In my quest far and wide for a society that had achieved equality I reached the Republic of Ladnam. At the border, there was a big arched gate made of stone. On it were pasted large irregular plastic letters, some of which had fallen off, reading “M_rit is _ _yth.” Lounging around the gate were some disheveled border guards. They looked barely able to stand up by themselves, let alone stop anyone from crossing the border. The immigration clerk on the other hand, was built like a professional wrestler. But he was sitting behind a desk and apparently couldn’t understand a word of any language that any of the people in the line spoke. I watched as he would wave some people in, and others he would send back with hand gestures and some incomprehensible shouts. It was hard to know how he made these decisions since he could not understand what anyone said. As far as I could tell he was letting people in by random selection.
I stood patiently in the line wondering whether I would be lucky enough to be let in. To bolster my case, I adjusted my glasses and put on a suitably professorial and dignified look. To no avail as the clerk-wrestler, looking completely bored, barely glanced at me before sending me away with a perfunctory shout.
I was in despair as I turned back when I suddenly noticed the Chalu man approaching the line. I had met the Chalu man in my travels before. He was the man who always knew how to get things done wherever he went. If anyone had figured out the system in Ladnam, it would be he. As I watched, the Chalu man simply walked over the border past the immigration line ignoring the thin squeal of a lame security guard who hobbled one or two steps towards him and then gave up.
I was desperate to get in since I had traveled for many days with much effort to reach Ladnam. So I ran to catch up with the Chalu man, past the weak protest of the border guard.
“Um, how did you do that—skipped the immigration line and just crossed the border.”
The Chalu man seemed amused at my question. “Just as you did. I walked.”
“But don’t the border guards say anything?” I asked, still anxiously peering back.
“Just look at them – what can they do? This is how things work here.”
“But why do they have guards that are clearly unable to perform any useful function?” I asked.
“Nothing here functions,” he laughed. “People are not hired for their ability to do their jobs. Didn’t you see the sign at the gate when you entered? It said ‘Merit is a Myth.’ That is their national motto.”
“So how do they decide who to hire?” I asked.
“Don’t ask my why or how. I just know how to get around. Up ahead in their capital is their central university – perhaps someone there will know,” he said, “But don’t hold your breath, you may not find the smartest people there.”
The capital city was called Victim Nagar. It was fairly close to the border. As I entered the city I found that it looked really run down. The garbage was piled up in the streets, the roads were strewn with potholes and the buildings were crooked. I soon found my way to the university campus where I saw a long line of students, apparently seeking admission. All of them were holding sheets of paper in their hands with a large number, like a score, scrawled across the top.
I started chatting with a bright-looking student in line.
“How do the admissions work here? Is that big number that everyone is holding their score on the entrance test?” I asked.
“Oh, that,” she said “That’s the victim rating.”
“Victim rating?” I queried.
“You don’t know about victim rating? Where are you from? In Ladnam everything goes by victim rating. You get one right when you are born” she said. “Throughout your life you gain victim points, and the more victim points you have, the higher your chance of admittance,” she replied.
“I am here just for fun,” she added. “There is no way I will get in. My parents studied in a college and we have a long tradition of education and scholarship in our community,” she explained with a self-evident shrug. “Besides, I had a happy childhood and am not even the youngest child.”
“And that’s a problem?” I asked incredulously.
“Big problem. Can’t get anywhere with a happy childhood these days. Just my bad luck. You have to prove at least severe verbal abuse to get minimum points. Broken homes are the best. And your parents can’t be educated.”
“Your parents can’t be educated?”
“No, that doesn’t meet the educational and social backwardness criteria. And in my community we don’t have female infanticide so that doesn’t work either.”
“Um, what does female infanticide have to do with college admissions?”
Well, it is a sign of social backwardness. Really looks good on the resume. O why, o why couldn’t they also do it in my community. Also, you could get really lucky and be arrested for it as well.”
“Yes, you can get extra points for parents being in jail. There is this whole rehabilitation package. But you have to get really lucky to be arrested, most people who commit crimes never do.”
“And what about the youngest child thing?” I asked.
“I have no idea why, but they deduct points if you are older. There was a study that said that older siblings have a slightly higher chance of success than younger ones. So they had to fix that. At least I am not the eldest or I wouldn’t get anywhere at all. My older brother, who is unfortunately absolutely brilliant, breaks stones on the road next to the university.” A crease crossed her forehead. “And I was a pretty good student in school as well. It’s a problem many teachers’ children have.”
“Well, if you are really good you might still get in, can’t you,” I offered hopefully.
She looked as me as if I had landed from the moon. “Boy, you really are ignorant. Don’t you know ‘Merit is a myth’?” She said the last part like a slogan she had learnt to repeat blankly in school.
“If you do well in school, perhaps you were born intelligent, or maybe you had supportive parents, or you were self-driven, or you weren’t discriminated against or there were some other social or environmental factors that helped you succeed. What about all those kids who were born less intelligent than you or who did not have encouraging parents or a helpful social environment? That’s just a quirk of birth or upbringing. If they hadn’t had those things we would be all exactly equal. Is it their fault? Don’t they deserve to be treated better than others to compensate for the raw deal they got?”
“So then how do they determine who to admit?” I asked.
“Isn’t it obvious” she said. “Only the students with the lowest possible marks are admitted, of course, assuming they have otherwise good victim status – community, family and individual. Those that have the least possible marks have clearly been the most victimized, other things being equal. Everyday in class we were made to repeat the quotation from Ladnam, the father our nation—“‘Merit’ is largely a product of favorable environmental privileges and higher marks in the examinations do mean not that the examinee has higher intrinsic worth. Intelligence is merely a genetic and environmental result.” Thus the least intelligent have gotten the worst genetic and environmental deal. They alone, then, are truly deserving of college admission.”
“But how do they ever get employed?”
“It is the same thing for jobs. Only the least qualified for each job really deserve to be hired to do it since they have the greatest disability for it. They were subject to the worst environmental conditions for the job and are thus the most deserving.”
I finally understood why all the guards at the border were the way they were.
(to be continued)
1. “Merit’ is largely a product of favorable environmental privileges and higher marks in the examinations do mean not that the examinee has higher intrinsic worth. Intelligence is merely a genetic and environmental result.” From Report of the Backward Classes Commision, Government of India, 1980.
© Sankrant Sanu., all rights reserved.