Let each one merit his own prize

Chandrabhan Prasad

Excel or perish is the mantra of the US. American society is defined by brute forms of "meritocracy," robust competitiveness and unlimited temptation for profit. But America's past was defined by racism. Blacks/ethnic groups suffered the most violent forms of oppression. Their exclusion from the state's assets, institutions and knowledge system was White society's most guarded doctrine. If the Chaturvarna doctrine of exclusion has any parallel, it is the racial exclusion and suffering of the Blacks.

The battle for equality waged by Ambedkar gave the Dalits a headstart. The Blacks' rights were not recognised in America till the mid-1950s. But increasing pressure, courtesy Black movements, forced White society to do a quick rethink. Things began changing in the 1960s when, reluctantly though, White society decided to share its assets, institutions and knowledge with racial and ethnic minorities. While the state in India did away with the age old doctrine of exclusion and now honours constitutional verdicts to a large extent, Varna society refuses to distance itself from its past. Institutions and economic activity under the private sector remain a prisoner of the past. Contrary to the Varna attitude, the "White" private sector in America is now opening up to the call of reason, and sharing what it earlier did not. A case in point is what happened with International Business Machines Corporation, popularly called IBM.

Founded in 1890, it is one of the most respected names working with information technology the world over. IBM boasts of creating Deep Blue, the super computer which beat chess player Garry Kasparov in 1979. IBM deals with every aspect of IT - computer systems, software, networking systems, storage devices, microelectronics etc. IBM was listed in 1998 (for the sixth consecutive year) as the company with the highest number (40%) of IT patents. IBM's total worth in 1999 was pegged at US$ 87.5 billion. It could buy both Wipro and Infosys and still be left with enough to hire all Bangalore-based IT professionals as drivers, cooks, pujaris and chaukidars, while still paying for their expertise.

Could IBM have ever achieved its standing in the world IT business by compromising on merit and competitiveness. Log on to its website, www.ibm.com, and hold your breath before opening the diversity page. You are greeted with a huge signpost which says, "A legacy of inclusion". IBM declares, "IT has dissolved borders and generated ever-widening circles of inclusion - we've been demonstrating a commitment to rethink the world, to embrace differences." The company details its diversity policy, "Everyone at IBM is focussed on diversity in hiring but we've also created a team fully dedicated to recruiting women and minorities. Our strategy includes the using of resources such as attending diversity career fairs, partnering professionals and student associations, advertising in numerous publications, building relationships on campus and recruiting via the internet." Have Wipro or Infosys ever thought of any such ideal of "inclusion"?

What is the net result? The IBM site has come up with an amazing page, giving a graphic account of the racial/ethnic/gender composition of the company's workforce in the US. Of the total number of employees, 21.56 % are racial/ethnic minorities. In the managerial category, minorities account for 14.66 % and in the professional category, another 14.66 %. How many Dalits work for Wipro or Infosys? Have Wipro or Infosys ever disclosed the Varna/caste composition of their work force? Look at IBM's charitable work. In 1998, it donated US$ 116 million and another 44 million came from the company's employees. Between 1994 and 98, IBM's employees alone have donated US$ 191.30 million. Have Wipro or Infosys spent a single paisa on Dalit education? Are Dalits really a part of India in the eyes of Wipro or Infosys?

How does the private sector in the US view 'merit'? A White American once told me: "...merit is nothing but the availability of opportunity, both in education/training, and positions thereof." IBM's 14.66 % Black/ethnic professionals have not brought doom to the company. On the contrary, the company has grown with each passing day. How did "merit" suddenly start being associated with the Blacks, if it wasn't till the early 60s? Till such time as they were not allowed to educate themselves or walk into White corporate offices, they lacked "merit".

Now that they have opportunities to both, "merit" comes easier to them. Since the White man is slowly coming around to the idea of the US being one nation, they are erasing the Black and White divide. Can India ever emerge into one Nation? My friend HL Dushad thinks, "Integrity, character and conscience have always been absent from the Chaturvarna persona." I hope he is proven wrong.

Referred by:Sashi Kanth
Published on: May 1, 2001
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