Mera State Mahaan – Regionalism at IIMs

One of the amazing aspects about business schools in India is regional diversity. In the clamour around less number of women and lack of non-engineer perspective in the classroom, one good thing that goes completely unnoticed is the excellent regional diversity in an Indian classroom. I doubt if many countries in the world can boast of such diversity within a nation’s borders. One of the highlights of my 2-year PGP programme at IIM Indore was observing in my batch of 240 how people from different parts of India would react when faced with the same situation. It’s a great study and one learns to appreciate different kinds of behaviour.

Another heart-warming aspect is the celebration of different festivals irrespective of the state or the religion. It’s an important part of the 2-year learning and educates you a lot about your own country.

(I do wonder though that even this aspect in a few IIMs is under threat given the thoughtless admission criteria doled out by many top schools of India. Some plainly refuse to normalize scores even today. I do believe that some states are at an advantage based on criteria in a particular year and will send students in bigger numbers.)

What prompted me to write on this issue though was the recent debate in the Parliament around students from North-East feeling marginalized. It’s unfortunate that a few students had to die for us to become aware of this. The subject of this post is not the North-East alone but the larger question about our regional mindset. And when I say ‘our’ it includes my friends, my family and me.

Somehow the state allegiance is so strong that at times it seems as if we are at war with our own colleagues at work or our own batch mates on campus. I understand that it’s natural that one is more comfortable with people from one’s own state or someone who speaks the same language.  But healthy camaraderie is very different from clear in-your-face groupism.

There is a separate mail chain of people from one state where the well-being of all ‘brothers’ is to be ensured. There are drinking parties of people from another state every month where you are invited only if you are from that state. Harmless you would say. But it doesn’t end there. Club, Committee and Society elections is when the regional flavour is at its zenith. “Are we getting enough representation?” “Do we have someone of our ‘own’ in the committee?” People even beg for votes promising well-being of ‘our’ people. I have always wondered who these ‘our’ and ‘your’ people are. For a long time in my life, I thought we are all in the same country. I do not make this mistake anymore. We are different provinces in the same country happy to be in India as long as it suits us.

A little more digging led me to multiple state-based Facebook groups that span across top business schools of India. So Bengalis have their own private group and so do people from Andhra and so do Punjabis and it goes on and on.

I recently came across a closed group on Facebook for people from the same religious community studying in a top business school of India. Clearly, this is not direction we should be heading.

The problem is that it is so ingrained in us to divide each other based on states and languages that you shall see it in the most sophisticated and hitherto assumed as ‘evolved’ and ‘progressive’ places. There is a classic firsthand account of a top consulting firm that recruits from most IIMs. The partner interviewing the candidates had made up his mind before visiting that he will shortlist all people from his state as he wanted to increase the representation of people from his state in his practise. Not only did he shortlist people but also made an offer to a candidate in the 2nd round itself while others went through multiple rounds. This is a true story.

A friend of mine studying in a top school in India told me this incident of a professor who called her in his cabin giving suggestions how to do well at the course and some other general pointers regarding discipline. “The only reason I’m taking so much interest in your well-being is because you’re from my state” – exact words told to her.

Recently, someone pinged me on Facebook. After the exchange of pleasantries the gentleman came down straight to the point. I should recommend him for a job in my company since we both share the same mother tongue.

One would argue that these are sporadic incidents and should not be given too much weight. I don’t believe that any more. It’s out there. It is in your face occurring all the time.

What worries me is that I don’t see it getting any better. I only see it getting worse. In an insecure job environment with burgeoning batch sizes and quotas of various kinds, the incentive to be a ‘protectionist’, ‘regionalist’, ‘elitist’ is only fuelled further. It’s fairly easy these days for anyone to polarize people from a particular state or community by typing a 140 character tweet. People make passionate appeals for the ‘cause of their state’ on facebook with the help of concocted facts attached to a misleading photo. Not surprisingly, they go viral with people believing anything they see or read on such forums.

I have begun to believe that as human beings our basic instinct is to divide. This egoistic craving for one’s identity is what forces us to cling on to concepts like state, race, language and then to claim its superiority over others. I don’t know. May be I’m wrong. But the above incidents deflate one’s spirits. (And just for the record, all the incidents quoted above are from 3 different Top business schools of India. And my belief is that people in other business schools behave the same way. Just that I need to put those incidents which I know have actually taken place.)

Regionalism bothers me. It is one of the many problems that plague our education system. Leading institutions in the country need to be examples of meritocracy and unity. Currently, certain people in these very institutes seem to be taking us in the opposite direction.

– Ankit Doshi

 

 

(The author is an alumnus of IIM Indore –  Class of 2011 and Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics,Mumbai –  Class of 2007.  He currently works with Bank of America Merrill Lynch and has worked with TATA Capital and WhatsonIndia.com  in the past. He still believes that ‘Umang’ NM College’s festival was the best thing to have happened to him where he led a team of 500 students)

 

 

Other articles by this Author

50 things you should know about IIM

The Power of a NGO

6 Traps to be wary of in a business school in India

5 reasons why student-run Placement committees should give way to CDC at IIMs

Final Placements 2012 – The big test for the IIMs

 

Knowledge Cafe on InsideIIM : Understanding the Sports Broadcasting business in India

Football Clubs Finances : The Business of Football

 

Student Exchange – The Most definitive Student Exchange Programme Report – 2011 (One of its kind report for top business schools in India)

 

Ankit Doshi

Creator of InsideIIM.com

Comments

11 comments

Dipak Rane

Nice article.
One thing I like about this write up is that the writer has not tried to sugarcoat this bitter truth anywhere. Yes this is a reality. Sad thing is that it runs equally deep, if not more, in well educated people.
Though I think, we have adopted federalism. In one way it is good and we need to respect that. 'Nationalistic' feeling should not end up in disrespecting or demeaning regional tongue/culture.
But the way we see this kind of Groupism as mentioned in case of top consulting firm, I don't think it has to do anything with anything with respect or any greater good thing, it is plain selfishness. What worries me is it's acceptance level. It is everywhere and not even considered as wrong. Regional facebook groups do seem a not so harmful idea. But yes, it can become a platform for promoting such regional/cast based emotionally charged calls. Still it can be a good idea if they are well regulated.
More difficult thing here is to find ways to tackle it, as it is quite clear that education is not the one.

Nikhil

I will be joining IIM this year,so I don't have any such experience.But since I have work ex.,I experienced similar regionalism in my company.Initially it was limited but later on it became ugly.Our VP used to change senior management every year.It resulted into drastic results for company.He projected many people from other states as scapegoats,transferred them onsite,severed their families & ultimately ruined their personal & job life.After 1 year,the whole senior managment was from one state.Middle management was from other state & rest of the employees from one state.I won't mention the names of the states as it will fuel heated discussion here.I faced severe politics,ill treatment from them just because I was from other state.But I observed one thing:If you have guts,& show your business potential,then you will get better role.Sometimes,sandwiched management in which reporting is to people belonging to different states is helpful as it stops favourism & halts promotion process.I certainly don't expect my batchmates to be biased on the basis of a region.Let us see…hoping for the best!

Namita

nice..i agree completely..regionalism has truly and sadly become inherent in our nature..education, job, competition..its everywhere..donno really wht can be done abt it though..

Neutral Junta

While I agree to some extent on what you have written, I also feel you have been too critical about regionalism. When the batch size if small like less than 200 , you have the opportunity to interact with many. However when it grows to sizes such as 400+ its really difficult to interact with everyone. There regionalism provides a bridge to interact with 40-50 of the same region. However if someone restricts himself to only that group its bad and shows narrow mindedness. I know how coteries'(wont name which region) formed at certain colleges help students to win elections easily even when hardly people know the guy or girl. This is because of strong affiliation to a group. If you take regionalism as a kind of mentor-ship thing without restricting your horizons its not bad. Where it becomes bad is when you seek undue advantage or favor someone based on it.

Ankit Doshi

I have made clear what I think is harmless and what is not in the article. I don't think what I have written suggests that there should be any restriction on mentorship or using regional connect to create a bridge.

Vinay

Is it really that different from trying to increase the count of people from your alma mater in your organization which is also widely considered as a good enough reason to give somebody preferential treatment?

Ankit Doshi

While I accept your point and agree that BSchool nepotism is not good either, there is a difference between 'getting access' and outright bias in favour of someone. In most mature corporate organisations, you may get access to people because you come from the same region or share a common alma mater, but final selection will depend on approval by multiple people and qualification of certain basic criteria on ability/past performance/strength of relationships etc.

Surendra

yeah India is such a diverse country and that's why we call it a subcontinent,which provides a the best learning experience.
People try to be in comfort zone(for their own reasons) by forming groups(remember : unity is strength) ,be it regional or caste or class or college whatever based.
And i don't think people in IIM's are forming regional groups in a narrower perspective ,they may be having their own set of reasons for forming groups,but if interest groups are contributing positively its a good phenomenon.

Hemant Shrivastava

I would not take such a paranoid view about the phenomena; but with my tongue- in- cheek can say that such things do happen and we see this all around-see a group of benagalis, punjabis, tamilians, kannad-name it and you would find that birds of the same feather flock together. Yes admittedly a cosmopolitan background is supposed to obliterate such parochial identities, but alas this is not to be! The writer must acknowledge that it is too human, what with all our foibles, whether you are in a B-school or not. Not very long ago a nation was up in arms against the world on racist ground.
However strong your intellectual predilections be it is but natural to fall prey to such emotions-hope i am not sounding too apologetic about it but the point is that let us not be carried away by it. aTake it with a pinch of salt.Yes such vigilant citizenry would force such divisive issues to run subterranean.

tanay gurjar

People have an inherent trust and get along more easily with people from the same region as them. Also in B-schools, where students live away from their families for a cpl of years, they get attached to the linguistic credentials of a batch mate (this happens more so in the case of freshers, i have seen)…..the only thing is that this comfort zone should not take the shape of favouritism later on….and also this thing is more prevalent in certain communities more than others…although nothing against them, but i guess the explaination lies in their culture being a bit more different than the average "indian" culture that we all can relate to!

sumitsinghnitr

So true!!…in any central level educational institution…the most beautiful part is the cultural diversity. This cultural diversity is a natural phenomenon,as the best or the most competetent people of a group make it to the institution.
Interaction amongst such a group enriches the group as a whole. But as i have always seen many/most people try to look for regional similarities as they feel more connected to such peers in a group, even though this habit is just a way to escape interaction with an unknown group which could be all together better than the regional group the person belongs too.

Recently i was going through a video posted by INSEAD singapore campus by the admissions committee on youtube and it showed that INSEAD does not place more than one student from a particular country in a study group, so a particular study group in INSEAD has all students from different regions. I think thats a real test for group work and great way to develop team work remove and regional bias.
Maturity which helps to do away with regional bias can be attained by a person only when he/she leaves a group and decides to go out alone and feel free to meet and understand people irrespective of such biases.