ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Employment, Exclusion and 'Merit' in the Indian IT Industry

The Indian information technology industry is often represented as providing employment opportunities to a wider cross section of society than has been the case with other professional and white collar jobs. However, available data suggest that the social composition of the IT workforce is more homogeneous than is often supposed, in that the workforce is largely urban, middle class, and high/middle caste. The processes of exclusion that operate in the educational system and in recruitment as also the ideology of "merit" in the context of elite opposition to reservation, create this relative social homogeneity in the IT workforce.

T he Indian information technology (IT) industry has been frequently hailed by the media, the state, and industry leaders as a significant new source of high quality and well-paid employment for the educated youth of India. With the recent rapid growth of the industry and expansion in the size of the workforce, the sector already employs more than one million people and is projected to generate many more jobs over the next few years. More important, the IT industry is often represented as providing employment opportunities to wider sections of the population than has been the case for most managerial, professional, and white collar jobs. Industry leaders frequently argue that because of the shortage of technically qualified people, they have had to look far and wide for workers, in the process drawing in many people from non-middle class/ upper caste backgrounds. Linked to this, a common narrative holds that employment does not depend on social connections (influence) or ascriptive status (reservations) unlike in the public sector and old economy companies but is based entirely on merit. However, the social reality appears to be somewhat different. In this paper, I present data from a study of the IT workforce in Bangalore and draw on other sources to show that the social profile of IT workers is largely urban, middle class, and high or middle caste. The processes of exclusion that operate in the education system and in the recruitment process to create this relative social homogeneity are delineated. Finally, I discuss the ideology of merit that dominates the industry in the context of the recent debate on reservations.1

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