In a country where women are underrepresented in almost all walks of public life, where the glass ceiling is far from broken, and where women and girls routinely face discrimination and violence on an everyday basis, a few colleges in Bengaluru believe they have a problem of ‘too many girls’. And to ‘fix’ this, they’ve decided to set a higher cutoff mark for girls for admissions into Pre University (PU) courses. And to justify the decision, the colleges are citing guidelines issued by the Karnataka government that in fact aimed to improve girls’ access to education.
To maintain an ‘equal number of girls and boys’ in government and government-aided educational institutions, the Department of Pre-University Education of the Karnataka state government had issued guidelines to PU colleges, asking them to follow a seat-matrix. This was primarily introduced to ensure that more girl students are given admissions into private and government colleges.
However, the same rule has now been turned on its head by some colleges, who are claiming that ‘girls are outperforming boys’. According to a report in the Times of India, the cut off for boys opting for Science in Bengaluru’s MES PU College is 92%, while for girls it is 95%. For girls opting to take up commerce, the cut off is 94% while for boys it is 92%. In Christ Junior College, the cut off for boys opting for the Science stream is 94.1% while for girls it is 95.1%. For girls opting to take up Commerce, the cut off is 96% while for boys it is 95.5% and for the Arts stream, the cut off for boys is 84.5%, and for girls it has been set at 89.2%.
According to the same report, the Vice Chancellor of Bengaluru’s Christ University stated that the reason behind setting higher cutoffs was to ensure ‘gender balance’ in classrooms. “If there is no higher cut off, the college will have only girls. The higher cut off is to bring gender balance," Father Abraham, the vice-chancellor of Christ University, told TOI.
The ‘logic’ used by these colleges goes against every tenet of affirmative action practised across the world. Usually, communities and groups that are historically marginalised or disadvantaged are provided opportunities through affirmative action – like a lower cutoff mark – considering that they do not have the opportunities that other students have to access education and resources. Affirmative action is used to somewhat level the playing field for communities and groups that face discrimination.
In such a social context, setting a higher cutoff mark for girls is illegal and discriminatory, legal experts say.
“If you have a higher cut off for girls, then lesser girls will join colleges. Unless there is a reasonable basis, you cannot have such discrimination. Like the demand for reservations for women in Parliament has a reasonable basis, whatever discrimination you do has to be on the basis of logic, a reasonable basis and for equity,” says lawyer Veena Krishnan.
“This is definitely not legal because there is absolutely no basis for it. There is no justifiable rationale for it,” advocate Sundar Raman tells TNM, “In my opinion, it might be contrary to some norms. Though private colleges can set their own standards for admission, they cannot set standards that are separate for men and women. There has to be a uniform academic threshold.”
“There is reservation in favour of women in this country, not in favour of men. Academics should be much more just than people in other fields. You cannot set different standards which will be disadvantageous to women and girl students,” says lawyer Sudha Ramalingam.
TNM reached out to C Shikha, Director of the Pre-University Department of the state government, who declined to comment on the issue. “We will be examining this issue,” she says.
But while the government mulls and colleges justify what is blatant discrimination, this action amounts to punishment for girls for performing well, as Tara Krishnaswamy, the co-founder of Shakti – Political Power to Women, says. “When women do well, raise the bar. Punish them. When men do well, it's called? Merit.”