In the Indian context, reservation refers to a system aimed at providing
equitable opportunities and social justice to historically disadvantaged
communities. Its purpose is to address historical injustices faced by certain
groups and promote their inclusion in education, employment, and political
representation. Grounded in the principles of affirmative action, the
reservation system in India seeks to bridge gaps and ensure equal opportunities
for all citizens.
However, the issue of reservation sparks intense debate due to various reasons.
One key argument against the reservation is that it is seen as a form of
discrimination. Critics argue that providing more or less reservation based on
caste contradicts the principle of equality before the law, which is a
fundamental right. They question how a tool that discriminates can effectively
On the other hand, those who benefit from reservation often believe it to be
just and necessary. They argue that historically oppressed communities now have
the opportunity to be on an equal footing with others who have traditionally
held power. From their perspective, the opposition to the reservation is seen as
an attempt to maintain the status quo and deny them the opportunities they
This clash of opposing views creates a contentious atmosphere, hindering
constructive discourse on the topic. "Confirmation bias and selective avoidance
came into play, where individuals strongly hold their beliefs and refuse to
consider alternative viewpoints. Even when presented with facts challenging
their beliefs, they tend to dismiss them as false."
To foster a better understanding of the reservation issue, a scientific approach
is needed. This entails embracing objectivity, impartiality, and neutrality. By
examining the issue without preconceived biases and actively engaging in a
healthy discourse, society can strive towards a more informed and balanced
perspective on the reservation and its impact on social justice in India.
History and Evolution of ReservationPre-Independence:
One of the oldest recorded uses of reserve dates to 1902, when Shahuji Maharaj
put it into effect in the Kolhapur area. B.R. Ambedkar made the biggest impact
on the fight against the caste system in the 20th century, though. He wrote
publications like "The Emancipation of Untouchables" and "Annihilation of Caste"
and promoted separate electorates for the lower castes, whom he called to as the
downtrodden or depressed class. His demands were not only against the British
but also against the Brahmins.
Ambedkar led the Depressed Classes Congress in Nagpur in 1930, where he stated
that the depressed classes required independence from both the British and the
Congress for their safety. His requests were granted in August 1932, and a rule
establishing separate electorates for all minorities was put into place.
However, when Gandhi learned about this, he went on a fast unto death, believing
that such a policy would create a division between Harijans and the rest of the
Hindus. This led to the signing of the Poona Pact in 1932, which established the
system of joint electorates for Dalits. It is debated whether the situation of
Dalits would have been better if they had been granted separate electorates.
Following independence, the oppressed classes received accommodations and
political representation in public jobs and education. Joint electorates
continued to be used for political representation. Additionally, the
constitution was expanded to include Articles 15 and 16, which allow for
additional provisions to advance socially and educationally disadvantaged
In India, the reservation dynamics can be understood as follows: there are 19%
Scheduled Castes (SC), 10% Scheduled Tribes (ST), 41% Other Backward Classes (OBC),
and 20% Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). Out of the remaining 10% in the
general category, 5% is reserved for women. This means that a total of 95% of
the population benefits from the reservation. At the central level, reservation
percentages are 15% for SC, 7.5% for ST, 27% for OBC (following the 1993 Mandal
Commission), and 10% for EWS (added in 2019 with the 101st amendment), making a
total of around 60%. Therefore, 95% of the population benefits from 60% of the
However, state governments are able to expand reservations to additional towns.
This explains why various state governments are putting reservations into place
for distinct communities. For instance, the governments of Rajasthan and Haryana
each implemented reservations for the Jat and Gujjar communities, whereas
Maharashtra implemented Maratha reservations.
Why Reservation is given?
We must first understand the ideas of equality and discrimination in order to
understand reservation. Equal treatment and social standing for various groups
of people are requirements for equality. Laws are intended to guarantee that
everyone is treated equally before the law without bestowing any benefits.
Although class legislation is prohibited by Article 14, categorization based on
justifiable grounds for distinction is permitted.
Equality can be both positive and negative. The positive aspect provides
adequate opportunities for all individuals, ensuring equal chances for
individuals to develop their potential to the best of their abilities. The
negative aspect refers to the absence of undue privileges and the elimination of
man-made inequalities in society, such as discrimination based on caste, colour,
race, religion, language, etc.
In India, social discrimination�defined as when someone is treated less
favourably than others who are in a similar circumstance because they belong to
a particular group�remains a problem. This prejudice is based on things like
caste, class, religion, economy, and race. Women still make up less than 10% of
the parliament and UPSC, which suggests that either they are not thought to be
capable enough or that they have not been given the same opportunities as men.
While some claim that women have never been prohibited from participating, the
truth is that social institutions including family, community, and the workplace
place many restrictions on women. Such prejudice may be seen everywhere, in all
facets of life.
The "breast tax" placed on women from lower caste families in the Kingdom of
Travancore in modern-day Kerala, India, is an illustration of historical
inequality. If lower-class women covered their breasts, a levy was imposed.
Although it was outlawed in 1859, discriminatory actions continued until 1924.
During that period, the tale of Nangeli, an Ezhava lady from the early 19th
century who purportedly had her breasts amputated in protest against this tax,
rose to notoriety.
Discrimination can be categorized into two types:
Exploitative Discrimination occurs when someone or a group is treated unfairly
and negatively because of a certain attribute, such as race, gender, religion,
or nationality. Denying particular people or groups opportunity, rights, or
advantages perpetuates marginalisation and inequality. This practise is known as
exploitative discrimination. It is frequently motivated by prejudice, bias, or
systematic inequalities and seeks to oppress and take advantage of particular
people or groups for the benefit of others.
Protective Discrimination: Also known as affirmative action or positive
discrimination, this involves policies or practices aimed at addressing
historical disadvantages and promoting equal opportunities for marginalized or
disadvantaged individuals or groups. It provides preferential treatment or
specific benefits to level the playing field and foster social justice. The
intention is to correct past injustices and promote inclusiveness, ultimately
working towards achieving equality. Examples include reserved seats for women
and elders in buses.
If a particular community faces discrimination and inequality within a country,
that community may become rebellious, as seen in instances where people in
states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh turned to Naxalism. This is why the
reservation is not only practiced in India but also in many countries because,
for the formation of a cohesive nation, it is essential to ensure that everyone
is included and no one is left behind. Protective Discrimination becomes
necessary in such cases.
While we are flexible with protective discrimination within families, society
often struggles with the concept. We prioritize individuals differently,
resulting in inequality. However, for our constitution, the entire country acts
as one family, and it should function in the same manner as our households.
According to Hegel, if we apply the same principles of altruism and sacrifice
within our families to society as a whole, many problems can be resolved. "The
individualistic altruism to sacrifice for someone in the family becomes
universalistic egoism to hold most of the resources."
Equality in a country occurs in two phases:
This phase removes exploitative discrimination, ensuring that
no one has special powers (equality before the law).
This phase involves providing protective discrimination for
marginalized sections of society, ensuring equality of opportunity. Examples
include wrestling categories based on weight divisions.
Reservation is one of the means to bridge the gap between the deprived or
discriminated sections of society and the mainstream through social justice. It
aims to provide equal opportunities and promote inclusion for historically
How Reservation Works?
To understand how reservation works, it is important to recognize the two types
of states: police state and welfare state. Police state primarily focuses on
maintaining law and order, while a welfare state goes beyond that and aims to
ensure the welfare of the public, especially the marginalized sections of
society. The steps taken by a welfare state for the betterment of society are
known as affirmative actions, and reservation is one such affirmative action.
The concept of the welfare state emerged after the 1950s. However, those who are
already benefiting from these actions often oppose extending affirmative actions
to others, as they believe that only they should reap the benefits and not
others. For example, many affluent individuals may have a problem with a poor
child studying with subsidies in an Indian university, but they may be happy
about their own children receiving scholarships to study in foreign
There are two methods of implementing affirmative actions:Preference:
This involves giving preference to certain individuals over others.
There are two forms of preference:
Reservation: Reservation involves fixing quotas for specific categories:
- Preference within equals: In this case, when the abilities of individuals are the same, the marginalized individual is given preference. For example, women may be given preference in certain situations. Here, the qualifications of the individual are not compromised.
- Preference with extra efforts: This form of preference involves providing special benefits to the discriminated sections. For instance, in exams, SC, ST, and OBC candidates may have a lower cutoff compared to others.
- a. Horizontal Reservation: In this case, reservation of seats is fixed for both marginalized and non-marginalized sections of society. For example, if there are 100 seats available, 15 seats may be reserved for SC, 8 seats for ST, 27 seats for OBC, and 10 seats for EWS. Alongside these reserved seats for marginalized sections, 40 seats would be reserved for the general category.
- b. Vertical Reservation: After allocating reservation for the marginalized category, the remaining seats become unreserved and are open to all.
These measures aim to provide opportunities and promote social justice for
historically marginalized communities. By implementing reservation, the welfare
state seeks to bridge the gaps and ensure equal opportunities for all citizens.
Arguments against Reservation:
There are several arguments raised against reservation policies. Here are some
of the common ones:
- Reverse Discrimination: Critics argue that reservation policies are a form of reverse discrimination, as they allocate opportunities based on factors such as caste, race, or ethnicity, rather than individual qualifications and abilities. They believe that this goes against the principle of equality and fairness, as it gives preference to certain groups over others.
- Lack of Personal Responsibility: Some argue that individuals today are not responsible for the discrimination that occurred in the past. They contend that it is unfair to hold the present generation accountable for historical injustices and that reservation policies should not be used as a means of rectifying past wrongs.
- Undermining Meritocracy: One of the main arguments against reservation is that it undermines the principle of meritocracy. Critics claim that by prioritizing quotas based on social categories, less qualified or competent individuals may gain advantages over more deserving candidates. This, they argue, compromises the quality and competence of individuals in various fields.
- Limited Improvement: Critics also point out that despite implementing reservation policies for over 70 years, the situation of marginalized communities has not improved significantly. They argue that reservation alone may not be sufficient to uplift these communities and address the underlying social and economic disparities.
- Divisions and Fragmentation: Another concern raised is that reservation policies, instead of fostering a truly inclusive and discrimination-free society, may create further divisions among different communities. Critics suggest that reservations can contribute to the fragmentation of society by emphasizing differences rather than promoting a sense of unity.
Arguments in Favor of Reservation:
There are several arguments in favor of reservation policies. Here are some key
points supporting reservation:
Reservation policies promote social inclusion by providing opportunities to individuals from marginalized communities who have historically been excluded. By reserving seats in educational institutions, government jobs, and legislative bodies, reservation ensures representation and participation of marginalized communities. It allows them to access resources and avenues that were previously denied to them, thereby promoting social justice.
- Building a More Equitable Society:
Reservation aims to create a more equitable society by providing a level playing field for marginalized communities. It acknowledges the historical disadvantages and discrimination faced by these communities and seeks to address them through affirmative action. For example, women comprise around 50% of our society, and reservation policies can help ensure their participation in various aspects of society is proportional to their representation.
- Faith in the State:
Reservation policies that ensure equal participation can foster faith in the state and its institutions. When individuals from marginalized communities feel included and have equal opportunities, it contributes to nation-building and a stronger social fabric.
- Protective Discrimination:
The argument that reservation is against equality is flawed, as reservation is a form of protective discrimination, not exploitative discrimination. Reservation policies aim to address historical injustices and provide opportunities to marginalized communities. The argument against equality is valid only when reservation is misused or when undeserving individuals take undue advantage of the policy.
- Responsibility for Past Discrimination:
Those who argue that they were not responsible for past discrimination fail
to acknowledge their privileges and the intergenerational effects of
discrimination. By benefiting from the wealth and advantages accumulated by
their ancestors, individuals indirectly inherit the responsibility for
addressing historical inequalities. Reservation policies attempt to rectify
these injustices and provide a pathway for marginalized communities to
overcome systemic barriers.
Is Reservation Against Merit?
To understand this argument, we need to examine the concept of meritocracy.
Meritocracy is a system where resources are distributed solely based on merit.
However, there are counterarguments against a purely meritocratic system:
- Vicious Cycle of Poverty:
Meritocracy can perpetuate a vicious cycle for the
poor, leading to a system where only the wealthy and privileged can access
resources and opportunities. In such cases, meritocracy can transform into a
plutocracy, where wealth determines one's access to merit-based opportunities.
- Merit as a Social Product:
Merit is not solely an individual attribute but is
shaped by various societal factors such as education, environment, upbringing,
and available resources. The opportunities and privileges one receives from
society significantly influence their merit. Acknowledging this, reservation
policies aim to provide equal opportunities for individuals who have been
historically deprived of such privileges.
- Subjectivity of Merit:
Merit itself can be subjective and influenced by social
biases. Factors like cultural background, language, and biases in test design
can impact the assessment of merit. For example, standardized tests may favor
certain social groups due to the inherent biases in their design.
It is essential to consider these arguments while evaluating the effectiveness
and fairness of meritocracy in the context of reservation policies.
Impacts of caste-based Reservation
There is a significant difference between output and outcome, even though they
may sound similar. Let's take the example of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The
target of this initiative was to make India open defecation-free, improve
cleanliness, increase sanitation, and reduce diseases caused by poor hygiene.
However, to achieve these outcomes, there must be certain outputs. In the case
of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the outputs were the construction of toilets.
Outputs indicate how well the policy is implemented, while outcomes reflect the
impact of implementing the policy.
For the government, it is easier to highlight the outputs to gain votes, but in
reality, if we truly want development, we should focus on outcomes.
Similarly, when analyzing caste reservation, it is important to first examine
the output, such as whether the reservation policy has resulted in increased
representation of lower castes in colleges. However, it is equally crucial to
evaluate the outcomes of the policy. Have these individuals received better job
opportunities? Has their quality of life improved? Has their income increased?
And ultimately, has the caste system decreased in society?
By distinguishing between outputs and outcomes, we can gain a more comprehensive
understanding of the effectiveness and impact of policies such as caste
Impact on education sector:
It is undeniable that the representation of marginalized communities has
increased in higher educational institutions due to reservation policies.
However, it is important to acknowledge that reservation cannot be considered
the sole reason for this progress. Economic growth in India has also played a
significant role in uplifting these communities. Despite the increase in
representation, it is crucial to note that the share of Scheduled Tribes (ST) is
still lower than their reservation quota, indicating the need for further
One of the major criticisms of reservation is the concept of the "creamy layer."
According to this theory, some individuals from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and ST
who benefit from reservation come from affluent families rather than
economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This argument suggests that reserved
seats are taken by individuals who do not necessarily require them, resulting in
fewer opportunities for poorer sections of the general category. However, it is
important to recognize that even though some SC and ST individuals may be
relatively better off within their own communities, their overall situation is
still disadvantaged compared to the general population.
Another criticism raised against reservation is that reserved students have
lower eligibility criteria, enabling them to secure seats in educational
institutions. Concerns have been raised that these students might struggle to
cope with the curriculum, leading to a waste of reserved seats. However,
research studies have indicated that there is no concrete evidence suggesting
that reserved students are unable to keep up with the syllabus or are more
likely to drop out. These findings challenge the notion that reserved students
are academically inferior and emphasize their ability to excel once given equal
Additional supporting facts and arguments include: Access to Quality Education:
Reservation policies have opened doors for
marginalized communities to access quality education that was previously out of
reach for many. This increased access has the potential to uplift individuals
and communities by providing them with better opportunities for socio-economic
Reservation in education helps to address historical
disparities and systemic discrimination faced by marginalized groups. By
providing reserved seats, it aims to bridge the gap between privileged and
marginalized sections of society, fostering inclusivity and social justice.
Reservation contributes to the diversification of
perspectives within educational institutions, enriching the learning environment
for all students. It promotes a more inclusive educational experience by
bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and fostering
understanding and tolerance.
Breaking Stereotypes and Empowering Communities:
Reservation in education
challenges stereotypes and societal prejudices by demonstrating the intellectual
capabilities and talents of individuals from marginalized communities. It
empowers these communities by providing them with a platform to showcase their
abilities and contribute to various fields.
Reservation policies in education have the potential to
create a positive ripple effect on society. By empowering marginalized
individuals through education, they become more capable of participating in the
workforce, becoming agents of change, and breaking the cycle of poverty and
Overall, while reservation in the education sector may face criticisms, it plays
a crucial role in addressing historical injustices, promoting inclusivity, and
providing opportunities for marginalized communities to thrive and contribute to
the development of the nation.
Impact in public employment:
According to government data, the representation of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and
Scheduled Castes (SC) individuals in Indian bureaucracy has increased. However,
a closer examination of different levels of government positions reveals that
these communities predominantly occupy lower positions, particularly in Group C
and D categories. It is notable that SCs have higher representation in Group D
category due to a significant portion of the workforce consisting of "safai
karamcharis" (sanitary workers), with approximately 50% belonging to the SC
In the context of public employment, two criticisms against reservation are
often raised. The first is the concept of the "creamy layer," suggesting that SC
and ST individuals benefiting from reservation come from relatively affluent
families, thereby preventing deserving candidates from economically
disadvantaged backgrounds in the general category from securing seats. However,
there is insufficient evidence to support this argument.
The second criticism is that reservation may adversely affect the efficiency of
government functioning. However, research analyzing data from the Indian
Railways between 1980 and 2002, studying 1.5 million employees, found no
evidence to support the claim that the efficiency of the railway system declined
due to reserved employees. On the contrary, the study indicated an increase in
Despite the positive impact of reservation on public employment, there is still
room for improvement. Studies have shown that reservation has resulted in a 5%
increase in salaried jobs for SC and ST individuals. Another study suggests
that reservation has boosted the morale of Other Backward Class (OBC) students,
leading to increased educational participation. Additionally, the participation
of women in local administration has increased due to the reservation of
one-third of seats for women in local Panchayati elections.
It is important to acknowledge that while reservation has many benefits, it
alone is not sufficient to eradicate caste discrimination or address the
deep-rooted social issues. This viewpoint is also shared by B.R. Ambedkar in his
book "Annihilation of Caste." Reservation serves as a step towards social
justice and inclusion, but broader societal changes and efforts are required to
effectively address caste-based discrimination and create a more egalitarian
To effectively address caste discrimination, various measures and policies need
to be implemented.
Here are some proposed solutions:
- Promoting Intercaste Marriages:
According to Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, intercaste marriages play a
crucial role in dismantling caste discrimination. Encouraging intercaste
marriages leads to greater social integration and reduces caste-based divisions.
Schools, in particular, can serve as platforms for social integration, where
students from different castes interact and discrimination is minimized.
- Women Empowerment:
Empowering women to choose their life partners independently can contribute to
reducing caste discrimination. If women have the freedom to select their
husbands, it is estimated that around 20% of marriages would be intercaste,
leading to a significant decline in caste-based discrimination. Initiatives like
the recent scheme launched by the Odisha government, which incentivizes social
harmony through the Sumangal portal, can facilitate intercaste marriages.
- Strengthening Atrocity Prevention Laws:
The existing Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1955, aimed at protecting SC and ST
communities from discrimination, should be amended and strengthened. The low
conviction rates and backlog of cases indicate the need for improved
implementation and enforcement. Complaints should be registered promptly, and
marginalized individuals should not face pressure to compromise. Reforms in the
legal system can ensure better access to justice and effective deterrence
against caste-based discrimination.
- Providing Free Coaching for Marginalized Groups:
"Initiatives such as the free coaching scheme launched by the Ministry of Social
Justice in 2016 should be expanded and strengthened". By providing free
coaching and educational support to marginalized groups, the barriers they face
in accessing quality education can be addressed. This can enhance their
opportunities for upward mobility and reduce educational disparities.
- Appropriate Policy Measures:
In formulating effective policies, a balance between merit and social justice
should be maintained. Affirmative actions need to be implemented, and systemic
reforms in the reservation policy are necessary to ensure that benefits reach
those who genuinely require them, while preventing undue advantage. Setting
limits on reservation and having critical discussions on the concept of the
"creamy layer" are important aspects to consider. Additionally, the issue of
reservation in promotions should be thoroughly discussed to ensure fairness and
equal opportunities for all.
By implementing these solutions and adopting a comprehensive approach, it is
possible to address caste discrimination and foster a more inclusive and
Income Based Reservation:
Some people believe that income-based reservation is the ultimate solution for
the caste-based reservation system in the society. However, it is important to
understand the underlying purpose and rationale behind reservation. The
Constitution of India, in Articles 14, 15, and 16, emphasizes the need for
representation and the elimination of discrimination, rather than solely
focusing on financial equality.
While poverty alleviation schemes exist to address economic disparities,
reservation aims to uplift marginalized communities that have historically faced
discrimination based on caste. Even if someone becomes financially affluent, the
stigma of caste discrimination may persist, and they may continue to face social
exclusion. Reservation provides opportunities for representation and addresses
the deep-rooted caste-based discrimination endured by backward classes for
Mayawati's tenure as Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh exemplifies the
transformative impact of reservation on representation. Backward class
individuals gained confidence and respect, and policies were formulated to
support their advancement. This demonstrates the significant empowerment
potential of reservation.
Interestingly, some individuals who oppose caste-based reservation remain silent
on the reservation based on economic criteria, known as EWS reservation. This
selective opposition may stem from personal interests or perceived benefits. EWS
reservation provides 10% reservation for the general category with an annual
income below 8 lakhs. However, it faces challenges in implementation.
One significant challenge is accurately tracking income levels, as individuals
may manipulate their income to qualify for EWS reservation. The evaluation
process lacks a comprehensive mechanism, primarily relying on income sources
from organized sectors, metro cities, taxpayers, and government workers.
Consequently, a large percentage of individuals end up qualifying for EWS
reservation, raising concerns about the effectiveness and fairness of the
Furthermore, the issue of fraudulent income certificates poses a major problem,
as influential individuals can easily obtain fake certificates. In contrast,
the fear of social discrimination prevents upper castes from degrading their
caste status, ensuring the relevance of caste-based reservation.
It is essential to consider the ground reality and the persistence of caste
discrimination in both rural and urban areas. Even today, untouchability exists
in villages, and a significant percentage of sanitary workers in metro cities
belong to backward castes. Discontinuing reservation for backward classes would
impede their progress and perpetuate their slow development. Despite being a
minority, upper castes continue to hold influential positions across various
sectors, further emphasizing the need for reservation to address social
It is crucial to acknowledge and understand the daily struggles faced by
backward communities, as their experiences differ significantly from those of
individuals in privileged positions. Reservation plays a vital role in
empowering marginalized communities and challenging the prevailing social
The existence of caste-based reservation cannot be divorced from the pervasive
caste-based discrimination that persists in society. It is disheartening to note
that untouchability practices continue to be prevalent in many states, with a
significant proportion of households engaging in such discriminatory behavior.
This serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing necessity for reservation
policies to combat and eradicate caste-based discrimination.
However, the issue of reservation has become intertwined with politics,
transforming it into a mere vote bank strategy for politicians. When a
politician grants reservation to a specific community, it often leads to
generations of electoral support from that particular community. In contrast,
choosing the path of development requires long-term commitment and may not yield
immediate political gains. Similarly, removing reservation for a particular
community would result in losing future votes from that community. This
political reality has prevented any significant attempts to eliminate
reservation altogether, leading to the proliferation of various reservation
schemes in different states.
Unfortunately, this political circus surrounding reservation has hindered its
effectiveness and has caused deserving individuals who truly require reservation
benefits to be neglected. The focus on securing votes has overshadowed the
genuine purpose of reservation, which is to uplift marginalized communities and
create a more equitable society.
To address this issue, it is crucial to shift the narrative away from short-term
political gains towards long-term development and social justice. Efforts should
be directed towards eradicating caste-based discrimination, promoting social
integration, and providing equal opportunities for all. Rather than using
reservation as a political tool, it should be seen as a means to rectify
historical injustices and promote inclusivity.
In conclusion, while caste-based reservation remains necessary to address
caste-based discrimination, it is essential to confront and eradicate the root
causes of such discrimination. Reservation should not be reduced to a
vote-gathering tactic; instead, it should be a catalyst for social
transformation, ensuring that those who genuinely require support are the ones
who benefit. By addressing the deep-seated issues of discrimination and
inequality, society can move closer to achieving true social justice and equal
opportunities for all.
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