Quota, reservation, caste-based discrimination, or affirmative action; there are many names for the caste based practice in India. One of the most intense and mutable topics in India, reservation system has been able to agitate the nation with its controversial disfigurement and fanaticism on one hand, and gratify and coddle the backward class on other hand. The most pervasive ideology since ancient history has always caught the interest of the sociologists and scholars as the basis for the study of caste-based societal divisions in and outside India. Some defend it, some protest it, some use it (or rather misuse it) for their benefit, and some use it as vote-bank political tool.
Let’s take a tour to the reservation system of India.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY?
Indian tradition history had the concept of Varna – professional classification system and Jati (Jati for Hindus and Quom for Muslims) – the ethnic origin of Indians. The Varnas, as described in the Vedics, consists of four social classes, namely Brahmins (priests or teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and military elites), Vaishyas (land-owners and merchants), and Sudras (servers of other three Vernas). The Varna and Jati were loosely connected until the rise of British Raj. The seed of modern caste system was planted by British when they preferred to link Jatis to Varnas in order to coagulate the societal hierarchy probably to proliferate their divide-and-rule strategy in Indian society.
There came a time when the condition of backward class people started deteriorating consistently in the society. They were suppressed, oppressed, and subjugated by the forward class. The subhuman and miserable conditions of those backward class people triggered the necessity to elevate their social rank and integrity in customary Indian society. Many eminent reformers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj, Mahatma Gandhi and many others took charge to upraise the backwards and curb the disease of caste discrimination from the society. Uncountable agitations, revolutions, and reformations have taken place since then.
Some of those noticeable reforms are outlined here.
1882: Hunter Commission: Mahatma Jyotirao Phule demanded the equal opportunity in primary and secondary education as well as reservation in government jobs. As a result, the Hunter Commission was established by and named after the member of governor-general council, Sir William Wilson Hunter.
1891: Agitation in the princely state of Travancore: Frustrated with the demeaning and unfair treatment, the Untouchables of princely state of Travancore raised their voice against the preference given to non-native over native people in government jobs and public services. This movement soon became the catalyst for other movements across all over Kerala. This further leaded to 1924 Vaikom Satyagraha movement. These agitations leaded to communal reservation with 45% reserved seats for SCs , STs, and OBCs in government services and jobs. There have been several amendments in the reservation policies since then.
1902: Shahuji Maharaj implemented reservation in princely state of Kolhapur: With the intention to eradicate the oppressive caste discrimination, Shahuji Maharaj implemented first ever affirmative-system having 50% reservation in the princely state of Kolhapur.
1932: Communal Award: The then British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald granted separate electrolates in British India allowing separate representations for the forward caste, lower caste, Budhhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo Indians, Europeans, and Dalits. On one hand the award received acclamations from minor communities including their leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and on the other hand it received severe condemnations especially by the most notable leader Gandhi.
1932: Poona Pact: There was a rift created between Ambedkar and Gandhi due to the Communal Award. After a long negotiation, a decision was taken to have a single Hindu electrolate having seats reserved for Untouchables within it. The pact was named as the “Poona Pact”.
1934: Mahatma Gandhi addressed all low-caste people as Harijans (children of God).
1935: The term “Scheduled Casts” was coined.
1970: The name Dalit was coined to replace the words “Untouchables” and “Harijan” in most pronouncements.
1975: The term Creamy Layer was coined by Justice Krishna Iyer in State of Kerala where he described as “…the danger of ‘reservation’, it seems to me, is three-fold. Its benefits, by and large, are snatched away by the top creamy layer of the ‘backward’ caste or class, thus keeping the weakest among the weak always weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake”.
MANDAL COMMISSION (MC)
1979: Mandal Commission was established: In order to curb the caste discrimination and elevate the lifestyle of backward class people, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai ordered to institute a commission to identify the socially and educationally backward classes. As a result, the “Mandal Commission” was established which was leaded by and named after the Indian parliamentarian B. P. Mandal. The commission devised 11 indicators on the social, economic, and educational grounds to identify the classes. The aim was to elevate the status of those classes by providing them seat reservations and quotas.
1980: MC submitted the report: Maintaining its stated objectives, the Mandal Commission submitted its report in 1980 according to which the backward class people were given exclusive access to government jobs and public universities. The ask was to increase the quota ceiling from 27% to 50% to accommodate the Other Backward Class (OBCs) identified by MC.
1990: MC was sanctioned. Find the full report here. The article “Mandal Commission Report – 25 years later” published by Indian Express has meticulously captured the moments during and after the Mandal Commission.
1982: Constitution declared 22.5% reservation, and the ceiling cap was fixed at 50%. The percentage of seats allocation might differ at state level owing to their demographic distribution.
1984: The Bahujan Samaj Party, a Dalit political party, was formed by Kanshi Ram to eliminate the exploitation of Dalits.
1992: Indra Sawney Case got approval for another 5 years: One of the major impacts of this case was that the 50% ceiling was fixed to implement the equality of opportunity and the creamy layer to be identified and excluded strictly from the reservation categories.
1993: Constitutional amendment passed allowing one-third village council leader positions in panchayats for women.
1995:Reservation for SC/ST in promotion got approval.
2004: Government of Andhra Pradesh declared 4% reservation for Muslims.
2006: The Supreme court upheld the amendments with some stipulations.
2007: Government of Uttar Pradesh approves reservation in promotion.
2010: Women’s Reservation Bill: This bill proposed to reserve 33% seats in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for women. Although this was passed by the upper house RajyaSabha, but still pending with Lok Sabha with no decision made so far.
2011: Governement of India declared a sub-quota of 4.5% for minorities within the OBC bracket.
2012: The Supreme Court laid down the above law (2007).
2014: Governement of Maharashtra added Marathas and some Muslims to the reservation, but the proposition was turned down later.
FLAWS IN THE SYSTEM
The aim was to uplift the status and lifestyle of underprivileged class. To address this issue, the action taken by our government was to provide some concession in terms of merit owing to their unassuming upbringing and pitiable lifestyle.
The Mandal Commission got it right that the definition of the word “merit” is different for a forward class family and backward class family. They reported,
“…the merit is not only an inherited quality but also a quality which gets impacted by the environment endowment and social privileges.”
The objective and the need were stated clearly. But the measures and strategies conceived to tackle the issue was laid on the shaky ground. The tenets of Mandal Commission were apparently bound to be controversial and feeble because of following reasons.
- Higher weightage was given for social and educational than economic. You can find the criteria used in the Mandal Commission here.
- The criteria are never revised with the changing societal and communal circumstances. Many of those do not even hold true or applicable in contemporary era. Take this social criterion for example, “caste/classes where participation of females in work at least 2% above the state average”. The number of working women has increased since 1990. In 2016, it does not mean that women work because of penurious circumstances of the family. Similarly, many other criteria should be either revised or invalidated to suit present scenario.
- The number of OBCs identified has always remain ambiguous. There is high probability that the social and economic status of then backward classes might have improved. But such data is neither captured nor altered. Those uplifted category are still considered backward and are still provided with privileges of quota and reservation.
- Who are the actual beneficiaries? It is evident that the benefits are accrued to the creamy layer rather than the actual backward classes. The question whether the concept of creamy layer getting implemented widely and judiciously remains unanswered.
- Till what stage a backward class candidate can avail quota?
Agreed that in order to uplift the level, they first need to be brought to the same level as that of forward classes and hence quota is justifiable at primary level. But then the question triggered is that till what stage a particular reserved class candidate will avail quota – primary level, secondary level, graduation, post-graduation, then at job and the list goes on and on. Till what level you consider them underprivileged? The argument provided by general-category students is that as soon as reserved-category students graduate using quota they are regarded as the same level as general-category students, then what is the need of providing them quota again at post-graduation and further. This is something unfathomable to general class people. There is no cap to the number of times or the number of occasions a quota could be availed.
- Was caste-based reservation the only solution to exhilarate the backward class position in society? Isn’t it analogous to spoon feeding? In what way reservation mitigated the caste discrimination? The system somehow missed to identify the root cause of the issue; it focused on the cure rather than the prevention.
- The education quality of government schools are far from up to the mark. Most of the school facilities and teaching staff are pathetic and lackluster. If government is interested in improving the conditions of poor, then it should first focus on fixing it’s perishing education system.
- The households who have been living below or near poverty-line zone have not been provided any relief in job prospects or income level.
- The data from the National Crime Rate Bureau shows that the crime rate against SCs and STs by non-SCs/non-STs is significantly higher. A large portion of backward classes, the one who actually deserve the reservation, are not getting any benefit out of the reservation system. For them, reservation is not the answer to their plight.
Impacts on Education/Jobs
- The number of reserved category students in all the universities has increased over the past decade.
- Easy access to those who have comparatively lower average in academics as well in competitive exams certainly has a degrading impact on the quality of education in India.
- There are voluminous cases when general category students lose their ranking to reserved category despite scoring higher than them. This profusely increasing trend has been causing distress and frustration among public which eventually takes the shape of national tumults and agitations.
- Along with easy entry to universities, reserved-candidates are also showered with different perks, such as concession in annual fee, hostel rent, promotion in jobs etc. Whereas, general-category students have to bear four-times more expenses for those facilities.
- In 2014, Rediff Labs released one report emphasizing the fact that merely 12% students are awarded scholarship, and out of which 94% are allotted to the “reserved” class itself. A scanty proportion of 2.7% is allotted to financially deprived and meritorious students.
- The regulation of seat-allocation seems unreasonable because in most of the exams, the seats not filled by SCs fall to STs and then to OBCs. It is like a waterfall model where seats availability falls downwards but not upwards, i.e. the leftover seats from OBCs are not donated to the general category. Consider a reserved-class student availing a general seat, then in that case one seat in reserved-class becomes available (not for general-category though) whereas one seat in general-class is anyway reduced.
- The reserved-class candidates are not only benefited in entrance exams but also in promotions in workplace. This again poses the question of equality whether this act of Government is considered fair to meritorious, hard-working, and deserved candidates.
Impacts on Society and Public
- The mindset of people towards quota-availed candidates has been shifting day by day. People now hesitate to some extent to approach a reserved-class doctor or lawyer. The reason being sought is the notion that backward-class candidates are the privileged groups of quota and reserved seats. When asked to Neha, a Delhi-based mother of 3 year old, said that the first thing she looks before going to any doctor is their surname because general-category doctors are considered more qualified than the ones who got into the college with help of their caste. Same situation holds true for lawyers as well. A lower caste lawyer is apparently less approached than the upper class lawyers because of the simple reason that people perceive the earlier less meritorious and got-it-easily types.
- Anti-reservation protests have been grabbing headlines every now and then. Lack of jobs in private as well as government sectors act as precursor to agitations by frustrated Indians. The widening gap between the available job positions and the number of applications makes Indians rethink over their rights and show repugnance for reservation system. The self-immolation cases of Rajiv Goswami, Surinder Singh Chauhan and many others shook the nation. Whether be it 1990 anti-mandal protest, 2006 Indian anti-reservation protest, the Jat revolt, or the Patel revolt; the Indian history and contemporary media has substantial records to log the anger and frustration of the society. Each movement was triggered because of their basic demand of right of education and right of jobs which according of them has been easily showered to the backward class people.
Whatever be the motive behind those agitations, each time it takes a toll on country’s assets, which in turn falls on the shoulders of tax payers to amend the losses. It’s the common mass who gets affected by these movements. General public is at loss in terms of their education, job, and country’s progress.
If asked about the views on the reservation policy of India, there will be mixed reactions from the people. The beneficiary group advocates the policy and the non-beneficiary group depreciates it for their own obvious reasons.
When reservation policy was implemented, it was done based on the need of that epoch. But then with the changing time and need, the criteria should have been refined and reevaluated. The profit should reach to the intended people.
Let the reservation be there, but for the deprived group. And the deprived group should be identified based on the economic or some other criteria, but definitely not by the caste or the community size.
Make the seats reserved without killing deserved.
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