Reservation: Understanding The Past, Present And Solutions [RESEARCH]

Posted on February 15, 2011 in Research, Society

By Sumedha Upadhyay:

We live in a free country and this freedom is a gift of democracy to us. Our constitution gives us the right to freedom and most importantly to exercise this freedom in an equitable manner. At the same time it is incumbent on the part of the state to ensure that equality prevails in all sections of the society.

However in today’s time one of the major roadblocks to this equality is the Reservation System.

India being a developing nation is currently facing many challenges and the reservation system being one of them. The biggest question that lies in front of us is whether implementing this reservation system has really helped the downtrodden?  The current scenario clearly depicts that the ‘lower’ castes are still discriminated in their daily lives. To uproot casteism it is important that we fight the reservation system which alone will lead us to development, competency, equality and unity.

The reservation system finds its origin in the age-old caste system of India. The caste system at its birth was meant to divide people on the basis of their occupation like teaching and preaching (Brahmins), kingship and war (Kshatriya) and lastly business(vaish) etc. but soon it became an instrument to divide the society on caste-basis, creating various walls between different sections of the society. Today we stand divided widely into Hindu, Muslim, SC, ST & OBCs with newer reservations coming up for other different sections of the society like Christians, Kashmiris, Jats, Kashmiri Pandits, Tribals etc.

Firstly we need to understand that the reservation system only divides the society leading to discrimination and conflicts between different sections. It is oppressive and does not find its basis in casteism. It is actually the antithesis of a communal living.

Currently, as per the government policy, 15% of the government jobs and 15% of the students admitted to universities must be from Scheduled castes and for the Scheduled tribes there is a reservation of about 7.5 %. Other than this, the state governments also follow their own reservation policies respectively based upon the population constitution of each state. So nearly 50% seats are reserved.

The Mandal commission was established in 1979 by the central government to identify the socially or educationally backward people. It was also set up to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination. It used social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness. But today are these reservations actually being utilized on the above mentioned factors? The answer is prima facie ‘NO’ because the benefits are being stolen away by the creamy layer.

The 93rd Constitutional Amendment allows the government to make special provisions for “advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”, including their admission in aided or unaided private educational institutions. Gradually this reservation policy is to be implemented in private institutions and companies as well. This move led to opposition from non-reserved category students, as the proposal reduced seats for the General (non-reserved) category from the existing 77.5% to less than 50.5% (since members of OBCs are also allowed to contest in the General category).

Article 15(4) of our constitution empowers the government to make special provisions for advancement of backward classes. Similarly Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity in matters of employment or appointment to any post under the State.

“Clause 2 of article 16 lays down that no citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them be discriminated in respect of any employment or office under the State.”

However clause 4 of the same article provides for an exception by conferring a certain kind of power on the government:

“it empowers the state to make special provision for the reservation of appointments of posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which in the opinion of the state are not adequately represented in the services”

Thus two conditions have to be satisfied:

  1. The class of citizens is backward
  2. The said class is not adequately represented.

In a case Balaji v/s State of Mysore (AIR 1963 SC649) it was held that ‘caste of a person cannot be the sole criteria for ascertaining whether a particular caste is backward or not. Determinants such as poverty, occupation, place of habitation may all be relevant factors to be taken into consideration. The court further held that it does not mean that if once a caste is considered to be backward it will continue to be backward for all other times. The government should review the test and if a class reaches the state of progress where reservation is not necessary it should delete that class from the list of backward classes.’

What is surprising is that our constitution clearly is a reservation-friendly constitution but nowhere in the constitution is the term ‘backward classes defined. What actually constitutes a backward class? What are the determinants of a backward class? These questions remain unanswered and it is only with the help of judicial pronouncements that they have been given some meaning. Question arises how can reservations be made for something that has not been defined?

Today when a student applies for an admission in any university, the admission forms are filled with questions like ‘Are you SC/ST or OBC or General Category?’ How does it matter which category does he belong to, what matters is his merit. A category cannot decide whether he is eligible for admission or not. There many economically worse off children belonging to the forward classes but they cannot get the fruits of such reservation merely by virtue of belonging to the ‘general’ category. Sometimes these children belonging to the backward classes do not even deserve and still possess the necessary merit as against a child who studied very hard for months to get a seat, thereby snatching away that seat just because he comes from a particular religion or caste for which our government provides reservation.

Reservation should be purely made on the basis of the economical conditions of the applicant and nothing else. The kind of reservation policy that our government currently follows does nothing but divide the society into different sections.

When the then HRD minister Mr. Arjun Singh introduced 27.5% reservation for OBC in centrally funded educational institutes including IIMs and IITs a petition was moved to the President and the Prime Minister stating that such a reservation will take India back from where she is today. Further “everyone understands the need for all sections of the Indian Society to get an opportunity to be a part of this economy but reservation based on caste is not an answer to this. These policies have been in India since the last 50 years and they have failed to meet their objectives. The government should go into the reasons of the failure. Many students don’t make it to the institutes because of the economic reasons and those who do not fall in the reservation criteria don not get a fair opportunity too”.

To remove this evil it suggested the following:

  1. Make education mandatory and free for all till age of 15
  2. Propose reservation based on economic status
  3. Provide opportunity to students to earn while they study.

Instead of introducing reservations for these backward classes what is required is to bring about revolutionary changes in our education system at the grass-root level. When proper education is not provided to children belonging to such categories during the primary stage itself then on what basis are the reservations provided at a subsequent stage.

Reservations are nothing but means to prosper the vote banks of politicians. They are hindering the country’s growth, development and competency in all aspects. On one hand the preamble of our constitution states that we are a free, democratic and sovereign nation and on the other hand reservation system is chaining all these aspects into its clutches. It is creating disparity and differences amongst the people. The constitution lays down that every child has a right to education and no where expresses that any child belonging to a backward class has a little more of this right than the general category. By reserving one category against another creates a feeling of division which is now resulting in a chaos with every small section of the society asking for it.

Reservations on the basis of caste and not on the basis of condition are bad and unacceptable. Fair and just reservations to uplift the people with poor conditions of life, those who don’t have meals to eat, clothes to wear and no home to live in. They shall be made on the basis of factors such as gender as women are more disadvantaged than men since primitive times, domicile, family education, family employment, family property, family income and if any disabilities and traumas. The process of reservation should be such that it filters the truly economically deprived individuals and bring them all to justice.

Thus reservations are anti-thesis of development and equality. We don’t need reservations based on castes or religion but only to actually provide aid to those who have minimal resources; and merit should be given equal  and due importance in admission procedures as well employment opportunities. This way we would be successful in removing caste discrimination and unite the economically rich together in helping the economically poor, irrespective of their castes.

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