India is probably the only country which provides for Reservations in various forms for the oppressed minority. Reservation in general (sic) has always been a hotly debated topic, with divided opinions and strong arguments from both sides. As we all know the one most atrocious evil that India has faced throughout the ages and which continues to this day is the ‘System of Caste’. The fact is that it is one of the major causes of a large section of our population being left with little to none opportunities of personal, academic, professional and social growth. The Government can only go as far as making laws in its battle to eradicate the Caste System, to establish true equality. As a result it was only through the brilliant minds and continuous struggle of stalwarts like Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, Dr B R Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and others of their ilk, that there was a tremendous social awareness/development campaign taking shape at the grass roots of the Indian Society against Caste Discrimination at the very start of our journey as an independent and democratic nation.
70 years after Independence however, there are growing voices that question such reservations. Moreover, critics of the Reservation Policy also point out the fact that this system has not actually helped uplift those ignored by the society for the past hundreds of years.
A History of Caste
To be etymologically accurate, ‘caste’ is an English word derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word ‘casta’ meaning race, lineage or breed. ‘Jati’ as followed in India is different than ‘caste’. Jati is a more stratified sub-division of the ‘varna’ i.e. Shudra, Vaishya, Kshatriya, and Brahmin. The growing rigidity and immovability amongst jati transformed the theoretical Varna system into the modern caste system.
This system no doubt has its roots in the varna system. However extensive studies by Patrick Olivelle, that the Varna System of old was based more on the occupation of an individual and not determined by birth. Intermingling and inter-marriage thus do not become a concept itself as there was free movement from one Varna to another.
Throughout the Vedic texts, we find no mentions of a stratified and rigid system of caste. Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, professors of Sanskrit and Religious studies, state, “there is no evidence in the Rigveda for an elaborate, much-subdivided and overarching caste system”, and “the Varna system seems to be embryonic in the Rigveda and, both then and later, a social ideal rather than a social reality”.
In fact, studies by Cynthia Talbot, Richard Eaton, Jamal Malik, Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, Susan Bayly and others tell us that caste did not have a rigid and defining character all throughout the Vedic, post-Vedic, Classical, Medieval, Sultanate and Mughal periods of the sub-continent’s history. It was only after the fall of the Mughal Empire and because of the system of segregation by the British that caste started to develop a more and more stern and uncompromising nature in the social strata.
For the first time in history, population census began to be based on jati. Susan Bayly mentions “the British colonial era census caste tables ranked, standardized and cross-referenced jati listings for Indians on principles similar to zoology and botanical classifications, aiming to establish who was superior to whom by virtue of their supposed purity, occupational origins, and collective moral worth”.
Castes began to be designated as worthy or unworthy depending on their propensity to rebel against the British Raj. Influenced by the Social Hierarchy existing in Britain at the time, the Governments began segregating ‘higher’ castes from the ‘lower’. Absurd race science was applied to determine and divide the populations between Aryans and Dravidians. Higher offices and lucrative jobs were only granted to these so called ‘higher’ castes thus promoting rigidity. Entire sections of populations were deemed to be criminals-by-birth only by virtue of their birth in castes which traditionally opposed the British Rule.
The infamous ‘Divide and Rule’ was practiced not only in respect of opposing Kings and Princes or Hindus and Muslims but was used systematically to divide, deepen and rot the Hindu social order.
As mentioned earlier, the struggle against this increasingly solidifying system was undertaken in parallel to the independence struggle by stalwarts like Phule and Ambedkar. It was due to their endeavor that independent India decided to eradicate the Caste System.
The Government of Independent India first provided for mandatory Reservations in Government educational institutions in the Constitution of India in effect from January 26, 1950. The present ‘Caste-based Reservation’ allows for a total of 49.5% reservation in educational institutions which is bifurcated into 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes, 15% for Scheduled Castes and 27% for Other Backward Classes.
The question that beckons is whether this policy of Reservation still holds a place in India’s legislation 70 years after Independence?
We know that any policy of any Government is only as good as its implementation. Thus the question that we should be asking is not whether Reservation still holds a place, it’s whether it has been implemented in the correct manner throughout these 70 years of Independence. Please consider the following example:
Let’s assume the year 1950 and a Dalit man ‘Mr. A’ on a hand-to-mouth existence. As was the practice, norm, lack of awareness or whatever you may call it, such a person would invariably get married early and sire 3-4 children at the very least. Now for a man himself living on pennies, it would, obviously, not have been possible for him to educate his children, inspite of the free education provided by the Government, as every child in school literally meant one less working hand for the family. However ‘Mr. A’ has a penchant for education and wishes for his children to be educated. But, how much ever he may have wished for their education, the maximum possible education he could afford for them would be primary school, after which they had to start working for the family to sustain. Thus all the State’s free education and all the State’s reservation was essentially ineffective for his children
Now Mr. A’s son, Mr. B, has grown up and because of his primary education, he is a smidge better off than his father before him. However, this is still not enough for him to earn a respectable income to educate his children more than what his father was able to afford for him. The maximum level that Mr. B would be able to allow his children to study would probably have been the Matriculate Examinations or the SSC now.
‘Mr. C’ is the son of Mr. B. Mr. C is consequently better off than his father Mr. B and grandfather Mr. A. However Mr. C is also just an SSC student when compared to his upper-class peers who are much more educated than him due to their obvious advantage (this is highlighted by the income disparity amongst the castes as explained further). As a result Mr. C again stays at the bottom of the economic ladder in society. Further due to his limited means, he too, even though a bit more than what his father did for him, is not able to give his children the benchmark education
Now with the general assumption that a generation has a span of 20 years, where does that leave Mr. C’s son, Mr. D today? Here is a man who has availed reservation, and now falls in the ‘creamy layer’. Thus, his descendants can no longer avail reservation and he, himself, is still ‘only a Graduate’ in an age where even a professional degree does not ensure a decent livelihood!
Doesn’t this answer the question above?
I would like to delve upon this particular quote by Hon’ble former Supreme Court Judge P. B. Sawant. As he explains, though prima facie the Reservation policy appears to discriminate the individual freedoms and rights of the section of
Though prima facie the Reservation policy appears to discriminate the individual freedoms and rights of the section of the population not covered in the ‘reserved category’, our current policy intends to include and integrate the ‘socially and educationally’ backward classes of our society. Had financial position been a criterion, it would have been applicable to the society as a whole and not to any particular class. As a result, there again would have been an unequal parity among the population which was present through centuries and which in itself was responsible for the caste divide that we see today.
The right to equality without the capacity and the means to avail of the benefits equally is a cruel joke on the deprived sections of the society.
The cause of this heartless structure is inconsequential. How was it intended to be and why it became so rigid is hardly of any matter now. The ugly fact still remains that we face numerous problems because of it today. Apart from a large section of society still remaining impoverished, we Indians are a highly inflammable lot who promptly descend into dreadful violence at mere words uttered by people. We already have religion, region, language, ideologies and innumerable other factors readily dividing us. Why do we need one which has not even been in existence for the better part of our history?