Weekly Program on World Affairs


Reservation: Retrospect and Prospect-ABHISHEK KUMAR

“Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste bound.”                                 
- Bhim Rao Ambedkar.

Source: Countercurrents

The constitution of India starts from the preamble in which the concept of Equality has been greatly emphasized. But perennial question persists do we have equality in the society? The staunch reality of this question was deeply understood by our founding fathers of the constitution and therefore they devised the policy of reservation to abridge the rift between upper and lower castes. The constitutional guarantee of reservation directed the state to reserve some seats in educational institutions, public employment and even in parliament and state legislatures so that the representation of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes can be ensured and they could be brought in the mainstream development process. 

But over the period, this policy of affirmative action has been used as an instrument to attain, retain and expand power in Indian political system. This is the main reason that there is a huge demand to review the present form of reservation system or implement the reservation on the basis of economic conditions. Here the society has divided into two groups of haves and have nots. Haves are those people who are getting benefit of reservation, so support it vehemently and have nots are kept outside its ambit and are against the current form of reservation.

Why needs Reservation:
The earliest classification of Hindu society in four Varnas namely Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra can be traced back to 10th Chapter of ‘Purush Sukta’ of Rigveda. First, all varnas were placed equal to each other but in the subsequent period this egalitarian form of division turned into hierarchal structure in which Brahmans got highest place and in succession Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras  were placed. The Shudras were at the lowest level in social hierarchy and the duties which had been assigned to them were scavenging or cleaning, laboring and serving other three Varnas. This practiced continued for thousands of years which became the main reason for their exploitation and marginalization. Many of them were downgraded to the level of untouchables, destined to be discriminated everywhere.

Therefore, to liberate the Shudras from the clutches of caste hierarchy and to promote them equal to other castes they were given a new identity of ‘Schedule Castes’ and conferred with a privilege in the form of Reservation after the independence. But they were not the only one, who awarded with this privilege, forest dwellers or people who were still living in tribes were given reservation with new identity of ‘Schedule Tribes.’ The SCs and STs were granted reservation of 14 percent and 7.5 percent respectively.

As the country proceeded on the path of progress, the reservation of SCs and STs became inadequate to fulfill the idea of social justice. As a result another slab of Other Backward Classe (OBC) was created while granting 27 percent reservation to them.

Constitutional Protection
The constitution of India is closely stuck to the idea of social justice and to ensure it, several provisions have been made. Article 15 (4) empowers state to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.  The reservation in the public employment is safeguarded under Article 16 (4) which states that state can make any provision for the reservation of appointment or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which in the opinion of state, is not adequately represented in the services under the state.  

The reservation of political representation in Loksabha and State Legislative Assemblies secured under Article 330 and 332 respectively.  Article 330 provides the reservation of seats for SCs and STs in lower house of the Parliament while Article 332 reserves the seats for SCs and STs in State Legislative Assemblies.

Emergence of Reservation to Other Backward Class (OBC) : 
 There were several other castes which were not covered under SCs and STs, but were still backward and under privileged. The reservation for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes did not prove adequate to bring all downtrodden castes in the limelight. So a need was felt to identify these castes and inquire into the requirement to give them reservation. As a result, first Backward Classes Commission was constituted under the Chairmanship of Kaka Kelkar in 1953 that studied 2399 castes and recommended 70 percent seats in all technical and professional education for OBCs. But Nehru government did not express any interest to implement the recommendation of this commission. 

However the Kelkar Committee was constituted after the six years of independence but the emergence of OBC politics started much before it. As Christophe Jaffrelot points out that “historically two kinds of approaches have prevailed in Indian political system, to displace the upper caste, urban establishment from its position. First is Kisan Politics and second is caste based Socialist movement.” Kisan politics was initiated by leaders of cultivating castes such as Chhotu Ram (a jat) from Punjab and Swami Sahajanand (a Bhumihar) from Bihar. But it reached to zenith in period of Chaudhary Charan Singh and Devi Lal. On the other hand, Caste Based Socialist movement was headed by distinguished leader Ram Manohar Lohia and later carried on by leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav. 

Chaudhary Charan Singh succeeded to bring all cultivating castes under one roof and consequently evolved the politics of coalition of AJGAR- A stands for Ahir (Yadav), J for Jat, G for Gurjar and R for Rajput. The main motive of AGRAR politics was to safeguard the interests of farmers. On the other hand, Caste Based Socialist politics focused on caste based quota in education and public employment for non-elite Other Backward Classes.  

Later on, Kisan Politics and Caste Based Socialist politics had confluence in Janata Party government which was reflected in the constitution of Mandal Commission to investigate the socio-economic conditions of Other Backward Class and possibility of reliving them with reservation. The Mandal Commission submitted its report in 1980 with the conclusion that OBCs comprised of 52 percent of the total population and coterminous to low caste therefore should be granted 27 percent reservation in public sector employment and education. But the recommendations of Mandal Commission could not be implemented due to collapse of Janata government before the submission of report and unwillingness of subsequent governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to implement the report. Eventually the recommendations were implemented by Janata Dal government headed by V P Singh, in 1990.

124th Constitutional Amendment Act and related Challenges:
The much awaited decision for the reservation to Economically Weaker Section in general category was finalized by current NDA government and passed by parliament on January 9, 2019. As a consequence, they were accommodated with 10 percent reservation in education and public employment. But this is not the final end it may create various challenges in the society. First, after the 10% reservation to economically backward section, quota has increased its highest limit of 50 percent which was demarcated by Supreme Court in Mandal Case 1992. Hence question arises how government will deal with it as this amendment act was not put under 9th Schedule of the constitution and most prone to judicial review. In this situation the Supreme Court can scrap this amendment act or may refuse to intervene in the matter.

Second, the reservation to weaker section is not the concrete solution but this temporary accommodation may intensify the process of unending demands for reservation. The picture will not end here now more castes will come out with their demand for reservation in different categories to maximize their interests. Third, 60 percent reservation is not the guarantee for the upliftment of reserved categories and better living conditions for them, especially in the situation in which after the phase of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization) the role of state is shrinking from almost every sphere and employment generation in public sector is decreasing rapidly. Then question arises how reservation merely in public sector can provide desired results.

Reservation an Assessment and Suggestions:
Reservation was a promise made by the state to establish more egalitarian society and provide social justice to all. But even after the 70 years of independence why the socio-economic conditions of ‘Reserved Categories’ could not be improved to the expected level? Just because of the failure of state to fulfill its duties towards them. State has failed to provide a qualitative education and employment to these people. The measures such as MNREGA and Right to Education are not enough but more substantive steps must be taken while adopting targeted approach. It is high time that we deeply and sincerely analyze the fact that why so many demands of reservation are arising out of our society? Why Patidars from Gujrat, Marathas from Maharastra, Jats from Haryanna, Gurjars from Rajasthan, Kapus from Andhra Pradesh are on the roads and railway tracks for their demands for reservation? It simply means that something is not going well in our society. We should understand it clearly that the occupations in which these communities were involved, are not as much profitable now as it would have been once. Mostly these communities are land owning castes and involved in agriculture but as we all know that agriculture is in the pathetic situation today and farmers suicides is a living proof of it. In this situation, these communities are considering reservation as a way to secure alternative employment. Here state needs to focus on all sectors primary (agriculture), secondary and tertiary equally and should find out the solutions of the problems related to them.

When we prepare our study time table then after few days we examine it that how much effectively and efficiently we are working on it and where we can improve our performance. Even, every public policy which is formulated and implemented in this country is assessed in detail but reservation is perhaps the only policy which was not evaluated a single time from its inception. Therefore there is an immediate necessity to review the entire Reservation System. Because it has come into notice that over the time ‘‘a new class in Reserved Castes’’ has emerged out and which is mainly grabbing the benefits of reservation system abstaining the truly needy ones.

One of the greatest challenges which India is facing is the ‘Politicization of Reservation System.’ And it is evident from the fact that provision for reservation to SCs and STs, was made for only ten years, but it is still prevalent in the country with gradual extension to 60 percent now. This became possible because we could not provide equal opportunities to all and on the other hand, reservation has been used as a tool to fulfill the political interests by politicians. India has a vast population of more than 130 million people so it is impossible for a mixed economy like India to accommodate all people in public employment. Hence it is imperative that this human capital is trained for self-employment and private sector employment so that burden could be relieved from public sector. 

The most colossal mistake which Indian society and state has made is that we only focused on the emancipation of lower castes with upper castes but we have not devoted sufficient measures for the assimilation of lower castes in the society. Giving them equal respect is not enough but we should engage ourselves deeply to lower castes. In this direction, inter-personal relations and inter-caste marriages may register a grand success.

Reservation is the strongest weapon in the hands of oppressed class. And undoubtedly it has changed their destiny. It is the reservation system by which repressed or underprivileged section has succeeded to ensure its presence in the parliament, public employment and educational institutions, similar to upper castes. But all the initiatives which were taken do not suffice, much more remains to be done in near future.
There are innumerable people, who oppose the reservation system and openly advocate its discontinuation but most of them have not ever experienced discrimination on the basis of caste, were not humiliated due to their belonging to lower caste. Indeed caste inequality is a curse and must be exterminated from the society. Additionally, it’s our prime responsibility as a society to annihilate caste hierarchy and caste bigotry arising out of it and further step up to build one strong nation on the foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity.

(Abhishek Kumar is an independent researcher and write on various issues. He holds Masters degree in Political Science from University of Delhi and IGNOU too.)