Caste-based reservation is one of the most controversial amendments in India for the last 41 years. What is a caste-based reservation? What are its merits and demerits? Many questions have risen from various corners of this nation regarding the objective and achievements of reservation. Many people allege that reservation have degraded the productivity and progress of this nation. Caste-based reservation is often compared to reservation based on economic status. Some people believe that reservation should also be extended to the private sector. This article will be a detailed explanation of various aspects of caste-based reservation.
Initially in central-government funded higher education institutions, 22.5% of available seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students (7.5% for STs, 15% for SCs). The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC) or the Mandal Commission, was established in India on 1 January 1979 by the Janata Party government under the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. The prime motive was to “identify the socially or educationally backward classes” of India. It was headed by the late B.P. Mandal an Indian parliamentarian, to consider the question of reservations for people to redress caste discrimination. Eleven social, economic, and educational indicators were used to determine backwardness. In 1980, based on its rationale that OBCs (“Other backward classes”) identified based on caste, economic and social indicators consisted 52% of India’s population. The Commission’s report recommended to provide reservation to members of Other Backward Classes (OBC). It was 27% of jobs under the Central government and public sector undertakings. Hence the total number of reservations for SC, ST, and OBC to 49%.
The report was completed by 1983. The V.P. Singh government declared its initiative to implement the report in August 1990. This lead to widespread student protests. Opposition political parties, including the Congress and BJP and their youth wings and groups of self-interest, instigated the youth to protest in large numbers in the nation’s campuses. Self-immolations by students took place in many places.
It was thereafter provided a temporary stay order by the Supreme Court but implemented in 1992 in the central government for jobs in central government public sector undertakings.
The biggest misconception which misguides people is that reservation is meant to eradicate poverty. Truth is that reservation don’t have anything to do with poverty or income. The reservation was implemented to bring social equality in this country. Ensuring sufficient representation for backward communities in various institutions is necessary. In bureaucratic institutions like IAS, reservation is kept to ensure a minimum percentage of citizens belonging to SC, ST, and OBC. In some areas, the annual income limit is set for families while it is not mentioned in other. Even people coming from middle-class families sometimes deserve reservation if their families don’t have sufficient representation in government sectors.
Another one is the denial of seats during the admission procedure for students belonging to the general community. People regularly ask why seats are reserved for backward community students when deserving general community students with higher marks are waiting in the queue. It may be confusing for some people but the truth is that government schools and colleges need students from all sections of this society. Let us not forget that Dr. B.R Ambedkar was once not allowed to sit with his upper-caste (savarna) classmates.
Mahatma Ayyankali faced great backlash when he admitted a Pulaya girl to school. This school was later burned by angered savarnas.
Reservation destroying the spirit of competition is another allegation. In various competitive exams, there are separate general and category ranks. Based on this reserved seats are also fixed. Point is that reservation is not any competition. It is something known as affirmative action to eliminate injustice against communities who have been slaves of a population much lesser in number compared to them. Definitely, the reservation has nothing to with the general community. It is a protection and constitutional right for Bahujans (SC, ST, OBCs).
Reservation degrading the progress of the nation is another question. Some people believe that providing reservation for backward communities affect the development of this nation. There is no valid proof or verified survey to prove this allegation.
The last and the most idiotic allegation is that reservation causes discrimination in this nation. Manusmrithi and Vedas have divided people into four sections: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. The reservation didn’t create any discrimination. It is a tool to raise a downtrodden society and ensure equality in India. As long as caste-based discrimination exists, the caste-based reservation will also exist. Some caste names are pride while some others are used as an abusive language.
Many people from upper castes and some right-wing leaders regularly speak about removing caste-based reservation and replacing them with reservation based on income or economic situation. There is no provision or article in our constitution which validate reservation based on annual income. In the current state, reservation is given for poor people from general communities (Economically Weaker Section -EWS).10% reservation is given for general community candidates with annual income less than 8 lakh rupees. Actually, this does not have any constitutional validity.
Leaders of the backward classes have also decided to approach the Supreme Court over this issue. On 25 January 2019, The Supreme Court refused to stay the 10% reservation given to the GEN-EWS category in government jobs and educational institutions. The government then defended in the Supreme Court its introduction of 10% reservation for the poor in jobs and education, saying the court-mandated 50% cap on quotas is the rule to be followed, but exceptions can be made in extraordinary situations. The motive is to obtain general community votes. Afraid to go against majority community opposition parties voted in favor of the bill and passed it.
No one can easily remove the caste-based reservation. Supreme Court will not allow the removal of caste-based reservation. Central Government can remove reservation by passing an ordinance, ensuring its passage in both the houses and approval of Indian President. But it would lead to nationwide protests and outrage of Bahujans who constitute at least 70% of our population.
Although India’s upper caste households earned nearly 47% more than the national average annual household income, the top 10% within these castes owned 60% of the wealth within the group in 2012, as per a recent paper by the World Inequality Database. Studies have found that Hindu High Castes hold 41% of the total wealth in the country, which is almost double their population size of 22.28%. Muslims own 8% of the country’s total assets while their share of households stands at nearly 12%. And, as expected, SCs and STs own substantially less share of assets (11.3% combined) as compared to their population size (over 27%). So even ideas like Hindus being poor and Muslims being rich don’t have substantial evidence. Those are propaganda created by Right Wing politicians for mere political advantage. Actually, Muslims are one of the most under represented section in this nation. Only 28 Muslim candidates (3.69%) cracked the UPSC civil services examination the year 2018.
In the year 2019 Union Ministry of Human Resource Development said that less than 3% of All Faculty Members at IITs Are SC/ST. Of the 6,043 faculty members at the 23 IITs, 149 are from the Scheduled Castes and 21 from Scheduled Tribes.
In the current Lok Sabha out of 542 MPs (Member of Parliament) only there 120 OBC MPs and 27 Muslim MPs compared to 232 Upper Caste MPs. Being very few in number the percentage of Upper Caste MPs are much higher. The number of SC, ST MPs are not much higher than the reserved quota. Representation of Bahujans is very low which shows the influence of the general community.
We can see hundreds of social media pages where memes are found comparing India to the USA. Those page admins believe that India is not developing due to caste-based reservation. They should not forget the history of the USA. It was pure injustice against African- American community (Blacks). Through affirmative action, they provided more education and jobs to minority races and reduced inequalities in the USA.
Another query is what about poor people from the general community. For that ruling governments should produce more job opportunities and poverty eradication schemes. Free education must be made available for every student in our nation. But affirmative action should be ensured by Constitutional means, unlike ruling government policies. Reservation is not a magic wand to produce any sudden change. Slowly but surely the representation and power of backward communities are increasing.
When a day arrives where every citizen in India is treated equally, we can remove the caste-based reservation system.