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Shadowboxing US Brahmins? What's wrong with critique of 'The Economist' article

By Atticus Finch*
Rajesh Chavda’s recent rebuttal in “The Wire”, Brahmins Claim to Be Victims of Affirmative Action: This 'Untouchable' Lawyer Begs to Differ, to the “Economist” piece Why Brahmins lead Western firms but rarely Indian ones is at once an exercise in Kabuki Theatre -- a back and forth of strawman shadowboxing.
Chavda’s beef is the admittedly conservative magazine’s support of the "laughable suggestion… in the absence of any data in support”. He laments "conspicuously absent” data or research, leading to “speculation” in support of its arguments.
This is strange. “The Economist” article actually puts down incontrovertible easily verifiable public data from -- first 20, then 1,000, and ends up number-crunching 1,530 listed companies in 2021 in support of its premise that (by numbers in India) it’s non-Brahmin classes that dominate board rooms in contrast with Indian-origin CEOs of seven top US companies, all upper-caste.
Chavda, on the other hand, adduces 12-year old data across a much smaller 57 companies’ set, coming across freshman-like as he tries to prove the counter. Still, it is worth considering the more important converse hypothesis that Chavda actually seeks to takedown from the original article’s assertion, "Affirmative action in India has pushed them [Brahmins] away, too” [middle, last but one para in “The Economist”].
“The Economist” indeed does a poor job of securing its claim, hand-waving in the anecdote of Kamala Harris’ mother going to the US for graduate studies in the 1950s. Where Chavda fails, however, in his piece, is when he merely highlights a disproportionate presence of Brahmins in his own 1995 batch of National Law School of India University or NLS cohorts. The argument is not dispositive that Brahmins have not been the victims of discrimination due to reservations.
Chavda’s argument, in fact, is something straight out of the Journal of Anecdotal Science. Instead of attempting to show that there were no admissible Brahmins (north of public open-seats' cutoffs) left unenrolled that year which -- had he chosen to prove -- would have justifiably supported his claim, he adduces data demonstrating the exact opposite!
In his 1995 cohort of NLS entrants, fewer than reserved seats by set-aside quotas were secured by claimants from the “reserved communities”, hence more Brahmins -- by his own admission -- took those places. Importantly, he fails to demonstrate that no Brahmins who would have been admitted as per the defined NLS cutoffs. They would have been left seatless in the presence of a reservation-framework.
Thus, in attempting to prove a contra-positive, he does more harm than good in favour of compensatory discrimination regimes such as what India and the US have come to adopt. Had he stuck to a more dispassionate title such as “Suck it up, the country as a whole has benefited”, much like the underlying theme of a compelling recent piece from Tamil Nadu minister P Thiagarajan, it might have even been persuasive.
In the US, such policies are being litigated, a growing recognition that in the absence reparatory of social justice amendments, any compensatory discrimination policies are necessarily unconstitutional -- given usual higher commitments against racial discrimination. As a solicitor, it’s disappointing that Chavda does not argue well.
*Pseudonym of a software technology management professional



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