Rajasthan’s 5.5 Million Gujjars Want a Downgrade

From our news tab, via the Times Online:

For thousands of years India’s ethnic Gujjars have been looked down on by much of society, as they were traditionally pastoralists who raised sheep, goats and water buffalo.
Now, as India approaches the 60th anniversary of its independence, the Gujjars have had enough, and are demanding that their social status be changed. But in an unusual example of how caste works in modern India, they want to be downgraded to the lowest level so that they can benefit from an affirmative action scheme.
Tens of thousands of Gujjars have blocked roads and railway lines in the northwestern state of Rajasthan since Tuesday, accusing the local government of reneging on a promise to lower their status. At least 15 people, including two police officers, have been killed in rioting when the Gujjars repeatedly set alight police property and attacked government offices.

They’ve deployed the Indian Army to regulate this hot mess, especially since it is now affecting tourism.

The violence has fuelled criticism of India’s affirmative action scheme under which lower castes are given preferential access to government jobs and education…

I have heard of Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes, but I hadn’t heard of Scheduled Tribes. I await your scathing declarations of how I am a stupid ABCD who knows nothing about India and should therefore shut up. Whatevs, yo. I just found the following paragraph helpful, since the entire reservations/caste furor IS confusing for this bear of little brain.

The Hindu caste system, which enforces a strict social hierarchy from brahmins at the top to dalits at the bottom, was outlawed after India became independent in 1947. But to correct its injustices the Government divides the lower levels of society into Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC). SC includes untouchables and others at the bottom; ST consists of ethnic minorities and OBC comprises other people who were traditionally discriminated against.

Regarding the “downgrade”, the Gujjars want to switch from OBC to ST status.


Now be honest girls, how many of you are thinking of a certain commercial since I’ve used the term “downgrade” excessively? 😉

Speaking of things in XS, that website is excessively LOUD. I was wearing headphones when I discovered it; I think I’m partially deaf now.

113 thoughts on “Rajasthan’s 5.5 Million Gujjars Want a Downgrade

  1. As a public university graduate, I firmly believe that there is an economic, moral, and social responsibility for public universities to reflect the diversity of their communities

    Good intentions don’t necessarily translate to good policy.

    Public universities may tamper with merit and skew the numbers at entry-point – but when it comes to exit-point, the true colors of the system are visible. Most of those who benefited from a leg-up by the administration (and that goes for rich “endowment” kids at ivy leagues) end up dropping out because they can’t take the workload.

    Moreover, we’re not talking about Public university – we’re talking about Princeton/Yale etc.

    Not all desis in the U.S. are the children of professionals, after all 🙂

    But an overwhelming majority are.

    M. Nam

  2. Camille, yes test-prep definitely helps a lot, and yes one’s socioeconomic status makes a huge difference…but at a certain level, the SAT IS a math and english test..i.e. you need to know some math and english to do well. People with higher scores know math and english better than people with lower scores, in general. Test-prep courses can help, but not fake you through it.

    As for desis from underprivileged backgrounds benefitting from AA, that’s true if the admissions teams know about a particular student’s background (which to some extent depends on how aware that student makes them of it)…but without that specific knowlege, a lot of those desis probably still get inadvertently lumped in with other desis who are in fact elite.

  3. MoorNam, your dropout statement is totally untrue, and it assumes a causation that is just not there. Also, I went to a public university WITHOUT AA, and it has had, in my opinion, disastrous consequences for the institution itself and for the state, including economic consequences. I also went to the best damn public university in the country, so excuse me if I chafe a bit when you assume that Princeton/Yale kids do well because they’re private and consequently somehow “more qualified.” 🙂

    Also, I wonder if the “overwhelming” majority of desi youth today are the children of professionals. I could buy this argument 15, 20 years ago, but not sure I buy it today. Oh, and aside from (undergrad) college admissions, desis do benefit from AA, both in business licensing and at the grad school level.

    Amitabh, that’s what diversity statements and personal statements, in addition to socioeconomic questionnaires, are for. Admissions officers cannot read what folks don’t include. 🙂

    Also, it really isn’t until the last 10 years that we’ve seen this “oh no Asians get hurt from AA” argument come around.

  4. People with higher scores know math and english better than people with lower scores, in general.

    Oh, this is also untrue. As I said before, the SAT doesn’t measure your skills in math/English. It measures how good you are at taking the SAT.

  5. 103: the following article clearly demonstrates a link between dropout rates and preadmission qualifications.. it uses the data that was the basis of the report by Bok and Bowen (ex presidents of harvard and princeton) and points out that it was flawed. Moornam’s hypothetical less qualified student would do much better in Rutgers than Princeton (on average) and so AA actually works against these students (in the long run). Same thing happens routinely at IITs where beneficiaries of reservation often fail to graduate (as opposed to similar or even less well qualified peers at less elite places).



    Using Bowen and Bok’s data from 23 selective colleges, we fit multilevel logit models to test two hypotheses with implications for affirmative action and group differences in attainment of science, math, or engineering (SME) degrees. Hypothesis 1, that differences in precollege academic preparation will explain later SME graduation disparities, was fully supported with respect to the outcome gap between Whites and underrepresented minorities, partially supported for that between Asians and underrepresented minorities, and between men and women. Hypothesis 2, that college selectivity, after accounting for student characteristics, will be positively associated with SME persistence, was not supported. We demonstrate that the significance of the selectivity effect is overestimated when unilevel models are used. Admission officials are advised to carefully consider the relative academic preparedness of science-interested students, and such students choosing among colleges are advised to compare their academic qualifications to those of successful science students at each institution.

    and later from the conclusion

    The focus of our analysis, however, has been to clarify to what extent information readily available to admission officials can account for the disproportionate attrition from science majors of the initially interested underrepresented minority and female students at these selective colleges. Our findings suggest that if the standardized mathematics test scores or high school grades of any group of enrolling students—regardless of ethnicity or gender—are systematically lower than others’, then the SME graduation rate of that group is also likely to be lower. These often-replicated findings suggest a conundrum for selective college admission officials. At the individual level, offering a relatively educationally disadvantaged applicant the chance to benefit and graduate from a more selective institution may put at increased risk his or her goal of a career in science. The same potential trade-off is suggested for group-level equity goals; faster increase in representation at elite colleges, but slower in scientific fields vs. slower increase at elite colleges, but faster in scientific fields. Each of these sets of individual and group equity goals is widely agreed to be of critical importance, and how best to achieve them ought to be a matter of well-informed discussion and further national inquiry.

  6. Camille : I agree with you in that a lot of social and cultural capital is essential – both for college education and to succeed in life. However punishing someone who through an accident of birth has got that social and cultural capital is insane.

    I dont think my point about Athletics/ Music scholarship was clear. It is probably better illustrated with an example

    Sunil is a smallish desi kid from the Midwest with parents who are teachers. His parents like most desis harp on studying and actively discourage him from spending time on sport. He plays basketball with a passion and is selected to the high school team. He is not a star but an average player. He applys for a basketball scholarship on the basis of his non- sporting background. What do you reckon are the chances that Sunil will be given a sports scholarship.

    English was my second language growing up – and I managed to score 740 in the GMAT!!! So, when you say that native born Americans cant read or write, my reaction is one of “well they are lazy and cant be bothered”. Hundreds of black folks went to college during the post Civil War period. No AA during that period.

    As a volunteer, I tutored a few black kids in Tampa and my pedagogical method was to use NBA scores to teach them elementary Statistics. I guess it worked because their school scores improved. But, if they preferred to play ball all day and night to studying, I dont see why AA is needed. I also told a few of them that their lot in life would improve if they got rid of their victim mentality. Coming from a small brown immigrant man, initially it did not go down too well. But, I could say it because their situation was certainly much better mine was at that a similar stage.

    One way to prove that SATs are a fair way to test for English and Maths is to pick up a few dozen high school kids for whom English is a second / third language and give them the test cold. Then compare the scores with the so called disadvantaged kids. I am willing to bet that the native born American disadvantaged kids will score less in English than the ones for whom English is a second language. Hypothetical but I am ready to be proven wrong.

    Anyways – interesting to learn that there are good public universities that dont have AA.

  7. That’s why the criteria for admissions should be as objective as possible. GPA, SAT scores and essays are a pretty good indicator of a person’s abilities to excel in college.

    So now you have included essays along with your earlier insistence on admissions being strictly determined by GPA and SATs alone. The problems remain: essays submitted with applications can be written by parents or someone else; there is grade inflation; and the SATs can be gamed. Test prep academies see an increase of over a hundred points on average, in some cases over 300 points, in students who take their courses. Is it fair to reward those who have spent time and money in learning the tricks of taking SATs?

    You should spend some time at this site and educate yourself:


    Interview with Derek Bok, Harvard President:

    Can you talk about this notion that the blacks that are admitted to these selective schools were not qualified.

    I think there’s a lot of evidence in our book that we haven’t just tried to meet quotas or in some rigid formulaic way get a certain number of blacks and Hispanics into our student body. I think people don’t realize that not only are a number of black students being admitted with lower board scores than white and grades than whites who were rejected, a lot of whites are being admitted with lower board scores and grades than blacks who were excluded.

    43% of all the black applicants in our sample who finished in the top 5% of their high school class were denied admission. 25% of black students with 1400 board scores were denied admission. Now, why was that? Because the admissions officers were not just looking at grades and scores, as they have never looked just at grades and scores for white students or anyone else. They were picking and choosing based on a variety of attributes and qualifications and considerations to put together a really outstanding interesting diverse class.

    And that has never been something that you can do by the numbers. These tests are helpful. I’m not one of those who believe that the SAT should be abandoned. I think they have limited usefulness, but it’s only limited.

    It tells you very, very little about what you’re going to contribute to the education of your class-mates. It tells you very little about what you’re going to be able to contribute to society, once you leave the college and those are very important considerations and have been for more than 100 years to universities.

    So, sure, there may be some differences in grades and scores, but they work both ways and they’re not really as important in the overall determination of who should be admitted to college as many people outside universities seem to think they are.”

    We have in this country the Black/White test score gap…

    I don’t regard the fact that there’s a disparity in test scores nearly as importantly as I do the need for diversity, because I know from long experience that test scores, though useful, are a very limited measure of things that matter in choosing students. So, clearly you pay attention to test scores, but the fact that someone’s SAT is 100 points less means by the figures and statistics we have, a difference of five percentage points in the rank in class. That’s not very important. Especially since the rank in class, though it has some impact, I don’t know how you do in later life, a difference of five percent points in rank and class, has very, very, modest difference indeed. So that’s not very important in the overall scheme of things.

    What is the myth of pure merit? What do you mean that we have to unpack merit?

    I think the thread that connects them all is that merit means the people who are best qualified to achieve the purposes of the organization that is doing the choosing. If you look from that standpoint, you see that grades and scores of course are not an indication of merit. They haven’t been used to the exclusion of other factors by any self-respecting selective university in a hundred years because they are simply not an adequate way of identifying those students who will most fulfill the legitimate purposes of the institution. To do that you’ve got to look at a wide range of other factors.

  8. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/sats/interviews/bowen.html

    Interview with William Bowen, Princeton President:

    Is there a problem with looking at average SAT scores to determine the reliability of how much preference is given?

    There are so many problems with the SAT emphasis that one hardly knows where to begin in answering the question. Let me just say first, to make the most basic point. The schools in our study have never believed that test scores are the end all and the be all for anybody. And there are large numbers of students of every race and every background who are being turned down, who have higher test scores than those who are being admitted. Because the people doing the admitting realize that there is much more to potential and promise and ability to contribute both on campus and after campus than ever can be captured in a test score measure.

    So this obsession with test scores is, I think, contrary to the way these institutions function and have ever functioned. I think that is what people sometimes lose sight of.

    Can you talk about merit, and the mission of the university?

    I think merit has to be thought about not as some abstract thing, handed down from on high that anyone who can count can ascertain. If only that were that simple. I believe profoundly in admitting on the merit. Absolutely. Which means there should not be favoritism, that you should be looking at what individuals can contribute to the school and afterwards.

    But does that mean that there is a simple numerical measure of merit? Of course not. Adlai Stevenson, one of the distinguished graduates of one of the institutions in the study used to be fond of saying that he was never threatened by Phi Beta Kappa. No he wasn’t? Was he a contributing citizen in this country? Certainly I think so.

    One of the important statistical findings in our study is, while SATs along with high school grades are helpful in determining who is over threshold, that is who can do the work and you don’t want to admit anyone who can’t. But once you get above some level, let’s say about 1100 before the SATs were recentered, small differences, incremental differences in test scores make surprisingly little difference in terms of prediction of either success in college or even more fundamentally, success after college. There is just too much else going on.

    So much depends on personal qualities. On the ability to get up off the floor and start over. The ability to accept correction and the benefit from it. Those are traits of character, those are not things that any test scores are going to measure very well.

    Would eliminating the SAT be harmful?

    Yes. I think the data in our study and other data indicates that it is useful as one factor, again, among a host of factors in helping schools decide especially who is over threshold. It is a helpful measure. It is not perfect and there are other things to look at, but would I want to through away a useful piece of information? Certainly not.

    Let’s talk about the test score gap.

    The black/white test score gap, in terms of the test scores that applicants present is, of course, very important, because in any system in which test scores play a role, it affects the numbers of students who will be admitted from difference groups if one looks only at test scores. And so from that perspective it is inescapable and consequential.

    I think that the factors that create the test score gap are still less well understood than they should be, though much more is being learned about all of that. And, of course, I agree with those who say, shouldn’t we be working to improve elementary and secondary education so that the preparation of minority students as well as other students will be stronger and better, that there will be a bigger pool, if you will.

    And the answer to that is, of course we should be doing that. But we should be doing that, in my view, with our left arm but with our right arm we are doing the best we can with the pools that we have at present. And what I think the evidence in our study shows is that knowledgeable admissions offices can choose among students with somewhat lower test scores, very effectively. They can choose from within the pools of students with still very good scores by a national standard, but lower scores for these schools. Those individuals are likely to do well.

    I think one of the more troubling findings in our study is that this gap in performance is, if anything, greater at the high SAT levels than it is at the low SAT levels. Contrary to what a lot of the critics seem to assume.

    Put another way, removing from the applicant pool or from the accepted group, those African American students with the lower SAT scores, which I presume is what some people want us to do, would not address the problem of the performance gap. The performance gap problems, which is a serious problem, which we need to work on is more pronounced, if anything at the higher SAT levels and when we…well, I don’t know why that is.

    I do agree that there are risks in consideration of race and that consideration of race can be abused as can consideration of anything else. And so that is why, at least for me, it is important to combine the flexibility and the freedom to exercise judgment and to consider race along with other factors with a clear obligation to be accountable. To look at the results of what you have done and see if there are results that you can defend and are satisfied with. And if there are not, then you ought to change your policy.

    And if the results of our study had shown, for example, the African American student admitted to the most selective schools with SATs in, let’s say, the 1100 range were doing poorly, after school especially, in life and in contributing to society, then I would have said wait a minute. Maybe we are not following good practices. Let’s look again. But that is not what the data show.

    What would you say to someone like Sheryl Hopwood when she turns and says, “Look, I was poor and I worked hard all my life and here I get a certain score and someone who gets a lower score was admitted.”

    What I say to Sheryl Hopwood or to any disappointed white applicant is that I understand your disappointment. I really do, and if there were more places for a well-qualified candidate, we would have been happy to have you as many of the minority candidates who were also disappointed and turned away.

    But the fact is, very hard choices have to be made in the admission process. And they have to be made not on the basis of who has achieved a certain test score result at this point in their lives, but on the basis of which set of applicants will really contribute most to the quality of education at this institution and to the larger purposes for American society, to the need of the society for diverse leadership that have got to be taken into account.

    The purpose of admissions is not to confer rewards, not to distribute goodies. It is, rather, to advance broad social objectives. The very objectives that have been used since the beginning to justify public support for these schools. To justify tax exemption because they are thought to serve purposes that are important in a democracy. I believe that they do.

  9. With regard to Indian students on SAT – anecodatal evidence shows that it is mostly a good score. But then Desis are outstanding test takers.

    Anecdotal evidence proves nothing; too many posters here rely on anecdotes to feed their delusions. Secondly, comparing the scores of a small sub-section of desis, the largely well-educated desi immigrants and their children in America or Australia to the general population there, does not prove that “Desis are outstanding test takers”. Actually desis in general score well below the global average in IQ tests. Below hispanics and african-americans. And thirdly, as the Princeton President quoted above said: “The performance gap problems, which is a serious problem, which we need to work on is more pronounced, if anything at the higher SAT levels“. In other words there are performance issues among those who score the highest. Like I said in the beginning, above a certain level the well rounded individual is a better prospect than a nose-picking nerd who scored very high. If you want an elite of bookworms, rote learners and test takers you could very well end up with a gigantic failure such as the Indian Civil Service.

  10. I forgot to mention that people of color who are considered at Yale/Princeton generally DO NOT have lower test scores than anyone else. They generally cluster around the same area. Really, I would like to see someone do a comprehensive study of the kinds of legacy kids, athletic scholars, etc., who are admitted, analyze by race, average their test scores and then tell me that the system is somehow geared to “merit.” A narrow definition is inherently binding, inflexible, and unuseful.

    melbournedesi, I honestly don’t see how your hypothetical on the “fairness” of the SAT would work. I don’t understand why it is impossible to believe that the SAT, as it exists today, is NOT a fair test. Also, I wasn’t trying to imply that kids are stupid or that they cannot read. I was speaking to the fact that the educational system is NOT meeting the needs of all the children it serves (for a variety of reasons), and consequently the SAT could not possibly determine someone’s capacity for learning.

    Also, like I said, I went to the top public university in the country (which is banned from using AA – a proposition passed in ’96 and took effect for the class of ’97), but the lack of AA has had HUGE economic consequences for the state. I can guarantee you that if AA were legalized it would be reinstated as policy — it already has been voted to be reinstated in the event that voters decide to repeal the ban on affirmative action. Here is my (only) gripe with AA in college admissions — it generally continues to benefit “elites,” just people of color elites. So when the enrollment of people of color dropped significantly, we weren’t just losing those folks because they were going to schools that were “less prestigious” (please excuse the elitism, I’m just using it for illustration). They were going to Stanford, Harvard, Yale — schools that were ponying up both the financial aid and the support to encourage minority enrollment. There is something to be said about the “critical mass” presumption.

    And please, let me remind you that AA in this country exists largely because the U.S. Military testified to its necessity when it came up for reexamination in 2003.

  11. Camille : Thank you for the responses. Let us agree to disagree. Peace 🙂

    Prema : I meant desi in the sense of migrant desi.

  12. The Gujjars in Pakistan get treated really badly too. They have been mostly pushed into the remote mountains. Not sure if Indians realize that there is Gujjars in pakistan too.

  13. Camille : Thank you for the responses. Let us agree to disagree. Peace 🙂

    I’m with you. 🙂 I was actually going to write and say I am dead tired of talking about AA, haha. Thanks, though, for the conversation.