Thursday, June 29, 2006

The travails of being Devil’s Advocate.

Didn’t we just love Karan Thapar grilling Arjun “Reservation” Singh? He’s been in good form of late, particularly since this reservation thing came up. After Arjun Singh, he makes Kamal Nath look silly. And recently, his nosiness makes Rahul Bajaj loose his cool.

But last week Karan ran into the inimitable Arun Shourie and he finally proved that being Devil’s advocate is not an easy job after all. Up against a well read man of amazing clarity of thought , our own home-grown Tim Sebastian, was found floundering on more than one occasion.

Sample this:

Karan Thapar: Compare it with 2006. Name one village out of India’s 6,00,000 villages where the Dalits are permitted to stay in the centre of the village. Not only are they banished to the outskirts, but in most cases, they are required to live in the south side so that the wind that blows over them doesn’t pollute the village. That is the extent of discrimination they still suffer.

Arun Shourie: And the wind in all of South India comes from the south my friend. I don’t know where you get this nonsense from?

Karan Thapar: Chandrabhan Prasad, perhaps one of the few Dalit intellectual scholars, who can easily confirm the facts to you.

Arun Shourie: Well, maybe. We have all got impressions about India. India is a large country. Almost every statement about India must be true, but the south business is quite silly because if you come to Goa my friend, you see the wind coming form the south. You come to Kerala, you see the wind coming from the south.

There’s more coming:

Karan Thapar: You have answered it in terms of the moral obligation. Let me point out to you the efficacy between ’47 and ’97. In those 50 years alone, the number of Dalits who as a result of reservations went to schools and colleges grew from 1.74 million to 27.92 million. During the same period, the number of Dalit graduates jumped from 50,000 to over 5.5 million. That’s an example of how reservations have helped and you are denying this to them.

Arun Shourie: Just one second. For the total number of persons going to school, what is the statistics from 1947 to 2006?

Karan Thapar: What do you mean the total number?

Arun Shourie: Irrespective of Dalits. The total number of school-going population in India from 1947 and now. Tell me.

Karan Thapar: I don’t know the answer, but the point that I am making is that the percentage of both has increased. I am saying the percentage of Dalits has increased because of reservations. Otherwise the system would have kept them out.

And finally the knock-out punch from Mr. Shourie:

Karan Thapar: Arun Shourie, since you are implacably opposed to reservations for the Scheduled Castes, what is your preferred way of tackling the discrimination they have suffered for centuries?

Arun Shourie: Firstly, I am not against reservations only for the Scheduled Castes, but for everybody. Second point is yes, if they have suffered that kind of discrimination and we have got good records of this kind of thing happening in the South, for instance in many parts of Tamil Nadu, then the best way is social reform and these great reformers who have made an enormous difference to India in the last 200 years as testified to by the Christian missionaries themselves.

Karan Thapar: Is there a second way beyond social reforms?

Arun Shourie: Yes, there is. Second is economic growth and modernisation.

Karan Thapar: Third?

Arun Shourie: Third is to find out what is the real reason for the poor performance of the child. For instance, he cannot retain what he learns in class because of poor nutrition, give him four free meals a day.

Karan Thapar: Individual attention?

Arun Shourie: Yes, absolutely.

Karan Thapar: Is there a fourth?

Arun Shourie: Yes. There are many things. He doesn’t have a place to study, make free dormitories. He needs free textbooks, he needs training and education.

For once, Karan would have felt like tearing his hair apart and screaming. I guess that’s what happens when you are Devil’s Advocate and just have to argue even if you don’t believe in what you are arguing.

Nice try, Mr. Thapar. Stick to Jayalalithas and Arjun Singhs.

Do read the full interview, and here’s the video links – 1 and 2.

Gaurav has blogged on it here, and here’s Confused’s take.

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