Reservation – a term that has haunted almost every student of this country for so many years. Those who belong to the general category see it as a curse while the others relish it as a boon. But there is another side to this story. The reservation system also gives an excuse to the general category students who fail to make in to an educational institution or a government job, and also a reason to those who belonged to the scheduled caste and tribe people to relax and leave their ambitiousness behind. This post is not about abusing the reservation system that everyone does all the time, but providing a better idea of this system and looking for a solution while addressing the main cause of this issue.
In India, the reservation system existed even before the independence. In 1882, under the British rule of India, Hunter commission was appointed with the purpose of providing free and compulsory education to everyone and the proportionate government jobs. The idea was to give all the communities equal opportunity and to promote equality. In 1932, the then Prime Minister of Britain, started the tradition of Communal Award that required separate representation of various religions Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and Dalits. Few special constituencies were assigned where only the depressed caste people could vote. Mahatma Gandhi who did not like this idea, fasted in order to protest against it. However, people from minority communities were always in the favor of it. In 1935, Indian National Congress passed Poona Pact which was the result of the agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R.Ambedkar and it allowed the reservation for the depressed classes to be enforced for the electorates. Therefore the reservation system was born in the political context.
When India got independence and our constitution was being prepared, this issue came again. According to the Constitution of India, Article 15(4) says:
All citizens shall have equal opportunities of receiving education. Nothing herein contained shall preclude the State from providing special facilities for educationally backward sections (not “communities”) of the population.
It also states that – The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of society (in particular, of the scheduled castes and aboriginal tribes), and shall protect them from social ”injustice” and all forms of exploitation.
The interpretation of the above text would lead us to believe that the rights of the people belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes have to be protected by the government and suitable measures need to be taken for that. But – Was reservation the right way to go about it? That’s the most important question here.
Before coming to that, I would like to present an argument that most people fail to understand. That is – the caste discrimination does exist in our country. No matter how much we talk about equal opportunities, eradication of quota system, it’s still there. And people from the lower castes suffer very much from this discrimination. If you go to the rural areas, you will find how awful it can be for the people belonging to the lower castes. The situation was far worse at the time of independence. Most of the poor and uneducated people were from the lower castes. They needed certain favors from the government for their empowerment and equal status in the society. Therefore the idea that government thought of was to give them more opportunities so that they become socially acceptable and economically well-to-do. Therefore if we think about it – the reservation system seemed like the need of the hour at that point of time.
Then what happened?
The reservation system was enforced, supposedly for the next few years, in the various government jobs as well as the educational institutions. However, the politicians started to make the unfair use of this system. And then the Supreme Court of India had to interfere. In its famous verdict of State of Madras Vs Champakam Dorairajan, the Supreme Court of India announced that the caste based reservation was unconstitutional which further led to the amendments in our constitution – which is what usually happens after a landmark verdict by Supreme Court.
And the rest is just the history.
Year after year, the reservations continued in all the state institutions. The quota system that started as a need of the hour became political fashion. And even after more than 60 years of its enforcement, we still see caste based discrimination. Has it failed? Yes. But has it made anything better for minorities? Certainly yes. How these two can coexist? We will have a look at that.
When the reservation system was introduced the idea was – if we can improve the economic status of the lower castes, the caste based discrimination will slowly fade away. And that hasn’t happened so far. Because there is a flaw in this assumption. A flaw that Indian politicians and policy makers could have understood from the formation of India and Pakistan and their leadership. Muhammad Ali Jinnah – could have become the first prime minister of India but the Hindus did not accept a Muslim leader. Similarly Nehru could have been the prime minister of India (including today’s Pakistan) but the Muslims could not accept that either. And I think that gives a wonderful clue to this issue. The clue is – if there is hatred towards a caste or community, no matter how wealthy or powerful the people from that community become, they would not be loved. The hatred has to be eradicated, and that can never be done only by uplifting the economic status of any community.
Yes, people from lower castes were poor. They needed assistance from the government. But poverty doesn’t choose houses on the basis of castes. It is prevalent among other castes as well. Why didn’t they introduce the quota on the basis of economic status? Because we wanted to first extirpate the caste discrimination and that was fair too. The issue that we could have and we should have addressed was to figure out the way to make everyone love and respect other people in spite of their caste or religion. Of course, there could be no better solution than education. Strict law enforcement could have been another solution. Zero tolerance was required in the cases where a lower caste person was harassed by those belonging to the upper castes. But it simply didn’t happen…
We must understand that the reservation system and caste based politics is as much society’s problem as it is that of the government. We have to accept the ugly truth that we still discriminate people based on their castes, religions etc. Look at the matrimonial sites – the first requirement is usually the caste. When we are not willing to marry our sons and daughters to those who come from other castes, how can we expect our government to not do anything about this problem. And that gives an opportunity to our politicians to keep playing the game of caste system. That is also an opportunity for people of certain castes who do not belong to scheduled castes, to ask for reservation system and that has actually worked for them. The OBC quota is an example of that. But that is not a good news for people of the reserved category. Their talent has hindered by the hopes of utilizing the reservations. Of course it is a bad news for the people of upper castes who have been denied the opportunities in the name of reservation. In a world where the opportunities are available to everyone and competition can come from any part of the world, this mindset is not going to take them anywhere. Thus, in a hope of better India, let’s leave the caste barriers behind and love and respect each other no matter what our surname is.