Reservation in India: Caste and Beyond

Now, I know why reservation is ‘caste’ based in our country!

Before I proceed, let me specify that I belong to the general category as I draw my roots from the Brahmin ancestry of the sage Bhardwaja. That means I have never availed of reservations for my studies or for any job.

The issue of Reservation in our country is so intertwisted with politics, sociology and economics that it’s very difficult to understand it completely. Those who are getting its benefits don’t want to say or speak a single word about it and those who aren’t getting any advantage are vociferously demanding a new policy for it without analyzing any consequences of their demands.

Before discussing its pros and cons we need to have a complete picture, throughout time. To do that we need to go back to our history lessons and look at each committee formed on the topic of empowerment of the lower castes and on reservations.  

Some of them which had a major impact on the current reservation system are:

In 1882, the Hunter Commission was appointed. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule demanded free and compulsory education for all along with proportionate reservation/representation in government jobs. Untouchability was widely practiced at this time in our country. The depressed classes had no shred of dignity at that time and they were regarded as scum.

Even after independence, the situation of the depressed classes remained the same. And to make it worse, most of them were poor and illiterate; the oppression of the society wouldn’t let them grow. So the Kalelkar Commission was appointed in 1953 to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward class. The report was accepted as far as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were concerned. The recommendations for OBC’s were rejected. After the implementation of the recommendations of the committee, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes were given a fair share of reservation in the educational institutions, government jobs and political representation.

In 1979, the Mandal Commission was established to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward people. The commission didn’t have exact figures for a sub-caste, known as the Other Backward Classes (OBC), and used the 1930 census data, further classifying 1,257 communities as backward, to estimate the OBC population at 52%.ln 1980, the commission submitted a report, and recommended changes to the existing quotas, increasing them from 22% to 49.5%.ln 1990, the Mandal commission recommendations were implemented in Government Jobs by the then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh. It is very clear that political motivations fueled decision-making as the reservation recommendations were accepted without analyzing the actual OBC population which, was found to be 41% in 2006 by the NSSO survey, in contrast to the 52% used by the Mandal Commission in 1979. 

The present scenario:

The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are official designations (recognized by Indian Constitution) given to various groups of historically disadvantaged indigenous people in India. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes comprise about 16.6 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively, of India’s population (according to the 2011 census). As the exact population of the OBC category isn’t clear, it is not worthwhile to discuss them.

The above statistics highlight the following:

  1. These people suffered for thousands of years just because of their ‘caste.’
  2. Clearly, their numbers are not something which can be brushed away as negligible.

Let me put forward a question which is most common among people belonging to the general category in our country:

Should ‘caste based reservation’ be abolished by the Indian government?

Before framing an answer, it would do well to go through the following stats and arguments:

  1. 33% of dalits are rejected in resumé screening by caste names in Indian private sector which is supposedly meritocratic.1

These stats indicate that the private sector holds almost no accountability for the all-inclusive growth of the masses. If government would do the same, where would these people go? The job may not provide them the equality which every one of us deserves but at least it is helping them to survive. And this is just one example- in every sphere most of these people are challenged by the society just because of their ‘caste’.

  1. Let us consider another example: Suppose two students of equal intelligence are born; one in an affluent or a middle class family and the other in a slum area or any poor society. Most probably, not necessarily the slum boy or girl would be eligible for a quota as per norms. And it’s required because no matter how hard the poor one will try, he or she won’t be able to challenge the one born in the middle class family in any activity owing to the social, cultural and environmental factors. Can a malnourished cheetah defeat a healthy one?
  1. We can’t put merit before equality. Unless the two people are at the same level, how can one simply allow them to compete at the said level, let alone expect the one with the lesser privileges to win? Yes, it is true the reservation has an edge over merit but on the other hand it’s also true that it has helped many underprivileged sections to come forward in all the spheres such as politics, economics, science etc.
  1. How many of the general category people are coming forward for the inter-caste marriages? Brahmins want to marry Brahmins; Vaishyas wants to marry only Vaishyas and so it is for all the castes. Dalits are regarded as the ‘lower caste’ and no one is willing to marry their daughters or sons to a dalit family with the exception being the love marriages. The IHDS (Indian Human Development Survey) 2011-12 shows only 5% marriages are inter-caste in the society which means that even today society doesn’t accept the lower castes as to our equal.2
  1. One of the benefits of the reservation is quite evident in the following figure:


Although there are many factors that have helped in decreasing the poverty ratio yet the reservation remains one of the most powerful factor among the lower caste population.

The scenario is changing and as the people are getting educated, they are moving above the poverty line and consequently, the population of the poor people is falling. But we must consider them as one of our own if we want to eradicate this caste system from our country. Else, this would never end. The Hindu caste system amalgamated with the British political strategies that divided us decades back and it still continues to live with us. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked. “We should be the change we wish to see in others.”

We don’t want to eat with them, we won’t marry them, we will respect their professional designation but at home we will refer to them as ‘inferiors’, all just because of their ‘caste’; and then we will fight against the ‘caste’ based reservation, why? It is just hypocrisy.

The answer is clear: We can’t simply abolish the ‘caste’ based reservation system but every coin has two phases: the system need to be audited with proper revisions. Why?

  1. As already mentioned, OBC category population isn’t known exactly. As per the Mandal commission it is 52% while NSSO survey states it as 41%. Now, in this scenario, there might be some who despite being backward aren’t able to avail the reservation provided by the government and some who, even after being economically forward are enjoying the perks of reservation in absence of any monitoring system.In the span of over 50-60 years, no committee or commission had been setup that can correlate the reservation and its direct impact on the ones availing it. There has been no large scale survey that can highlight the political and social benefits of the caste based reservation.
  1. Initially, it was meant for reducing the sociological gap that existed in our country for centuries. In the current scenario, even after acquiring the sound economic state, these people aren’t able to intermingle with the upper caste people because: Firstly, they aren’t willing to give up the reservation even after benefitting from it (the fight for reservation in the promotions in the public sector organizations is still on). Secondly, sad but true, till the reservation (which is a necessity as stated earlier) remains, upper society would always regard reserved people as inferior.
  1. How the politics is creating a schism between the various groups in the society? By disobeying the honorable supreme court of India. The mandate by the court was not to increase the overall reservation beyond 50% but some of the states like Rajasthan (68% including reservation for specific category of the forward castes) and Tamil Nadu (69%) are openly challenging the court order. This is creating a lot of resentment among the forward castes as it can also be regarded as a form of discrimination.
  1. How can the poor people belonging to the forward caste have any advantage over the economically powerful backward caste? Only about 0.7% scholarship in India is based upon merit which means that the poor forward caste student, if not able to qualify on the basis of merit, is not eligible for merit.
  1. Some of the neediest sections are not even aware of reservations or of the various provisions that exist while the ones already getting its benefits are demanding more privileges.


The point to be noted here is that, it has now become a vicious circle and was not a political agenda earlier but now has become one.What Ambedkar held in prestige as a development criterion for the under privileged has now purely become a political game for a few parties who tend to use ‘caste’ as a tool for getting votes. Instead of coming up with the new ideas for the eradication of poverty, they focus only on the caste as a measure for representing all the problems of the backward people. This is simply a lie. No doubt, it has helped few but has fuelled casteism in the Indian society and 37.2% people are still below poverty line as per the 2011 census.  Reservation is a necessity but it must be extended beyond caste so as to include all the weaker social and economic sections of the society.

[Dalit studies]
[Inter-caste marriages]


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