The concept of reservations, whose meaning is so porous, requires a dictionary of interpretation and humility to comprehend, beyond reason, the very nature of reservation for the depressed class. The reserved classes, categorised as such in Indian society, are the depressed class who were deprived of sustenance, education, and social status. To uplift these sections, and to bring them into the mainstream, the government thus created a category within the society and adopted a concept of this kind.
Reservations, in this context, are special privileges granted to those sections which the government considers socially and economically deprived and not adequately represented in the mainstream society and politics. The basic principle of reservation is not to divide the society but to provide equal representation in mainstream society, economy, education and politics. It would not only be impudent but also selfish if we assume that the reservation system has disintegrated our society.
Reservation in India is a system wherein the government facilitates for a person of an underprivileged section education, jobs, scholarships, promotions, and representation to the Parliament.
The reservation system was for the first time introduced in 1932 by the then British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald by providing separate electoral representation for the Sikhs, Indian Christians, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, Dalits, forward classes, and the lower classes, and even Europeans. Mahatma Gandhi, who was the most prominent figure of India’s struggle for freedom, had severely condemned the introduction of the Communal Award, which he felt could disintegrate the diverse nation and nearly fasted to death until the Poona Pact (1932) was made. The terms agreed to under the Poona Pact, a pact referred as an agreement between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi, guaranteed reservation for the depressed classes out of the general electorate.
A lot of stress and strain has been caused due to the quota system in recent times under the guise of ‘equal opportunity for all’. Unemployment is one of the root causes in the issues pertaining to the review of this system. The unreserved classes are of the opinion that many deserving candidates from the general category are obstructed from employment and stopped in their path of reaching the shores of ‘schools of national importance’ since the reserved classes, who are less qualified, enjoy leverage through quotas granted to them. In order to support their argument for a review/abolition of this system they observe that the reserved category students often drop out from prestigious institutes such as IITs, IIMs, and other ‘schools of national importance’ leaving seats vacant which is a lost opportunity for those aspirants hailing from the unreserved class who failed to make it by only a small margin. But, do the ‘general’ students never drop out from such prestigious institutes? This comes under question.
The Jat stir for reservations poses a serious threat with the potential to completely wipe out reservation provisions prescribed for the depressed classes. Not every caste/community can be given such privileges. As defined in the Constitution, the depressed classes are SC/ST and OBC (Other Backward Classes). Mandal Commission, 1979, was set up systematically ascertain the socially and educationally backward classes and, subsequently, it submitted its report in favour of increasing the existing quota from 22.5% to 49.5% in 1980. A decade later, the recommendations of the Mandal Commission were implemented by the government. The Jat unrest, and similar demands by the Marathas in the south and Rajputs of Rajasthan to the west, has the potential to end the quota system across India.
However, provisions for non-entitlement to reservations are also laid down for sons, daughters, and spouses of those who hold constitutional posts, or are in the civil services of both grade A and B, civil posts in both armed forces and para-military, wealthy professional classes, vast land owners including big farmers and industrialists, and those whose annual incomes exceed 6 lakhs for two or more years consecutively. What will be the fate of the poor and depressed classes should the most affluent class of Indian society such as Marathas, Rajputs, Patels and Jats enjoy reservation?
Affluent communities and privileged sections of the Indian society and the higher castes are not entitled to special privileges. The beneficiaries in this system are those who are economically and socially backward including those who have been kept from getting a proper education. Enrollment in educational institutes and job reservations are one of the prime benefits for the depressed classes. They can then compete for the various government posts in both the reserved and ‘general’ categories whereas the latter can only compete for open positions. Unlike the general category, the age bar for the reserved classes for any designated post or educational institute is less rigid and the number of attempts to Group-A posts (elite services) is relaxed.
a) Caste-based reservation: 49.5% of seats are made available to SCs/STs and OBCs in government run higher educational institutions and in the Parliament and subordinate elections until the Delimitation Commission discharge, which is 2026. Age limit for SC/ST is relaxed by five years and OBC category by three years that makes 35 years for SC/ST and 33 years for the OBC. Besides scholarships, provisions for job promotions for reserved classes were made constitutional.
b) Reservation for women: On August 27, 2009, Manmohan Singh the then Prime Minister raised the reservation for women in the panchayats from 33% to 50% after the amendment to Article 234(D) of the Constitution. Reservation of 1/3rd of the seats for women was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. The proposal for reserving 1/3rd of the seats for women has been tabled in the Lok Sabha. However, the bill has not yet been passed in the lower house. 33% of government jobs are reserved for women in Gujarat.
c) Miscellaneous reservation: Apart from the aforesaid, reservations are made available for victims of terror from Kashmir, migrants from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, physically challenged, kinsman of freedom fighters, sports personalities, ex-serviceman, NRIs. Reservation in educational institutions except IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), sponsored candidates by organisations, sons/daughters/spouse of armed forces personnel killed in the line of duty, repatriates, reservation of seats for ladies/senior citizens/pregnant women/physically challenged in public transport have also been made. A few seats for Jammu & Kashmir migrants are reserved in every government funded educational institute.
Over the years, a mass of indignant yet disgruntled job seekers and prestigious institutes aspirants from the unreserved class have been demanding that the government put an end to the quota system. It has now reached its zenith. The early submission of the BJP government to Jat unrest in only a few days’ time even before full knowledge of the damage that had been caused has only convinced people that the government is on a secret mission to annul the practice of reservations once and for all. Bringing every community under the reserved category will have no lesser effect than having no reservations at all. Giving leverage to all is no different from not giving it to none. What is the difference?
The pro-Hindu right-wing vehicles and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) stalwarts have been continuously calling for the review of reservation system. People of Bihar worry that if the BJP comes to power, reservations might be taken away from the Dalits and from other backward classes. This is probably the reason why BJP was so miserably defeated in the 2015 state assembly election.
Vice President Hamid Ansari came under stringent attack from BJP and Hindu Vishwa Parishad last year when in his maiden speech at the golden jubilee celebration of the All India Majis-e-Mushawarat, he spoke of the inadequate induction of Muslims to the OBC category, and laid emphasis on affirmative action with reference to Sachar Committee report. The country is now at a point where its peaceful equipoise in diversity is being disrupted since giant political parties have been playing the communal card which, in fact, happens due to the existence of large vote banks across the country. Sooner or later, the depressed classes will be completely wiped out from the mainstream society if such events arise wherein every community has an identical pursuit. To submit to every community demanding reservations is far from practical. A complete wipe out of quota system would appear to be the only viable solution in such a scenario.