Beyond Illusions: Deconstructing "Merit" In India's Unjust Framework

The inception of this discourse took root while I was immersed in an event hosted by Khabar Lahariya on August 26. It was a panel discussion titled "Panel Discussions: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion In Newsrooms" that sparked the ember of contemplation

Harnur Watta
Aug 30, 2023 13:42 IST
Image credits: The Age

Image credits: The Age

In the grand tapestry of societal progress, the notion of merit has been revered as a guiding principle, a beacon of fairness that promises to reward individuals based on their abilities and efforts. However, as one delves deeper into the intricate layers of meritocracy, especially within the Indian context, it becomes evident that this seemingly infallible concept is not without its flaws.

This piece aims to shed light on the inherent deficiencies of the idea of merit, particularly in relation to the prevailing systemic and structural inequalities. 

By exploring the multifaceted dimensions of this topic, we can better understand how the meritocratic framework falls short in addressing the concerns of those who enter through reservations, often leading to unjust labels of incompetence or inadequacy.

Lahar: A Khabar Lahariya Event


The inception of this discourse took root while I was immersed in the enriching experience of "Lahar," an event hosted by Khabar Lahariya on August 26. 

Amidst the captivating sessions, it was a panel discussion titled "Panel Discussions: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion In Newsrooms" that sparked the ember of contemplation. 

Among the audience members participating in the discussion, a senior journalist from a renowned news establishment cast a dissenting perspective on the discourse of inclusion within newsrooms.


Voicing reservations against the prevailing talks of diversity and inclusion, the journalist asserted that many of the candidates often brought into the fold under the banner of diversity were, in his estimation, "unqualified" and lacked the eloquence requisite for effective journalism. 

In his eyes, this was not a matter of exclusion, but rather an endeavour to uphold an established standard that demanded merit and proficiency. 

A swift counterpoint emerged from one of the panel members, her response resonating with an approving nod from her fellow discussants. 


She astutely questioned the very foundation of the merit system itself, delving into the inherent fallacies and discriminatory tendencies that lay woven within.

The poignant exchange during that discussion served as a catalyst, compelling me to embark on a journey of research and exploration. 

My quest was to unearth the intricate layers of nuance encapsulating the notion of merit and to unravel the latent shortcomings that often evade conventional scrutiny. 


In the paragraphs that ensue, I shall delve into the profound intricacies of the merit system, shedding light on its inherent imperfections and the broader implications it carries.

The Illusion of Equal Opportunity

One of the most glaring shortcomings of the meritocratic ideal is the illusion of equal opportunity it projects. 


The Indian socio-economic landscape is rife with disparities, where access to quality education, healthcare, and resources remains unevenly distributed. 

This inherently unequal starting point renders the notion of a level playing field illusory. 

Meritocracy, in the Indian context, neglects the nuanced impact of socio-economic conditions on an individual's abilities and achievements. 


The weight of systemic inequalities, entrenched by centuries of caste-based discrimination, cannot be simply wished away under the guise of merit.

Ignoring the Systemic Inequities

In the Indian context, the inherent bias within the meritocratic framework is magnified by the deeply rooted caste-based discrimination that has persisted for generations. 

The reservation system was introduced as a countermeasure to the historical disadvantages faced by marginalised communities. 

Meritocracy often fails to acknowledge the historic and systematic barriers that certain groups face. 

These barriers impede their access to quality education, healthcare, and other essential resources, leading to a distorted perception of their abilities. 

When individuals from these marginalised backgrounds manage to secure positions through reservations, they are unfairly labelled as 'unfit' or 'undeserving', disregarding the systemic hurdles they had to overcome.

The Flawed Notion of "Standard"

The idea of a universal standard of merit also overlooks the fact that each individual comes from a unique background with distinct challenges and opportunities. 

The concept of merit often centres on standardised tests and examinations, which do not account for the multifaceted nature of intelligence and aptitude. 

By imposing a narrow definition of merit, society risks undermining the value of alternative skills and talents possessed by those who do not conform to the conventional norm.

A Complex Vision of Merit

Redefining merit within the Indian context requires a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to an individual's success. 

The interplay of caste, socio-economic status, opportunities, and other intersectionalities of identities and issues plays a great role in determining the perception of one’s abilities. 

It is essential to recognise that merit can be multifaceted, encompassing not only academic prowess but also resilience, creativity, and adaptability. 

By embracing a broader vision of merit, we can create a more inclusive society that acknowledges and rewards the diverse strengths that individuals from all backgrounds bring to the table.

In the labyrinthine landscape of societal progress, the idea of merit, though a noble aspiration, is far from flawless. 

Within the Indian context, it is evident that the meritocratic framework overlooks the pervasive systemic and structural inequalities that persist. 

The reservations system, rather than diminishing merit, seeks to correct historical injustices and provide opportunities for those who have been marginalised for centuries. 

By recognising the limitations of the meritocratic ideal and embracing a more nuanced understanding of merit, we can move towards a society that celebrates diversity and truly upholds the principles of justice and equality.

Views expressed by the author are their own

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