It Could Happen to You

Why a quota in the IITs is the last thing that women need

Isn’t it obvious that they don’t get in by the droves, simply because they don’t want to?

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  5-minute read |   19-01-2017
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The other day I heard that some students of mechanical engineering have come up with a parody of a popular song. Instead of complaining to god about the beast that is life, they whine about the life of a “mech” student - because, barely one girl joins their department every four years. The song goes like this: “Please God, don’t make me a mech student in my next life.” 

In the world of IIT fraternities, two species of humans exist: males and “non-males” - the latter being the handful of girl students who manage to trickle through the hallowed portals. But the geeks know how to serenade the rare species: every IIT girl spends her first semester receiving-reading-responding-rejecting hundreds of mails, calls, texts, chats, from anonymous admirers.

Romance couldn’t have been on the radar of the joint admission board (JAB) panel, that has just suggested a quota for girls at the IITs. But if it comes to pass, it’s likely to gladden many more engineering “males” than “non-males” in our tech campuses.

Trick or treat

We are being told that a quota for girls is a “profoundly progressive” idea to combat the unacceptable level of disparity at IITs. That the number of girls at IITs has never gone beyond 10 per cent. That, the absence of women does not indicate lack of brains, but the nation’s failure to be more inclusive and equal.

That, given India’s vast experience with quotas as a tool of affirmative action, 20 per cent surplus seats for girls at IITs could be the road ahead. That, with something like this the IITs will rise and shine, not just as role models but as institutes of excellence, equality and distributive justice - for others to follow.

Whew! All very impressive and worthy.

Truth or dare

But will a quota for girls make girls happy? Have our JAB bosses even thought about that? Perhaps, they have taken it for granted that girls would be so grateful for any opportunity to get into an IIT, in any which way, that they would jump at quota seats?

Alas, truth be told, our JAB bosses really don’t understand what girls want. Or how their mind works. In an age when girls are free to imagine they can be anything, isn’t it obvious  that they don’t get into IITs in droves, simply because they don’t want to?

Just check out the number of girls in medical colleges. For the last several years, girls have consistently outnumbered boys across the country. According to the 'Annual Status of Higher Education in States and UTs' released by the ministry of human resources development, over 2.26 lakh girls are undergoing MBBS courses, against 1.8 lakh boys. Surely, everyone would agree that cracking top medical colleges is as difficult as the IITs?

One has to be really blind not to notice that women are doing better than men in almost everything. In liberal arts, their numbers are almost equal: 31.3 lakh girls vs 31.7 lakh boys. In science, it is 6.8 lakh (females) vs 7.8 lakh (males). It’s only in engineering and technology that the ratio of boys and girls is 7:3.

students-embed_011917080044.jpg One has to be really blind not to notice that women are doing better than men in almost everything. (Photo: India Today)

In June, 2016, India got its first batch of women fighter pilots. See the results of top examinations in pretty much every public exam: civil services to CBSE, ICSE, ISC, EAMCET, NEET. Who’s on top? Girls.

Walk into a co-ed classroom and see who's preferred by teachers? Girls. Talk to recruiters. In 7 of 10 top industries in India, demand for women employees is higher than their male counterparts.

Women are doing better in banking, insurance, financial services, even IT/ ITES, say HR experts. And, let’s not forget, quite a substantial chunk of women in India are in engineering (may be, not the IITs). Compared to UK, with just 10 per cent women engineers, over 30 per cent of engineering students in India are women

Tech trouble

The problem may be with what lies beyond the IITs: why do a whole lot of engineers (even IITians) get enrolled in MBA courses before they look for the top jobs? Even worse, why do so many engineers end up as investment bankers, analysts and consultants, and not as "engineers" as they were trained to be for four years?

I know of many engineers who do not get to invent or create anything, but spend a lifetime of drudgery on the factory floor - purchasing material, setting up for manufacturing, assembling and testing products.

Let’s not even ask that vital question: where are the manufacturing jobs? Of the 15 lakh engineers India produces every year, 20-30 per cent do not find jobs. And many others get jobs well below what they deserve. At least after five years of back-breaking labour, medical students get to do what they thought they would do: heal people.

Let’s face it: if girls are staying away from engineering (IITs) it’s probably because they want to stay away from it.

Quota snub

Could the JAB bosses also explain how women deserve IIT quotas? Are women a minority in India? According to Census 2011, 48.5 per cent of the country’s population comprises women, while 51.5 per cent is male population. Are women marginalised, socio-economically challenged, differently-abled? Yes, thanks to our obsession with quotas, in the name of affirmative action, India has included almost anyone and everyone in its list: an alphabet soup of SC, ST, OBC, ex-servicemen, persons with disability, sportsmen? Or perhaps women are “educationally backward”? 

It’s pathetic, really. Every legal right women ever got in India has been given to them on a platter: from right to equal pay and property, against harassment at work, to maternity benefits, domestic violence and female foeticide, to free legal aid, not to be arrested at night, to dignity and decency.

The list goes on. Unlike suffragettes in the West, Indian women have not had to fight for their voting rights. The Constitution has granted them equality. Yet, despite every right, law and act, the mental, physical and sexual violence, harassment and misogyny continue to be a way of life for a lot of women. Then, as now, nobody has bothered to actually ask women: “What is it that you want?”

Also read: Why IITs can't stand up to competition

Writer

Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is Executive Editor, India Today.

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