Sunday, October 11, 2009
Inclusion and "quality"
The sociologist, Andre Beteille, delivered a lecture in Calcutta in March which I attended.
He touched upon academic quality versus inclusion (e.g. through reservation or affirmative action), and said quality need not be compromised. At the end of the lecture, I asked him to elaborate a bit on this issue of quality versus inclusion; some may think inclusion compromises quality, while others may assert that quality itself is arbitrarily defined around certain privileges. What is the meaning of quality in a democratic and inclusive society?
I did not find his answer interesting.
What I meant was:
We are all familiar with the conventional notion that inclusion will compromise “quality”, and that can be argued against, and qualified, like he did … My point was something else: WHAT is this wonderful thing called “QUALITY”? What are the historically, cognitively rooted biases in its definition? Whether western / imperial / colonial, or Brahminical / Manuvadi…
Let me give some examples, both of which are not academic but real things I have encountered.
Let us say a “backward class” peasant’s son joins an agricultural engineering course. Does his whole store of experiential knowledge of cultivation, from his personal knowledge, from his own life and that of his family and community, count for anything in this “scientific domain”? Will it be a one-way traffic, of him receiving the wisdom of that discipline? Or will that discipline be open to receiving his knowledge and try to re-constitute itself on that basis?
Similarly, with, say, an adivasi’s knowledge of flora and fauna and the scientific domain of forestry. Prof Kailash Malhotra (the anthropologist), and Madhu Ramnath (who lived for years among the Gond as one of them and took up “adivasi botany”) have given me fascinating accounts of “adivasi taxonomy” of animal life and plants respectively, from Midnapore and Bastar, again respectively. Would the disciplines of zoology, botany and forestry re-constitute themselves on the basis of such knowledges? Is there a horizontal or equal relationship in the dialogue of knowledges; or a rigid hierarchical one? Does the very definition of existing disciplines have much meaning in the face of the alternative worldview?
Is there a whole new “way of knowing” waiting to be glimpsed by human society, with today’s “backwards”, indigenes and marginals being the emissaries of those songs and tales that have never been heard before?