Reservation Debate

Treating Symptoms won't Help

The word, reservation is out of place in a democratic set-up where all citizens are entitled to equal opportunity.  However, there is always need to further interpret and make appropriate changes to suit the requirements of time and place.

It was felt by the Government in 1885 that there were weaker sections that did not get their due, because of certain social, economic and historical reasons.  In 1919, under the Montague-Chelmsford reforms, the depressed classes got representation at all-India level.  In 1935, province-wise lists of Scheduled Castes were notified in a systematic way.  Later in independent India, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, along with other backward classes, were give certain benefits and privileges under the Constitution.

Whereas most people agree that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are Traditionally oppressed, there has been some problem regarding other backward classes (OBCs).  The Government has, since, appointed two commission - the first Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar in 1953, and the Second Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. B. P. Mandal, in 1978 - to go into the problems of other backward classes and suggest remedies.

The second commission, popularly known as the Mandal Commission, submitted its report in 1980, but the Government has yet not taken a decision on its recommendations.  The commission found that besides the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, which constitute 22.5 per cent of the total population, there are 52 per cent other backward classes.  Thus, 75 per cent population of our country is, in some way or the other, seriously handicapped and, requires additional safeguards, concessions and reservation, concessions and reservation.  it however, recommended only 27 per cent reservation in educational institutions and job opportunities for this class of people because of the judicial requirement which makes it imperative that total reservations should not exceed 50 per cent.

This has iv en rise to a number of questions the foremost of these being how far can merit be sacrificed to correct a historical legacy, if there is one, and for how long.  Further, many people may agree to give some benefits to the aggrieved classes at the stage of admission to courses, jobs etc. but there is little justification for these categories to keep on enjoying the privileges when they have already become equal to the so-called higher classes in almost all respects.

There is also the question of defining backwardness. Both the commissions have equated backwardness with class distinction.  They have identified the Scheduled castes and Tribes and the lower classes (such as tells dhobis, takhans, and nais) as back ward.  However, many members of these classes have now made rapid progress but continue to draw the benefits.  This irks those who compete for jobs, or educational opportunities, in the open category.  Many of them have, therefore, demanded that an additional criterion should be applied to determine backwardness. To receive benefits meant for the reserved categories, a person should belong to a lower class, as specified by the commission, as specified by the commission, as well as his annual income should not exceed a specified amount.

While all this can be resolved to a great extent, provided there is the political will and adequate implementing machinery, a few winder questions need to be answered.  The first is whether the incident of birth should entitle some persons to certain privileges or deny those to others.  Reservation will amount to perpetuating the caste system which we are trying to eliminate.

The second question concerns national policies on development and is, in a way, connected with the first one.  According to the findings of the commissions, three-fourths of the population of our country can be said to be backward.  The vital decision that needs to be made is whether national policies on development should be geared to the needs of 75 per cent of the population.  From the present policies, it is obvious that we are looking after the welfare of 25 per cent of the population, and in the process, are giving some concessions to the other 75 per cent.  It also speaks volumes of our electoral process which has failed to fulfil the demands of the electorate a majority of whom have been identified as backward.

It is clear that fundamental reforms are needed in our policies if we are to address ourselves seriously to this question.  Commissions can suggest temporary ways which often give rise to major controversies, even bloodshed.  It is, therefore, better to treat the disease and not merely the symptoms.

If fundamental change at the level of planning and implementation are not brought about now, there is little doubt that the cancer of casteism, communalism and regionalism will spread to all parts of our polity and a cure will not be easily found.

It now seems that the time for debate is over.  It is now time for action.