Bushara Bano, a 29-year-old resident of Aligarh, scored 218 out of 300 in the University Grants Commission’s National Eligibility Test—one of the requirements to qualify for a position at the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation—held in November 2017. That year, Bano applied to the post of a human-resources executive, a junior-level position, at the public-sector undertaking. She cleared the 194-marks cut off for Other Backward Class candidates. Out of the 20 vacancies for the position, five were reserved for OBC candidates, and she topped among the applicants in the category. Bano is a post-doctoral fellow at the Aligarh Muslim University with a PhD in human-resource management and a master of business administration degree in human resource and finance. Yet, she was not selected for the position. “I had good marks and the required qualification,” Bano said. “I was confident about my performance, but I lost in the last round.”
The ONGC issued the advertisement for the post in August 2017. The selection process was based on three parameters—60 marks based on the NET score, 25 marks for educational qualification and 15 marks for a personal interview. Candidates are evaluated on the aggregate score out of 100 and must qualify all three stages independently. Excluding the interview, Bano scored 62 out of 85 in the first two stages of the selection process. She was not selected despite being the only candidate holding a PhD. Bano attributed the denial of the job to a discriminatory interview process.
Apart from standard queries on the ONGC, her area of research and her interest in the company, she was also asked a question that made her uneasy. “One of the members of the interview board asked me if I would be comfortable working in Tamil Nadu or Gujarat. I said I am flexible with the location of the job and pointed out that I had worked for two years in another country, Saudi Arabia.” She had worked as an assistant professor at the College of Business Administration at the Jazan University in Saudi Arabia. “But they are your people, no?” Bano said the interviewer responded, referring to her Muslim identity. “This would be different,” he added. Bano was firm in her response: “No, they are not my people. I am from this country and my people are here.”
For the vacancies advertised in August, right-to-information documents reveal that many top scorers among the candidates for junior-level jobs were rejected at the interview stage. In December 2015, the department of personnel and training, which functions under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pension, issued an order discontinuing personal interviews for recruitment to junior-level government positions, including at public sector undertakings, from January 2016. The DoPT order expressly states, “From 1st January 2016 there will be no recruitment with interview at the junior level posts … all the advertisement for future vacancies will be without the Interview as part of the recruitment process.”
The DoPT’s order followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s October 2015 address of his monthly radio show, Mann Ki Baat, in which he announced his decision to “to do away with the tradition of interviews for small positions.” The prime minister observed, “When a poor man goes for an ordinary job, he faces so many problems … He loses money whether he gets the job or not. We keep hearing things like these and this is when I had an idea, why do we need to interview people for ordinary jobs.”