The University of Delhi, which is the biggest central university of our country, ranked above all the other central universities, and situated in the urban space of the national capital, would, as per typical (read upper-caste, middle-class, urban) responses, not be the kind of place where there can be much relevance to caste, or caste based discrimination. Caste based problems, such people might say, exist only in remote villages these days. Not surprisingly, you are likely to find more people at this University who have an antipathy towards caste-based reservation. Thus, most of the revolutionary intellectuals and academicians who occupy the space of this university talk extensively about the attack by the imperialist and neo-colonial forces on the university space, but very rarely would you see them getting engaged in issues related to caste or reservation. Moreover, the government has the reservation policy and they have been getting students (in whatsoever numerical fraction) from these "categories." But how many know about the second-class treatment meted out to the candidates from SC/ST categories who try to secure admission in this world-class university?
If you want to take admission to the undergraduate programme of this university, you need to fill up a pre-registration form and register yourself. With advancement of technology, now there is provision for online registration. You can also obtain the pre-registration form and the bulletin of information against a payment of Rs. 100/- from twelve centers situated in various parts of the city. The bulletin of information printed in colour runs into around 70 pages and has all necessary information about the combination of subjects required for various courses, a detailed city map which shows the location of the colleges (which are around 63 in number), addresses and phone numbers of the colleges, details about Grievance and Placement cells, and University Ordinances related to admission and other related processes. Even last year's cut off marks are provided, so that you can get a rough estimate of what kind of chances you have with your percentage of marks. Pretty impressive.
But all this is available only to the general (and OBC) category candidates. What about SC/ST candidates? You will be told that they don't have to pay anything. That's ok. But what does the University give them for free? An eight page shoddily printed Bulletin of Information written in dry and prosaic language, which is often difficult to understand or which doesn't give you precise information. If you want a taste of this, read this in the FAQ:
Q: Can I apply under General Category also? Is it necessary to fill a separate form for General category or my name will be automatically transferred to General Category?
A: Yes, you can apply under general category also. For applying under general category you have to see the cut-off list of the colleges. The benefit related to SC/ST quota will still be available to you.
Now, does it say that I should put in a separate application? Anyone who has done admissions knows that this is a very crucial piece of information that both the candidates and the members of the admission committees need to know. But the Bulleting seems to be vague about it. We need to ask more questions more frequently. (The University issued a clarification about this on June 29th, when the admission process was almost half way through).
Well, at least the Bulletin of Information is given free. Did you ask whether it is "coloured"? Shouldn't the category candidates be thankful that they get it for free? But does it have all the relevant information? By relevant, you may be referring to the required combination of subjects for certain courses, addresses of colleges, Grievance Cell, last year's cutoff marks to orient the candidate. Well all these are irrelevant to the category students.
Can the SC/ST candidates register online? No. (Don't ask why!) Since they don't pay anything, they should obviously be satisfied with what is given them as alms.
So, if there is no online registration facility, can a friend or a local guardian collect the pre-registration form and the information bulletin on the candidate's behalf? Of course not! Have you ever heard of anyone collecting alms on someone else's behalf? You have to appear in person with the original of your caste certificate and the original class X and class XII certificate. (Alms should not get wasted by the wrong person collecting it!) And if you don't have your originals, you have to go back to wherever you come from and collect them. The form that is given free to you, thus, might end up costing you a fortune.
Now, if you are ready to take pains to come to Delhi (or to go and collect your original certificates and come back), so that you can get the benefit of studying in this elite, secular, liberal temple (!) of learning, it wouldn't be very difficult to obtain a pre-registration form. It is available in four centers in Delhi. (Now, the General Category has twelve centers. Since the University is short of staff, it cannot afford to have 12 centers all over Delhi for SC/ST. After all, the category is only 22.5%, so how can we have equal number of centers? You can't beat us in logic! Moreover, you need to go through all the painful steps if you are asking for special privileges.)
What about all the SC/ST candidates who cannot come to Delhi or who cannot produce all the certificates in time? Well, they can always apply as General Category, or wait till the next year.
The burden of filling up the form is also reduced by limiting the number of choices to be indicated in your pre-registration form. A General Category candidate will find it really difficult when she can choose all the courses and colleges that are on offer. 63 colleges each, offering more than ten courses on an average! More than 630 choices!! See how life is made easy for SC/ST, as they just have to make thirty choices. But there is a catch. Some courses (like English Honours) are offered in around forty colleges. So if you want to study that course by any means, there is no way you can register for all those colleges. You have to do a survey to find out which are the colleges that you need to register for and which are the ones you need to leave out. But how do you do a survey when you are not given the addresses or the location of the colleges, and you don't know anything about the last year's admission pattern in these colleges? Well, if you have the skills to survive in this "no discrimination" zone, you will find a way out. Now, if you use all your options for one course, there is no way you can register for any other course! Well, these are again small prices you pay for the special privileges.
Now, what about the 30 choices? Are you sure you can exercise your choice carefully enough? Because the order in which you indicate your preferences determine your fate. (Wasn't it, actually, determined at the time of your birth? How can getting an admission on the basis of reservation alter it?) Anyway, if you are inquisitive about how we write the scripts of your lives (in whatever small way that we can), let me explain this to you. Imagine you filled a particular course (or college) as your 24th choice and another course (or college) as your 25th choice. (You shouldn't ask whether it is humanly possible to fine grain your choices to that kind of precision.) Imagine that our wonderful computer used its brain and found you a seat in your 24th choice. You are doomed to be stuck with your 24th choice for the rest of your life just as the other things that were ascribed to you at birth. (Who said computers will not understand caste system?) The question whether with your marks you would have got a seat in your 25th choice does not arise at all. It is like wondering whether you would have had a chance to take birth in a non SC/ST caste. So now you understand the importance of ordering all your thirty choices right at the outset of registering.
You should remember that the time given to you to collect the admission slip from the North Campus and go and take admission in the college you have been allotted is just three days including the day of the announcement of the admission list. For instance, the admission list was announced on June 26. You have to complete the admission process by June 28. The counters are open only 10 am to 1 pm on these three days. Thus, thousands of candidates have to collect the admission slip within the duration of 9 hours from about three counters that are open in the Arts Faculty. If you are away from Delhi, and it takes a day or two to reach Delhi, then there is a very high chance that you will not be able to complete the whole process within this restricted span of time, as it happened to hundreds of hapless candidates this year. The General Category candidates do not have to go through the process of collecting the admission slip. Once the cut off is announced, they can go and take admission in any of the colleges/courses that they had registered for provided they meet the cut off.
Let us go back to the problem of the 24th and the 25th choice. If you really don't want admission to your 24th choice, there is another option before you. You can refuse to take admission and intimate your refusal to the central office situated in the North Campus and get your admission slip cancelled again within the stipulated period of three days from the announcement of the list. If you fail to do this, you are doomed, because the wonderful computer will throw you out of the system. Thus if you either fail to take admission or fail to get your admission slip cancelled once you are allotted a college and a course, you have no further chance in this system. But those who get the admission slip cancelled should bear in mind that there is no assurance that in the next list they will get their 25th or worse any other of the choices. So they may end up not getting admission at all. Privileges come with heavy price tags attached to them.
Now, if you consider yourself lucky and are sympathizing with those poor General Category candidates who have around twenty times the options that you have, then you need not waste your sympathies on them because the question of ordering their choices does not arise at all. They just have to register for whatever courses and colleges they want, and they are free to go and take admission in any one of them once the cut off lists are announced and they find that they meet the cut off announced by a particular college for a course. In other words, they have a right to exercise their choice. Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution might assure you equality before law and prohibit discrimination based on caste. This wonderful university and the academicians and administrators are least bothered about all that. They can make such discriminatory rules and, what is worse, get away with it. I am ashamed to be part of one of them.
Hany Babu teaches in the Department of English, Delhi University, and is Secretary, Academic Forum for Social Justice.