India's Reservation System Needs Modification

Protest over reservation.

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Reservation has become an accepted apparatus among policy makers of India to deliver social justice and diminish inequality among those sections of our society who have been suffering a chronic historical inequality and injustice.

Caste based exploitations and discriminations have been understood as a biggest injustice towards the sections belonging to the lower castes, and that injustice get reflected in their low economic conditions, less dignified social status, unskilled and poor educational backgrounds and fewer participation in the bureaucracy of India.

After implementation of Indian constitution in 1950 with the commitment of social, economic and political justice and equality, the reservation policy was adopted as an affirmative action to uplift the pitiable conditions of the oppressed and marginalised sections of the society. As a result, in 1951 the government brought an amendment in the constitution that pave the way for the reservation for the sections.

At present, 15 percentage for Scheduled Castes (SC), 7.5 percentage for Scheduled Tribes (ST) and 27 percentage for the Others Backward Castes (OBC) quotas are reserved in government employments and educational institutions. But two things related to the quota system that also deserve to be mentioned here. One is that the concepts of creamy layers has been applied for OBC reservation, not on SC and ST reservation while another important thing is that the Supreme Court of India has imposed a ceiling of 49 percentage on all reservations.

But the time has come to reconsider the "magic percentage" of 49. There is a requirement to expand the net of reservation to the sections who are the victim of poverty and rising inequality in the age of globalisation.

At this time, the government is in true position (in full majority in parliament) to amend the ruling and break the barrier of the magic percentage and use the affirmative action to revolutionise social justice among the most economically weaker sections without considering caste, religious and ethnic identity. Beyond the magic percentage, some percentages in government jobs and educational institutions might be reserved with strict regulations and transparency for the weaker sections. It is very true in the context of Indian society that here class hierarchy follows caste hierarchy. That’s why the caste-based reservation has been always strongly justified. But it is not necessary true that misery and inequality understand only the language of caste.

Recently, the government increased the creamy layer limit from 6 lakh to 8 lakhs for OBC. As well as some posts of PSU has been brought under the creamy layer ambit. But can the government or Supreme Court make a ruling to bring upper and affluent class of SC and ST under a strict creamy layer system?

The time has come to consider to implement a strict creamy layer system on SC and ST reservation and speed up the process of empowerment and inclusion among those who really deserve for the quota system in these communities. So, the present government must also think beyond the reformation of OBC reservation.

A logical question always rises in the mind of a rational person that how can an affluent and upper-class ST and ST aspirant and a poor and marginalised lower-class SC and ST aspirants contest against each other for the same job. Evidently, there is an injustice against marginalised and oppressed ST and SC among their own communities.

In the last week, the central government took a decision to set up a commission to evaluate the possibility to sub categorize OBC listed castes. The purpose of this sub categorization is to ensure a fair delivery of benefits of reservation to the sections of the listed caste which are automatically excluded due to the dominance of some specific caste of the list. Indeed, the distribution of the advantages of the reservation has not been equal and justified among the castes that belongs to OBC category. Only some specific castes of OBC category have been receiving benefits from the reservation policy due to their socio-economic conditions. While most of the castes of OBC have been out of the scenario, even they are unable to get entrance into the lower-class bureaucracy and educational institutions.

In short, reservation is an accepted mechanism in India to deepen social justice in the society but the rationalisation and modification of reservation system should also be part of the affirmative action according to the changing socio-economic scenario of the country.


Upendra Kumar
Research Scholar
Dr. K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit & Minorities Studies
Jamia Millia Islamia
New Delhi-110025

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