Every year, in an unconstitutional and discriminatory practice, several private junior colleges in Bengaluru, including Christ College set higher cut-offs for female students. They claim to do this because girls are outperforming boys in high school academics.
But they may have to do away with the rule from the coming academic year, after the issue garnered considerable media attention, immense backlash, and was brought to the notice of relevant government authorities.
Here’s what has been happening
Claiming to have ‘too many girls,’ colleges under the Department of Pre-University Education (PUE) have implemented the rule every admission season—a move that is largely aimed at deterring young women from applying and securing seats in these institutions.
As per a Times Of India report, the cutoff 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 cutoff is 94%, while for boys it is 92%. In Christ Junior College, the cutoff 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 cutoff is 96% while for boys it is 95.5% and for the Arts stream, the cutoff for boys is 84.5%, and for girls it has been set at 89.2%.
According to the same report, a female student who had scored 91.2% in her 10th standard and was hoping to get into science at Christ. But, she was denied the opportunity because the cutoff for the stream was 93.92% for girls. For boys, it was 2.88% lower, at 91.04%.
There was a difference of 5% in the cut-off marks for girls and boys in many of the top colleges in the city last year, according to The Hindu.
Mamatha Srinivas, whose younger daughter appeared for SSLC exam, told the publication, “My elder daughter had scored 90.07% in SSLC and was unable to get into many of the top colleges in Bengaluru, as the cut-off marks were high, but boys with the same marks had got the seats.”
Just another glass ceiling, to slow women down
But recently, this practice of publishing gendered cutoff lists for admissions came under the radar of journalists, academic experts, and rights advocates, who claimed that it goes against the very ethos of affirmative action, and reverses centuries of progress made in women’s education that enables girls the access and environment for academic excellence today.
Responding to vehement demands to strike it down immediately, the PUE department is expected to issue circulars to the colleges concerned, according to the minister for primary and secondary education, Tanveer Sait, who addressed a press conference Friday.
While parents and students have welcomed the government’s decision to intervene, college authorities have expressed their reservations over the prospect of a single merit list for both boys and girls going forward.
Classic case of structural inequality
The rules of Karnataka state government’s department of PUE safeguard an equal number of seats for boys and girls in order to provide opportunities for girls who have been traditionally held back from attending school.
The rule to institute higher cutoff marks for girls reportedly came on the heels of their pass percentage in SSLC, being on the rise each year. Father Abraham, the vice-chancellor of Christ (deemed-to-be) University, believes, “Girls are smart, and this is not a new trend. If there is no higher cutoff, the college will have only girls. The higher cutoff is to bring in gender balance”.
Speaking against the government’s decision to do away with differential cutoff marks, AV Chandrashekar, the principal of PES PU and Degree College, also said that if colleges had to publish a single list, it would mean very few boys in many colleges since girls tend to score higher.
Why this debate matters, even today
Placing a higher cutoff for female applicants for a better gender ratio roughly translates to punishing girls simply because boys are not securing high enough scores. None of this is remotely legal, according to experts; rather it amounts to blatant discrimination and privileging one section of students at the cost of another.
Punishing girls for scoring better marks is, furthermore, a blow to gender equality and proves that women’s education (or their empowerment in any form) will always be secondary to men’s—more prominently, it must not dismantle the male status quo or endanger male supremacy. The bottom line is, women can excel as long as they don’t eclipse the mediocrity of men.
Such open displays of gender bias are especially catastrophic for campaigns to educate the girl child, at a time when classrooms (particularly in rural areas) are still bereft of enough girls, and very few young women take up higher studies compared to a large number of them dropping out. Even the labour force reflects a significantly lower participation of educated and skilled female workers as compared to men, in both rural and urban areas.
Speaking of more immediate effects, it further puts pressure on students during the already gruelling admission season, and also perpetuates the quota system (in many cases, female candidates have opted to apply via seats reserved for ex-servicemen etc) to improve their chances of getting admission, against higher cut-offs.
Unspoken reservation that only affirmative action can undo
Most importantly, the rule devalues the years spent by generations of women in hard work, breaking gender stereotypes. in their quest for equal educational opportunities, to get to this point today where their daughters are outshining male students.
Last month, Qrius reported on the precariously low status of women in STEM, noting the discrimination and obstacles facing women scientists back in the day, when they had to sit behind screens in class “so as not to disrupt male students”, and the lack of any significant change over the past century.
There has been large-scale oppression by omission and very little affirmative action to level the playing field. Until 2008, only 5% of the fellows of the Indian National Science Academy were women. This suggests that Indian society encourages men to take up science and discourages women even today.
Despite such systemic obstacles and historical challenges, girls are scoring better than boys. Disincentivising them for performing well by upholding structural biases is unconstitutional and a regressive step that puts the country on the wrong side of history.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.