By Abhineet Maurya:
As per Wikipedia, “Reservation in India is the process of facilitating a person in education, scholarship, jobs, and in promotions who has category certificates. Reservation is a form of quota-based affirmative action. Reservation is governed by constitutional laws, statutory laws, and local rules and regulations. Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), and in some states Backward Classes among Muslims under a category called BC(M), are the primary beneficiaries of the reservation policies under the Constitution – with the object of ensuring a level playing field.”
The reservation system aims to uplift the lower sections of society which, through the ages, have been exploited and deprived of rights and basic amenities. By providing these minorities reservations in government jobs and colleges, they are supposed to become a part of mainstream society and, as a result, it is expected that people will start accepting them. But recent events and today’s political scenario have raised a big question on the existing reservation system in India. Have the current parameters of reservation become outdated and shallow? Is the current reservation system upholding inequality of rights of citizens on the basis of their ancestry?
The reservation system in India dates back to 2nd century B.C. where the upper class enjoyed certain added privileges. According to some texts, several centuries later during the Gupta period, Brahmins were given certain facilities that the other varnas were denied.
A caste-based reservation system was originally thought of by William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882. A form of it was implemented by Chhatrapati Shahuji in 1901. However, the reservation system that exists today, in its true sense, was introduced in 1933 when British Prime-Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the ‘Communal Award’. This made a provision for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and the Dalits.
This system was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi who fasted in protest against it. But many minorities and leaders like B.R. Ambedkar supported it. After long negotiations, Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the ‘Poona Pact’, where it was decided that there would be a single Hindu electorate with certain reservations in it. Electorates for other communities like Muslims and Sikhs remained separate. After India’s Independence, there were some major changes in favour of the STs, SCs and OBCs. One of the most important occurred in 1979 when the Mandal Commission was established to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward classes. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the recommendations of the Mandal Commission were implemented in government jobs.
The reservation system that we see today provides roughly 15% of the seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs), 8% for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and 27% for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This leaves just about 50% of seats for the ‘general’ category which can also be occupied by the minorities. Due to the relatively small number of seats for minorities, the cut-off percentages for their seats are lower than the general category.
In the 21st century, it is quite debatable if the caste of a person even forms a reasonable basis for reservation in government jobs and colleges. Many people of lower castes have stepped up the social ladder and are now on an equal footing with the ‘general’ population. On the other hand, many upper castes are still suffering from poverty and illiteracy. However, the caste-based reservation can not be claimed to be completely irrelevant as the time in which it was created India had many discriminatory laws and rules made by religious heads on various levels. Even today, the lower class is exploited and discriminated against after 62 years of the abolishment of untouchability as is evident in the case of Rohith Vemula. But the country needs a better basis of reservation which includes the poor and the backward groups and excludes the rich and the dominating sections among all castes.
The present reservation system can, in fact, harm the economic structure of the country as it could bring down the efficiency of its labour. Many people argue against this as, for them, people’s right to equality is more important than efficiency of labour. However, let’s imagine two people. One is a neurosurgeon and performs your surgery which requires great skill and the other is a doctor who sits at his clinic and prescribes medicine for your cold. The fact that, maybe, the difference between their capability is judged merely by a minority or caste certificate speaks for itself. Visualising the situation makes things real and serious enough to give them a thought.
Social disharmony is yet another aspect which hinders the social as well as economic development of a country and in India, caste based reservation is one of the many issues which may develop into communal riots. The Jat agitation in Haryana resulted in several deaths, cancelation of hundreds of trains, and the loss of many working days in schools and workplaces across Haryana. Other affluent sections in other states are also demanding reservations. This can last for decades. One community after another demanding reservations due to the success of others. The only definite solution would be to not have caste as the basis for reservations. The people of this country seem fed up with this as illustrated by this anonymous, and rude, tweet: “Jats and Patels have protested enough fr them to be termed as ‘backward’.”
If not solved, this crisis may evolve to yet another series of genocides/ethnic cleansing or riots. It is beyond doubt that the present reservation system requires serious amendments. But, a part of the responsibility also falls on the masses that should abstain from any violence. The Jat agitation has set a precedent for other communities. They might start feeling that unless violence is used their agitation would only result in the same fate as that of other communities that have been unsuccessful in getting it. The fate of the country now depends on the decision of the government and a new reservation system which it may choose to formulate. If no such move is initiated by the government, India would descend to the dark ages of ignorance, communalism and violence.