran enroru perum enakkundu' (I am also known as Balachandran). One of the stories is quite morbid, narrating the tale of incest in a family and ending with the son, who is confused about his gender, taking revenge on his father.

The caste of the characters - kongu goundar, same as the one in the Perumal Murugan episode - is fairly explicit in the story. Some intellectuals have asked why the writer should identify deviant characters with a caste. One could argue and debate about this but what has happened is that a mob belonging to the caste went to Murugesan's house and beat him up. Now, a case of obscenity and defamation against a community has been slapped against the writer, who has sought anticipatory bail.

What we see from these two incidents is a continuation of the hardening of the stance of middle caste groups against dalits, as in the case of Dharmapuri. Despite claims that Tamil Nadu is Periyar's land and that a casteless and equitable society prevails here, the truth stares at us.

The claims of Dravidian parties ring hollow because Periyar never intended to create a casteless society. His primary goal was to pull down the brahminical power structure and impose a non-brahminical, non-dalit, intermediate caste hold on political and administrative power in the state. He succeeded in this.

Though Dravidar Kazhagam talked about 'saathi maruppu thirumanam' (inter-caste marriage), the numbers were minuscule and made little impact on the state's demography. The Dravidian parties have only helped to maintain rigid caste structures and allocated MLA seats and ministries based on the caste calculus.

PMK was formed when vanniars felt that this political distribution was unfavourable to them. Dalits formed their own parties when they felt that they could never get their true share as long as they remained within the DMK and AIADMK fold. But forming separate political parties has also not helped them. Both Viduthalai Chiruththaikal and Puthiya Thamizhagam, the two big dalit parties, have been marginalized.

In Tamil Nadu, power is held by intermediate castes. The incidents involving the writers show that government officials only seem too willing to support their interests. Mobs belonging to caste groups can beat up a writer and also call upon the police to file cases against him.

Constitutional guarantees on protecting the rights of individuals are given short shrift. It is left to the writer to run from one court to another to save himself. If the writer is a dalit, prospects of getting justice are minimal.

Only a different form of politics, one that does not depend on caste but probably class interests, will usher in a rule of law and uphold freedom of expression. Even if there are disputes, they should be settled in a court of law and not in kangaroo courts organized by bullies. But for that to happen Tamil Nadu's politics should move ahead and become truly progressive. Will it?

(A co-founder of, the author is managing director of New Horizon Media Private Limited)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The angst of the Tamil brahmin: Live and let live

This article appeared a week back in The Times of India Chennai edition. I am adding it here only for the record. The comment section here will be closed. I intend to discuss this in my Tamil blog.


'The angst of the Tamil brahmin: Live and let live'

By Badri Seshadri

When Narendra Modi expanded his cabinet and made Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu cabinet ministers, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted thus: "Big day for my Goa. Two GSBs (Gowd Saraswat Brah min), both talented politicians become full cabinet ministers. Saraswat pride!!" The last bit "Saraswat pride" indicating brahmin caste affinity and pride caused considerable stir in the media.

Brahmins may be at the top of the archaic social hierarchy, but in reality they hold little or no power across the country. They are numerically insignificant in most states and are not found in the public sphere at all. This is more so in Tamil Nadu than any other state.

Share of Tamil and Telugu brahmins was disproportionately large in the government of pre-independent Madras province. But the quota system initiated by the Justice party and the Dravidian movement over the years has meant that brahmins are almost completely excluded from medical seats, and are mostly out of contention in government jobs and good engineering schools. Brahmins once formed a significant percentage in teaching jobs in schools and colleges.Now, their percentage is minuscule.

Politically, brahmins have been complete ly stripped of any possible power. With very few options available in TN, there was a brahmin exodus to Bombay and Delhi in search of jobs in the 1970s. Post the liberalised 1990s, and the proliferation of self-financed engineering colleges, brahmins chose engineering and then IT jobs. As the need for executive managers arose in companies, many took to MBA. Today IT, management and CA are the chosen professions of brahmins. Many have migrated to the US and have been instrumental in many Silicon Valley start-up successes. Many have taken to entrepreneurship in India too and helped to seed the IT revolution in India. In Tamil Nadu, the political narrative has been stridently anti-brahminical. Though brahmins have been away from politics, the Dravidian parties have always resorted to blaming everything on a purported "brahminical conspiracy". Modi is brahminical. Jayalalitha too is, but only for DMK and not for AIADMK. Centre's promotion of Sanskrit or Hindi is brahminical. Congress or BJP's anti-LTTE stand is brahminical. Market economy and globalisation are termed brahminical.

It is also routine for Tamil movies to depict brahmins in bad light. The theme of the recent movie, `Jeeva', is that a brahminical conspiracy is keeping talented non-brahmin cricket players from reaching the state team. A putative theory about brahmins suppressing nonbrahmins for the last 2,000 years and denying them education and other privileges has gained currency and is today taken for granted. No proof is required. No further research is required.

Even OBC violence on dalits across the state is explained in terms of brahminism, a term that implies that all evils of the caste system are because of brahmins and hence they and only they have to be held responsible for such violence.

Yet, the reality is very different. Though no statistical data is available, anecdotally I can say that brahmins have inter-married more than any other caste in Tamil Nadu.

There is no rancour or resorting to honour killing when inter-caste or inter-religious marriages happen. They have been at the forefront of pre serving performing arts, heritage monuments and culture in the state and have done much to promote Tamil language and literature. They have contributed immensely to science, engineering, medi to science, engineering, medicine and education in the state.

Politically excluded and socially reviled, what can the Tamil brahmins do to preserve their identity and yet feel secure within the social space in Tamil Nadu and India?

Brahmins are unlikely to demand any kind of reservation in education, job or political sphere. All they would look for is an amenable climate where they can, like other communities, contribute to the progress of the nation.In a liberal country , we would like communities such as Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jains preserving their unique faith, tradition, customs, attire, language and practices. The same has to be extended to the brahmins of Tamil Nadu. They should be allowed to retain multiple identities -that of a brahmin, a Tamil and an Indian -with pride.

The political hate narrative in Tamil Nadu must change.

(A co-founder of, the author is managing director of New Horizon Media Private Limited)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On compulsory Tamil in TN Schools

Starting this year, schools coming under the Tamil Nadu Government Board must have to have Tamil as one of the subjects. This has made a few people upset. Most notably the private schools operating under the name "Matriculation" schools. There is a long history to this. I will try to keep it as brief as possible.

Between 2006-2011, DMK Government under M. Karunanidhi brought out three important pieces of legislation in the school education space.
  1. Tamil Nadu Learning Act, 2006
  2. Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009
  3. Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education Act, 2010
The first one enforced that over time, Tamil will have to be compulsorily taught to every student coming under the Tamil Nadu boards. The second one put the screws on the private Matriculation schools on what sort of fee they could collect from their students. The third abolished the State Board, Matriculation and Oriental and replaced them with a single "Equitable & Uniform Syllabus".

Naturally, the Matriculation schools opposed all of the above. They were also hit by the central legislation, "The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009."

Matriculation schools are private schools which had a considerable degree of autonomy until the 2010 act. They are all English medium schools, and to start with had Tamil as one of the subjects. Over time, they started introducing subjects such as Hindi, French, German etc. replacing Tamil. So it was possible for someone to study in Tamil Nadu under a Tamil Nadu Government Board without knowing a single letter of Tamil. Not anymore.

Oriental schools were religious minority schools set up by Islamic trusts and mostly Hindu Brahminical mutts offering Urdu and Sanskrit respectively instead of Tamil. They also offered a strong dose of religious education.

The 2006 Tamil Nadu Learning impacted both the Matriculation and the Oriental schools. The linguistic minorities such as Malayala Samajams offering Malayalam instead of Tamil were also affected.

This act was challenged in the courts by the Malayala Samajam and Nair Society, but failed. An 18th Feb 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court sided with the Tamil Nadu Government and said such an act is not infringing on the linguistic minorities. The Malayala Samajam was claiming that they were imparting education through mother tongue and should hence get legal protection. In reality these schools are/were imparting education via English and not mother tongue and merely teaching Malayalam as a subject. 

However the impact of the 2006 act was not immediate as enough time was given to slowly shift new incoming students to Tamil while the old students were allowed to continue in the language of their choice till the school leaving exam. It is only this academic year that they are all expected to teach Tamil in every class, and we have started seeing the opposition building up again.

The 2009 fee control act was brought in primarily because the private matriculation schools were charging too much in terms of fees. The motive was probably political too. Many private schools have to be blamed for their excessive fees, but it should be acknowledged that the fee control committee that was set up as a follow up to this act flexed its muscles too much. With the change of government, this committee is not to be seen anywhere now.

The 2009 Right to Education act with its 25% reservation clause in it has deeply hurt the finances of the private schools. These schools are owed fees by the Government for the last two years.

The 2010 Uniform syllabus act robbed the "Matriculation" special brand from the private schools (though the private schools still continue with that name).

Private schools fought all these measures and lost in each one of them. The 2011 regime change didn't help them much. Jayalalitha tried to delay the implementation of the Uniform syllabus act, but was stopped by the Supreme Court from doing that.

Now, the full scale implementation of the 2006 Compulsory Tamil Act is being resisted again by the Matriculation schools.

There are three sets of people who do not like the 2006 Act.
  1. Linguistic minorities who share the state border with Kerala, Karnataka & Andhra. Linguistic minorities who have come and settled down in places like Chennai.
  2. Religious minorities who want to learn Urdu or Sanskrit instead of Tamil, in religious schools. Muslim organizations have already complained about this act in the recent times. I think the Sanskrit folks have completely given up.
  3. Tamils who would rather learn some other language than Tamil, simply because it is easier to crack the said language in the exams than Tamil. They however  claim that their job prospects are better now because they have learnt Hindi, French etc. This is now the vocal majority who are questioning the 2006 Act; not the categories above.
The linguistic and religious minorities have made noise, fought court cases and have sort of given up. It is the third group with no special interest protection from the constitution who are now fighting this. The Matriculation schools claim they are going to court but have not yet done so. They have fired the first salvo - an NDTV special bulletin which claims that Tamils are eager to learn Hindi. This hit job grabs a few willing people giving sound bites on their objection to the 2006 Act as below:
  • It is boring to learn Tamil
  • In the globalised world, we need to learn other languages to survive
  • Local language is important but can be learnt at home and hence it is not necessary to teach the same in school. Thus it can be vacated and something else can be inserted there.
And thus their opposition to the 2006 Act which somehow stops them from achieving their objectives.

I will accept that the Tamil syllabus is mostly boring and has not been modernised for a long time. The new books are in all-colour while the older books were in black and white. Not much has changed otherwise. You have to learn many old poems, difficult grammar (much of which is useless for the modern prose), and bad prose written in an archaic style of the pure-Tamil movement politico-linguistic scholars. Outside of the bad text books, the comparative quality of Tamil is way over that of the other subjects, making it difficult for the students of Tamil over the others.

This is why the "globalization" Tamils want to drop this subject in favour of Hindi or French. So that they can spend little time studying that subject and allocate more time for studying Math, Science and Social Science.

Supreme Court has in the past endorsed the constitutional validity of this Act. So challenging it again may be difficult and will not be easily entertained. That is why the Matriculation lobby is doing a PR campaign and NDTV is more than willing to play its part in this campaign.

What should the linguistic minorities do? CBSE schools are available in Chennai which offer Hindi and a few other languages in place of Tamil. There are a few schools offering International Program such as Cambridge Syllabus etc. There is ISCE too. The rest should switch to studying Tamil as one of the subjects simply because they have to study under a Tamil Nadu Government board. I will demand the same for the Tamils living in other states. Those who are in a transferable job across the states may have to opt for Hindi in a CBSE school.

A few Matriculation schools have already switched over to the CBSE syllabus. A correspondent who runs four schools in the outskirts of Chennai told me that he had converted two of his schools from TN Board to CBSE from this year only because he wants to offer Hindi instead of Tamil to his students. But his clientele will struggle to deal with the tough CBSE syllabus as well as Hindi. (In fact those students struggle with English! They are all mostly lower middle class, mostly backward or most backward castes and speak Tamil at home!) More such changes will happen over the next year but very soon the schools will realise that CBSE will be too hot to handle for their teachers and their students.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

RTE non-payment by Tamil Nadu Government

I wrote on my Facebook status about the Tamil Nadu Government not paying the dues to the private schools which provided 25% reservation in admission to socially and economically deprived sections as envisaged under the Right to Education Act, resulting in the private schools threatening to stop admissions under this 25% category for the upcoming year.

The comments to my status, from socialists, communists and generally ill-informed people can broadly be summarised as follows:
  1. Private schools make massive profits. Hence Government need not pay the money due to them. Or at the least delay for as long as you can. Because they can afford it.
  2. If the Government doesn't pay on time, it is the job of the private schools to go to court. Why aren't they doing this? Obviously they should be motivated and want to scrap the 25% reservation.
  3. If the Government doesn't pay, the only option open to the private schools is to negotiate or go to court. They have no right to stop the 25% reservation, because they are bound by law. [Note that according to these people, law doesn't bind the Government in its obligation to pay the money on time. It only binds the private schools in offering the services forced on them.]
  4. If running private schools under such hard circumstances created by the Government is that bad, why not get the hell out of this area and hand over the schools to the Government. [As if, the Government is all ready to take over such schools and start running from tomorrow morning!]
What these people fail to notice is some basic Dharmic principles besides a host of legal issues.
  1. A Government is as bound by law as you and me. A law passed in the Parliament is stronger than a mere contract signed between two parties. A Government is duty bound to fulfill the financial obligations especially when it brought the obligations on itself. It was not forced on it by outsiders.
  2. There is a strong moral issue here. A Government that has completely abdicated its responsibility in providing basic primary education to its people has forced 25% reservations on the private schools on the explicit promise that it will compensate for the same. In fact, the compensation is inadequate - because the Government has only agreed to pay the lower of the fee or the money it claims it spends on its own schools per student. There is no auditing powers with the schools. If the Government says it spends only 10,000 Rs per student per year, that is all it will pay a school, which is normally collecting say 30,000 or more from its non-reservation students. Schools did not have a choice in opting out of this patently biased system, because the Parliamentary rights were invoked in passing this unjust law. Now, on top of this unjust law, the Government has not fulfilled its side of the bargain. This is so morally repugnant, we do not see the kind of outrage that should really be happening in any civilised country. But in socialist India, this does not cause any moral outrage but instead we see perfectly sane individuals coming and asking the private schools to buzz off. I am simply astonished by the moral bankruptcy of this class of people.
Issues that will have to be discussed and debated outside of this debate are:
  1. Is RTE enforcing 25% reservation with Government paying for those seats a fair law at all?
  2. Should the Government be building its own schools instead of paying even one penny to the private schools?
  3. Are the private schools basically cheats and hence should be closed down once and for all?
These debates in no way can mitigate the current immoral and illegal activities of our Government and any one supporting the Government action or defending it on dubious principles should really ask themselves whether this is the model in which they want themselves to be governed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

MA History

After successfully completing an MA degree in Vaishnavism from Madras University, I have enrolled in a MA History program in Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

I chose IGNOU because they are the only ones who accept Engineering undergraduates for doing a masters in History. Looking at their curriculum and reading material, I am very happy to have made this choice. Their text books are extremely well written. Unfortunately, the printing and production standards are abysmal. For those interested, the subjects for the first year are:
  1. Ancient and Medieval Societies
  2. Modern World
  3. Political Structures in India
  4. History of Indian Economy
I have not checked out whether IGNOU is making these text books available as PDF or EPUB files. Will be useful to many people then.

I wish Madras University professors read these books and produce their reading material to this quality - or better yet, simply commission IGNOU to write their books. The rest of the Tamil Nadu universities are worse than Madras University anyway when it comes to the quality of books they produce for distance education.