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Cast-Based Reservation: A Critical Examination Of Indian’s Affirmative Action

This article provides a thorough analysis of India's caste-based reservation system, documenting its development from the period before independence to the present day. Commencing in 1949, constitutional measures were introduced to tackle gender inequalities. Subsequently, the emphasis switched towards implementing caste-based reservations, which were influenced by British models.

The article examines pivotal legal decisions that have influenced reservation laws and emphasises the recommendations made by the Mandal Commission in 1980, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of a 27% quota for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in 1990.

It challenges the appropriateness of implementing reservation policies in light of a literacy rate of 74.04% and expresses worries over its influence on academic stress and student suicides. The discussion revolves around the incorporation of Maratha reservation and its impact on the existing 50% cap limit, provoking contemplation on the necessity of policy modifications to synchronise with societal transformations.

The author supports the implementation of an adaptable legal strategy that can accommodate the changing requirements of society, while also dealing with the intricate and conflicting aspects of the reservation system.

With a focus on the caste-based reservation system, this essay analyses affirmative action in India from a constitutional and social development perspective. After setting the stage with pre-independence history, it explores where reservation came from, beginning with the British Communal Award of 1933.

Exploring the expansion of reservation to solve social and educational backwardness, the narrative develops via significant judicial battles and constitutional revisions. In a society that has seen enormous demographic changes and expansion, the study examines the modern applicability of reserve and poses important considerations regarding its need.

Beginning with a discussion of current events like the Maratha reservation and how it affects the 50% cap, the introduction then juxtaposes these with disturbing data on student suicides caused by academic demands associated with caste-based discrimination. Finally, the paper addresses the difficulties and controversy surrounding affirmative action in India and calls for a nuanced revaluation of reservation policy, proposing changes that are in line with the current socio-economic climate.

Affirmative Action: A Historical Overview and Its Evolution
Article 14 of The Indian Constitution says that every person is equal before the law and is entitled to the equal protection of the law. Everything has its own pros and cons and there is no doubt in it, to make it more justifiable let's dive in the era of 1946 where the "Literacy Rate" was only 16.1% in India and country was demanding for great changes according to its need which gave birth to recognizing the importance of giving some specific position to women, keeping this demand of time in mind, in 1949 Article 15(3) was introduced in the Indian Constitution which gives the State power to bring specific acts or law for women and children.

In simple terms, this was the positive form of discrimination which empowers state to make laws specifically for women and children. The term Reservation means to reserve some seats for people fulfilling specific criteria. Reservation itself has a vast history and it is not a new concept for India as in 1882, William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule thought about caste-based reservation system for the very first time. Even in 1902, Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur, Rajarshi Shahu, introduced a reservation system.

His model was to favor non-brahmins and backward classes, but anyhow the current reservation system is truly inspired from the British Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald. He presented the Communal Award in 1933. After Independence, in the beginning phase, only SC's and ST's were enjoying reservation and Madras started giving reservation only on the basis of religion, in medical colleges, because of this and Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras, Article 15(4) was introduced through 1st Constitutional Amendment Act 1951 which gives power to state that they can make special provision for SEBC (Socially and Educationally Backward Class) , SC (Schedule Caste), ST (Schedule Tribe) for their advancement and just after this Clause was introduced state of Maysore passed a government order and applyed reservation on every college of medical and engineering, Backward Class - 28%, SC:- 15%, ST:- 3% and MBC:- 22% (Most Backward Class this was the new concept introduced by Maysore government) Overall government reserve 68% of seats which was kind of against natural justice. This was challenged in M.R. Balaji V. State of Mysore and the apex court struck down the order and stated while recognizing backward classes the state must consider Social and Educational perspective.

The State cannot give reservation only on the basics of caste other than this the 50% cap ceiling was introduced and More Backward Class announced to be invalid. India has seen the bloodiest riots and protests in the country for the caste-based reservation system given by Britishers around 1990 because reservation was introduced in jobs too by Article 16 (3) and (4) of Indian Constitution also because of carry forward rule.

Devdason V. Union of India
it is also known as carry forward rule case which basically means if the seat got vacant this year, then it would be carry forward to the next year adding up but what if it exceed form 50% so it was mentioned in the case it self that if it exceed from 50% then it will be invalid this shows how reservation is gradual evolved as the time passed.

Contemporary Relevance
In 1978, The president appointed a commission in December 1978 to find out how many SEBC classes are there in India under the chairmanship of B.P. Mandal. After one year the Mandal Commission submitted the report in 1980 and according to the report a total of 3,743 castes are SEBC and gave a recommendation of providing 27% in government jobs.

After 10 years, in 1990, Prime Minister V.P. Singh implemented it SEBC:
27% of reservation was given along with this, it was said reservation cannot be exceed from 50% and confined to appointment not promotion which basically means that a person can get job on the basics of reservation but reservation in promotion won't be allowed, this was the case of Indra Sawhaney V. Union of India.

Anyhow, parliament realized that Indra Sawaney's judgment was wrong, and they brought Article 16(4A) (77th Amendment Act) and 16(4B) (81 Amendment Act). Article 16(4A) allowed reservation in promotion for SC & ST and from 16(4B) ended 50% ceiling on reservation for SC & ST which definitely create the problem of Backlog vacancy

Its looks like a loop has been created where single law is revolving continuously but the big question is that, Do we still need reservation when we have literacy rate of 74.04 per cent, 82.14 for males and 65.46 for females? As we know, reservation was introduced when our literacy rate was just around 16.1%. If yes, then what should be the basis or the grounds for the reservation?

There is no rocket science in understanding the basic fact that with exponential changes in the structure of society, we may need to amend or update policies such as reservation. Recently, Maratha reservation was introduced a few years back which states to make Marathas as socially and educationally backward class and as a result it broke the 50% cap ceiling. Also, due to the Maratha quota issue, in reservation, a 16-Year-Old Student Committed Suicide in Ahmednagar.

In this case apex court held:
"the classification of Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class was unreasonable as they belonged to a politically dominant caste with significant economic resources."

According to an report from 2007 to 2016, nearly 75,000 students committed suicide and the major causes were Academic pressure created due to caste-based discrimination, imposed on them in the form of reservation. These statistics force us to put up the questions that need to be raised at some point or the other.

So now it is us and our democratically elected government, who have to decide whether we still need the reservation in its current form? Shouldn't it be amended now according to the current caricature of the society, as our society has shown immense growth in the past few decades and the barriers of caste and class had been narrowed down exponentially. Why do we still fear to even hold discussions over sensitive topics like reservation and necessary reforms in the policy of reservation?

Retrospective Consideration:
There was an American Judge, Benjamin Cardozo who said law should be a flexible instrument of necessity to bring in the welfare of the society, so law is for society and social changes are natural from generation to generation, according to current situation reservation is also needed to amend.

The words of Justice Cardozo hold great value in this deadlock situation of Indian reservation policy. It has now become difficult to explain whether the step of reservation was a failure of the government or a success? There is a reason behind it though, due to these reservation policies the backward classes of this nation developed and grew immensely but now the same policy is being reason behind the suicides of several innocent children of so-called upper or privileged class.

The irony is, the policy that had been a push factor for backward classes is now no longer necessary, at the very least in my personal opinion, reservation was a good concept but with some time limitation as mentioned before everything has pros and cons so if anything is been used excessively it become the substance which is in existence but not in use and if it is then not in that form as it was made.

The instrument that was brought for the necessary welfare of weaker sections of society has now become a privilege for them which they at no cost are ready to drop. It still confuses me whether the change in reservation policy will be labelled as a radical change or a liberal one?

These all have only one solution, which is to amend the law so that only those people who truly need the benefits of reservation can get them. Another important point is that deserving candidates should benefit those who have the ability to qualify if education is provided under reservation because providing a job and then a promotion makes no sense.

Even this idea may be used retrospectively to prevent dispute in the issue of individuals who have already completed their education and working how they can benefit so that they can also enjoy the scheme due to the retrospect approach.

  1. Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras AIR 1951 SC 226
  2. M.R. Balaji V. State of Mysore 1963 AIR 649, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 439
  3. Devdason V. Union of India 1964 AIR 179, 1964 SCR (4) 680
  4. Indra Sawhaney V. Union of India AIR 1993 SC 477; 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454
  5. Chopra, M. (2021). Reservation system in India: advantages and disadvantages. International journal of economic perspectives, 15(1), 30-37.

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