By Sumedha Upadhyay:
We live in a free country and this freedom is a gift of democracy to us. Our constitution gives us the right to freedom and most importantly to exercise this freedom in an equitable manner. At the same time it is incumbent on the part of the state to ensure that equality prevails in all sections of the society.
However in today’s time one of the major roadblocks to this equality is the Reservation System.
India being a developing nation is currently facing many challenges and the reservation system being one of them. The biggest question that lies in front of us is whether implementing this reservation system has really helped the downtrodden?Â The current scenario clearly depicts that the ‘lower’ castes are still discriminated in their daily lives. To uproot casteism it is important that we fight the reservation system which alone will lead us to development, competency, equality and unity.
The reservation system finds its origin in the age-old caste system of India. The caste system at its birth was meant to divide people on the basis of their occupation like teaching and preaching (Brahmins), kingship and war (Kshatriya) and lastly business(vaish) etc. but soon it became an instrument to divide the society on caste-basis, creating various walls between different sections of the society. Today we stand divided widely into Hindu, Muslim, SC, ST & OBCs with newer reservations coming up for other different sections of the society like Christians, Kashmiris, Jats, Kashmiri Pandits, Tribals etc.
Firstly we need to understand that the reservation system only divides the society leading to discrimination and conflicts between different sections. It is oppressive and does not find its basis in casteism. It is actually the antithesis of a communal living.
Currently, as per the government policy, 15% of the government jobs and 15% of the students admitted to universities must be from Scheduled castes and for the Scheduled tribes there is a reservation of about 7.5 %. Other than this, the state governments also follow their own reservation policies respectively based upon the population constitution of each state. So nearly 50% seats are reserved.
The Mandal commission was established in 1979 by the central government to identify the socially or educationally backward people. It was also set up to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redressÂ caste discrimination. It used social, economic, and educational indicators to determine 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.
TheÂ 93rd Constitutional Amendment allows the government to make special provisions for “advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”, including their admission in aided or unaided private educational institutions. Gradually this reservation policy is to be implemented in private institutions and companies as well. This move led to opposition from non-reserved category students, as the proposal reduced seats for the General (non-reserved) category from the existing 77.5% to less than 50.5% (since members of OBCs are also allowed to contest in the General category).
Article 15(4) of our constitution empowers the government to make special provisions for advancement of backward classes. Similarly Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity in matters of employment or appointment to any post under the State.
“Clause 2 of article 16 lays down that no citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them be discriminated in respect of any employment or office under the State.”
However clause 4 of the same article provides for an exception by conferring a certain kind of power on the government:
“it empowers the state to make special provision for the reservation of appointments of posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which in the opinion of the state are not adequately represented in the services”
Thus two conditions have to be satisfied:
- The class of citizens is backward
- The said class is not adequately represented.
In a caseÂ 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.’
What is surprising is that our constitution clearly is a reservation-friendly constitution but nowhere in the constitution is the term ‘backward classes defined. What actually constitutes a backward class? What are the determinants of a backward class? These questions remain unanswered and it is only with the help of judicial pronouncements that they have been given some meaning. Question arises how can reservations be made for something that has not been defined?
Today when a student applies for an admission in any university, the admission forms are filled with questions like ‘Are you SC/ST or OBC or General Category?’ How does it matter which category does he belong to, what matters is his merit. A category cannot decide whether he is eligible for admission or not. There many economically worse off children belonging to the forward classes but they cannot get the fruits of such reservation merely by virtue of belonging to the ‘general’ category. Sometimes these children belonging to the backward classes do not even deserve and still possess the necessary merit as against a child who studied very hard for months to get a seat, thereby snatching away that seat just because he comes from a particular religion or caste for which our government provides reservation.
Reservation should be purely made on the basis of the economical conditions of the applicant and nothing else. The kind of reservation policy that our government currently follows does nothing but divide the society into different sections.
When the then HRD minister Mr. Arjun Singh introduced 27.5% reservation for OBC in centrally funded educational institutes including IIMs and IITs a petition was moved to the President and the Prime Minister stating that such a reservation will take India back from where she is today. Further “everyone understands the need for all sections of the Indian Society to get an opportunity to be a part of this economy but reservation based on caste is not an answer to this.Â These policies have been in India since the last 50 years and they have failed to meet their objectives. The government should go into the reasons of the failure. Many students don’t make it to the institutes because of the economic reasons and those who do not fall in the reservation criteria don not get a fair opportunity too”.
To remove this evil it suggested the following:
- Make education mandatory and free for all till age of 15
- Propose reservation based on economic status
- Provide opportunity to students to earn while they study.
Instead of introducing reservations for these backward classes what is required is to bring about revolutionary changes in our education system at the grass-root level. When proper education is not provided to children belonging to such categories during the primary stage itself then on what basis are the reservations provided at a subsequent stage.
Reservations are nothing but means to prosper the vote banks of politicians. They are hindering the country’s growth, development and competency in all aspects. On one hand the preamble of our constitution states that we are a free, democratic and sovereign nation and on the other hand reservation system is chaining all these aspects into its clutches. It is creating disparity and differences amongst the people. The constitution lays down that every child has a right to education and no where expresses that any child belonging to a backward class has a little more of this right than the general category. By reserving one category against another creates a feeling of division which is now resulting in a chaos with every small section of the society asking for it.
Reservations on the basis of caste and not on the basis of condition are bad and unacceptable. Fair and just reservations to uplift the people with poor conditions of life, those who don’t have meals to eat, clothes to wear and no home to live in. They shall be made on the basis of factors such as gender as women are more disadvantaged than men since primitive times, domicile, family education, family employment, family property, family income and if any disabilities and traumas. The process of reservation should be such that it filters the truly economically deprived individuals and bring them all to justice.
Thus reservations are anti-thesis of development and equality. We don’t need reservations based on castes or religion but only to actually provide aid to those who have minimal resources; and merit should be given equalÂ and due importance in admission procedures as well employment opportunities. This way we would be successful in removing caste discrimination and unite the economically rich together in helping the economically poor, irrespective of their castes.
But human rights of Dalit women are violated in peculiar and extreme forms. Stripping, naked parading, caste abuses, pulling out nails and hair, sexual slavery & bondage are few forms peculiar to Dalit women.
Woman abuse is an issue of power , when men feel threatened or are raised to feel superior to woman and want to show it(Apologies for oversimplification ) . Being a Dalit and a Woman surely compounds the problem.Why do you think that is?
People speak of “free markets” and “equal opportunity for all” as arguments for speaking against reservation, while conveniently forgetting that these are the people who are NOT getting equal opportunities . Free markets do not work in case of externalities and this is an externality.
Let us all be aware that Untouchability cannot be wished away.
So now coming back to the question of Reservations
Whenever there is a section of society that is so much discriminated against , the best way to end that discrimination is by mixing them up with the general population and bringing them into mainstream. There will be uproars as people do not like change and the deep rooted biases act up , but that is what we as a society have to fight.
Only when we see people from that community all around us , understand them, see that they are not different, can we be able to remove this discrimination.
We need this section of society to be in all areas of the community , from doctors to engineers to entrepreneurs to CEOs to Artists to teachers . This is the only way to end this discrimination and give equal opportunity to all.
We need to level the playing field for people who were not allowed to even compete.
And all this while , we need to be conscious that Bias exists. Just because caste-based discrimination is illegal, does not imply that it does not happen.
So now that we have established that there is a section of society that has been and still is unfairly treated and that biases still exist.We also established that the best way to end those biases would be to get these people in all areas of society , rather than confining them to jobs they are traditionally made to do based on their caste.
How do we do this?
This is where the government comes in. Let us understand a simple fact that whenever X is given to Person 1, that X cannot be given to person Y. Resources are limited . The government needs to come up with schemes and measures to help this section of society rise , this will be done at expense of something. This is not optional , we as a society cannot accept that a large part of us are denied basic human rights.
These schemes involve resources . Resources for education , resources for loans , resources for gainful employment and resources for spreading awareness .When the government reserves seats to SC ST , look at it as an allocation of resources . Another way could be to halve the number of government colleges and spend that money on other endeavors . You do not have reservations then, but then the number of seats available to “General Category” is still the same.
Reservation system In India was one of the ways (Not the only way)to achieve this goal of getting SC ST OBCs into the mainstream.
So Is Reservation Good?
Yes and No.
Yes: The intention for reservation is good , necessary and correct.
No: Because it has not been implemented properly.
The basic problem with the reservation system in India has been its misuse(or may I say heavy abuse). Reservation was never intended to help the Rich SC kid get an Easy entry to educational institute . It was meant to give a shortcut to millions of SC ST and OBCs out of the rut , taking their families along, and making the society more accepting of them .
It was also supposed to end, but sadly due to political corruption and vote bank politics , it did not. But when we say that , we need to remember that it was also thought that the caste based discrimination too would end. If our politicians have failed, so have we.
Another issue is that the reservation in higher educational institutes, without proper support for primary education seems like a cop-out. The government’s job was to bring about a change in mindset of people ,create and employ strict laws to stomp out any discrimination , but that is a really hard thing to do. It requires patience and courage to risk annoying your vote bank which not many politicians are willing to do.
Plus it may not be the best way anymore , there can be a serious discussion on relevance of reservation in this time. Agreed that discrimination is still alive, but is reservation still a good way to end it?
Why the heck am I writing This?
To be fair, I am not too sure either. I have been on the other side, blaming the SC ST /OBC for taking such disproportionate number of seats to all the coveted institute , for getting seats in IITs while knowing much less than me(I did not make it to IIT –Failed to clear Mains ..Missed by a whisker) . Yes I too have been really angry at the system .I too called the system unfair to me and claimed that SC ST have it too easy.
But In retrospect , I believe I was ill-informed . My anger was directed at the wrong place and I see too many people like me , who ignore the very basic fact that this system is still relevant because we still have discrimination . The anger also needs to be directed towards the society as a whole , not just the government and certainly not against the SC ST/OBC community as a whole.
Yes reservation system in India is inherently unfair , but our society itself is based on unfairness at this point , where some people are superior to others and some inferior based solely on their birth and not merit.
There needs to be a serious discussion on the relevance of reservation system in India for solving this issue. What can be the better way? In an education hungry society like ours , Is compromising on student intake for some of the most premium colleges worth it?
Also till reservation is there , how can we make sure that it is not abused? What laws need to be brought into place to prevent non-deserving people taking it? I personally know cases of millionaires taking advantage of the reserved seat for their son, which is preposterous. Can I do not something about it? How do we make sure that the Creamy Layer(annual income >6 Lakhs) does not take advantage of this system?
How can we strengthen the basic education system so that all kids can get an equal shot at a good education?
And finally , how to end it? It will end when the cast based system actually becomes irrelevant . We do need to ask the question that “if Reservation system in India is becoming an impediment to that?” Instead of removing , is it now strengthening the divide, making it more vivid? If yes, we might need other ways to fight it.
For this we need more voices , voices from the SC ST OBC community as well to speak out, do you think reservation system in India is still required?
And why are we seeing an increasing number of people demanding to be put as OBCs? Why are we doing this? Should this not be banned? For people who face economic hardships, we need a system based purely on financial well-being rather than caste based.
And yes , a hard-line. Any politician who takes a stand on getting a hard-line date to end this system will potentially kill his or her political career , but I am sure there are some politicians who might risk it. By hard-line , I do not mean just some arbitrary date which can be later extended, but a dead line that cannot be changed or is too difficult to change , e.g.: Only if 99% of both houses of parliament decide to extend it .We could also use the legal route where only an appeal to supreme court could overrule this, thus giving a face-saving cop out to the party in power then. “We tried, but the SC refused”
Finally , Reservation System in India is not a revenge on General Class as some people make it out to be. It is a system which had to be brought in to end an unfair system , and is potentially itself becoming part of the problem rather than a solution.
If we want to end it , at least we as a society need to end the discrimination . Let’s do our part as well, shall we?