Reservation: Bane or Boon?

Posted by Sanskriti Mishra
August 5, 2017

Self-Published

Consider this scenario:

A girl who got 145 marks out of 200 in CLAT (which is above average) could only get admission in a Tier 2 law school and a person who got 90 marks out of 200 easily got admission in a Tier 1 law school because apparently that person’s last name gave her the advantage of belonging to a “socially and educationally backward class.” Both the kids belonged to a middle-class family and had an average financial status.

Consider another scenario:

A kid from the general category scored 94% in her 12th standard. Another kid of a “socially and educationally backward class” scored 75% in her 12th standard. The general kid belongs to a lower middle-class family and is running around searching for scholarships based on her 12th percentage but couldn’t find one because unfortunately, she belonged to general category. The other kid who belonged to a backward class easily got a scholarship because there are thousands of them for people belonging to “socially and educationally backward” classes.

 

By showing you the above two situations, I, in no way mean to imply that kids from backward class are “always” financially sound and not meritorious or that kids from general category are “always” meritorious and not financially sound. My area of concern is not those people but people who are meritorious and have worked hard but didn’t get the position they deserved because of vote bank politics of the government.

 

YES. Reservation is no more a policy to help the “socially and educationally backward” classes’ progress. It has just become a means of vote bank politics for the government. To substantiate my argument, let me take you through the evolution of the policy of reservation.

The idea of quotas, reservation, or preferential treatment for the socially disadvantaged, is very old in India. It is frequently believed that the US pioneered affirmative action in the 1960s; in fact, India had recognized social disadvantage much earlier.

The recognition of ‘backwardness’ as a social condition of discrimination is important. And efforts to provide for representation to “non-Brahmin” castes predates the Mandal report; in some cases, even India’s independence.

While broader rules on India wide class/caste reservations in jobs can be said to have been framed in 1993, when the Supreme Court heard petitions against the implementation of the Second Backward Castes (or “Mandal”) Commission, the experience of states, especially in southern and western India, dates to the 1800s, and involves social movements, princely states, and the Raj.

Ideas about reservation in independent India were shaped significantly by the so-called Poona Pact between B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi had vehemently opposed as divisive the communal award of August 1932, which separated Dalits (then called the “untouchables”) from Hindus, while Ambedkar was for it.

Gandhi went on a fast in jail, but eventually, though initially reluctant, agreed to a compromise with Ambedkar in September 1932, under which a higher number of seats was promised for Dalits under the Hindu umbrella.

The Constituent Assembly for independent India’s Constitution carried forward the commitment to reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes as part of this promise — and quotas for SCs and STs is, therefore, the only explicit reservation that was written in.

According to some scholars, when some SC members of the Drafting Committee, apprehensive about the stance Sardar Patel (who was known to oppose reservations) might adopt, approached Ambedkar, he asked them to speak to Gandhi — and to remind the Mahatma of the commitment to Hindus at the bottom of the heap. And that is what ensured SC/ST reservations found a place in the Constitution.

Slowly, by the 1990s, Sikh and Buddhist castes were included, but Christian and Muslim Dalits remain excluded.

The Mandal Commission presented its report in 1980 but was dusted up by the National Front Prime Minister V P Singh for implementation in 1990.[1]

Let me give you the constitutional angle of reservation as well.

Article 15(4) of the Constitution states that “Nothing in this article or in clause ( 2 ) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”

This clause was included at the time of making of the constitution with a warning that the reservation policy should be removed after 10 years because after that it will be detrimental for the backward class people themselves. This warning was given because even the constitutional framers knew that 10 years of reservation policy would be enough to improve the current and future generations of the disadvantaged people. If it is continued even after that then:

  • People belonging to the disadvantaged class will continue to avail the benefits of this policy even after their financial and social status has improved, which will make them complacent.
  • The people who do not belong to these backward classes will be at a disadvantage because they won’t have adequate opportunities even if they have the required merit.

Now after 67 years of our constitution the policy is still there, doing injustice to both: people belonging to the “socially and educationally backward” classes and to people belonging to general category.

The Mandal commission used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine as to what constitutes “social and educational 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.

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.

Had the guidelines of the cases like above been followed and reservation was based on determinants like poverty and financial status as well, today the country would have been much developed because then only talented and meritorious people would have got the right opportunity to realize their true potential. That in turn, would have made our country realize its true potential.

Let’s make India great again!

[1] Seema Chishti, A short history of quota: Story that predates Mandal, The Indian Express, September 1, 2015 12:57 am, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/a-short-history-of-quota-story-that-predates-mandal/

 

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