These are deeply-rooted facets of the Indian society-though in the Vedic period the caste system was firmly established on the basis of racial and cultural facors from the time of the Guptas the system became extremely rigid.
Caste-based distinctions continuing to flourish through the centuries have become deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche.
It was to put an end to caste prejudices and their repercussions in an independent India that our Constitution-framers sought to award ‘temporary’ concessions to the backward castes that for centuries been a victim to the cruel injustices of the had upper castes.
Once the reservations brought in a determined effort to eliminate the backwardness of and the bias against the lower castes the concessions were to cease-that is after 20 year from that time of the framing of the Constitution.
But after more than 45 years of independence their dream is yet to bear fruit Caste issue instead of taking a back-seat, rule the political scenario of modern India.
Through the metropolitan societies all caught up in the wave of modernisation may not acknowledge caste concerns readily the fact is that class and caste based vote banks are the backbones of political partial and every new government that comes to rule.
In rural India the ‘essential’ India caste and class factors play a crucial role in society. These factors have only become more pronounced with the cropping up of the issue of reservations.
So how do reservations propose to bring about class and caste equality in a society that has been dominated by the inequalities derived from them for so long?
Are reservations justified? Are they the right answer to curing the society of ills arising from caste divisions? Are they the path to true reform?
Reservation of seats in educational and professional institutions and of jobs in government services is to a certain extent permitted by our Constitution itself in order to improve the status of the suppressed masses job reservation for only Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) is a specific constitutions obligation.
Where the other backward classes (OBCs) are concerned the state is required to set up a commission to investigate the condition of socially and educationally backward classes and make recommendations to improve the status of the depressed among them Article 15 makes a special provision for advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SCs and the STs Article16 (4) permits the state to make any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward classes of citizens which in the opinion of the state is not adequately represented in the services under the state.
“But caste cannot be a ground of discrimination”. This is made clear in Article 15 (1) that prohibits discrimination on grounds including caste and place of birth. Also clauses one and two of Article 16 provide for equality of opportunity to all citizens in respect of any office or any other employment under the state.
Thus, reservation is for backward classes (not ‘castes’). It is clear that poverty is not the basic criterion for reservation as only socially and educationally backward classes have been taken into consideration.
But clearly ambiguities have arisen. Moreover, the recommendations of the commission set up to identify the backward classes based on which reservations would takes place- the Mandal Commission recommendations- are flawed in certain respects.
First and foremost it is to be noted that the caste and class differentiation apparent in the Constitution has been based on the western definition of the terms ‘class’.
They are seen as different forms of social divisions whereas in reality the multi layered Indian society has ‘caste’ and ‘class’ closely linked to and inseparable from each other.
The upper castes have by way of owning a superior status ascended the social ladder to comprise the majority in the upper class and the lower castes form a large bulk of the population belonging to the lower class.
Defining the word ‘backward’ itself has proved a problem. Coming to the Mandal recommendations, not only have they taken the economic criterion into account but failed to list many castes/communities coming under the socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). The classes were identified by fixing the ‘upper’ and not the ‘lower’ limit of backwardness.
Some of the classes noted as backward have witnessed progress through the decades. This would happen in the future as well. Once a backward class has achieved some kind of progress it would not require protection any more. But it is not known whether any classes after review.
Often the powerful and articulate sections within an identified backward class may end up reaping the benefits of reservations so that the needy continue to suffer. The Mandal recommendations failed to provide any system of elimination for disqualifying the affluent upper crust from accumulating the benefits of reservations.
Thus, the reservation issue stirred up a controversy once it was revived by the V.P. Singh Government all of a sudden in August 1990.
The Supreme Court judgement in November 1992 sought to settle the controversy by fixing a ceiling of 50 percent for total reservations while excluding the ‘creamy layer’ among the backward class from reservations.
Now the problem is one of identifying the ‘creamy layer’. No doubt the balanced and well intended ruling is to help the suppressed classes and castes tortured on religious grounds and forced to suffer socio psychological discrimination for ages.
But can one overlook the fact that the reservations in their very essence violate the principle of equity and the necessity of rewarding merit?
With only 50 percent of seats in government-run institutions and job vacancies in government services open to general competition where merit would be the sole criterion, the scope to build a successful career or take up a rewarding profession will be limited for the ‘unreserved’ categories.
That is to say, the persons vying under the ‘open category’ for a particular educational seat or job vacancy may be more knowledgeable and skilled than their counterparts in the reserved categories and hence more deserving.
Yet they can compete for only a half of the total seats or posts in other words merit would not matter. However the ‘reserved’ candidates with high qualifications would be eligible for the ‘open’ category as well in view of their fulfilling the conditions of merit.
This first of all is a serious injustice. Why should some persons be denied the rewards of hard work skill and the requisite qualifications just because they belong to the middle or upper strata of society?
Even these people are citizens of the country in every respect. The applicant in such a case may ask a valid question way is ‘he’ being punished for the ‘backwardness’ of some others even through this backwardness may be a result of atrocities perpetrated by a result of atrocities perpetrated by his forefathers and ancestors and not himself?
By not recognising merit the country will lose out on ‘quality’. To have the best in every field it is necessary to choose the best-those with right knowledge and the necessary skill and talent to participate in the various functions of the state.
If a country by its own choice is to possess doctors, engineers and other professionals who do not exactly comprise the best of the stock, then certainly the progress and advancement made will be less than justified by its resources.
In a world where different countries are competing among themselves to emerge with the finest in every field, what India needs is the use of the greatest of talent and potential which are surely not lacking.
Reservations have also strengthened the already existing caste divisions within the society. The frustration and anger of the upper castes in being treated unfairly have promoted caste conflicts. It is largely among the youth that bitterness is piling up.
A result is that many talented young persons are increasingly seeking better opportunities abroad. The ensuing brain-drain is bound to have a detrimental impact upon the country in the near future.
The concessions are also furthering vested interests among those in political power and the powerful belonging to the upper divisions within the backward classes and castes.
So the oppressed within these classes who are mean to be the main beneficiaries of reservations still remain the sufferers.
Another disturbing regarding reservations is that they may continue for decades at length. For matters of social justice rarely appear to earn due attention in our country.
Despite there being constitutional provisions for job reservations and quotas in government-run educational institutions for removing social and educational backwardness, the problem remains.
This is a clear indication that the solution lies not in reservations but somewhere else. The socially oppressed lack modern facilities that would help them maintain good health and living so that they can take education seriously and derive advantages from it.
It is also seen that the backward classes are not generally aware of the importance of education. Even the economically well-off among them tend to ignore it though they can afford it.
The need for educating oneself must be emphasised. Social development programmes that would lessen the daily burden of these people would allow them to spend time on education as well. Thus the path to true reform is through education.
Equal educational opportunities would ensure the upward mobility of the socially backward in society. The discriminatory education systems that deny underprivileged children their right to equal opportunities at present must be done away within.
The education provided to these children must be such that they can compete with the children of the elite on the same level for seats in universities and professional institutes and later for jobs.
The urban monopoly over modern education needs to be broken. An acute problem faced by the backward castes is discrimination in ordinary life brought about by the superior attitude of the upper classes and the higher castes.
Here again it is only education that can encourage people to give their narrow views and prejudices bred by some traditional norms and practices which run very much against the universal spirit of mankind.
Education is not simply learning to read and write being able to acted schools and colleges, and having satisfactory jobs; its real essence lies in helping men to live as better humans by respecting each other and learning to treat each other equally. It is high time the ‘true’ meaning of education is taken seriously and brought to the fore.
Special provisions have been allowed by our constitution for the SCs, STs and backward classes who have been victims of oppression and injustice. But will reservation of quotas for them solve the problem?
It has not in the last few decades. It may not accomplish much in the future except for widening caste divisions and increasing caste conflicts. The solution lies in providing education to all without discrimination.
The quality of education imparted must be comparable in the rural and urban areas. Various social problems that deny members of the downtrodden classes education opportunities and their resultant benefits must be countered by well-planned development programmes.