Reservation in India - The Never Ending Debate?

people walking in narrow street with full of food stalls during daytime


It is the season of admissions and applications. After almost 3 months of a rigorous and brutal marathon of examinations, students of 10th and 12th have spent the last 2 months anticipating their exam results and the circus that follows, while also giving entrance tests to all kinds of institutes. The results have been rather anticlimactic. The real chaos has come with the admission process, and perhaps more important than the cutoffs have been the waiting lists because thanks to reservations, the admission process has been turned into a miniature bloodless version of The Hunger Games. 
Students vie for the top universities and furnish their caste certificates more prominently than their mark sheets. The general category students often end up incredibly frustrated and irritated because their merit seems to count for nothing and they end up feeling cheated out of their seats due to the reservation system.
The Origins  
The reservation system was not a new concept when it was introduced by the Mandal commission way back in 1979. Long before Independence, there were schemes to give preferential employment to certain castes in civil service. This existed only on paper though as more often then not, the British applicant would be promoted much higher and much faster than a native. However, the Mandal Commission was established to “identify the socially and economically backward classes of India” by Morarji Desai.
The Mandal commission was supposed to convene every 10 years in order to protect Article 15 of the Indian Constitution (Prohibition of Discrimination). The commission identified the castes that needed incentives to grow out of poverty and change the socio-political status quo on the basis of the opportunities provided to them. Except, they did not have any data to work with. They did not have the number of people of different casts, their habitations or anything about their current financial status. So, they did the most logical thing and used the latest census data. The only problem with this genius idea was that the last census data they had available was from the year 1931. Which made the data at the very least half a century out of date. The timeline of events
On the basis of this extremely outdated set of data, the commission created a set of 11 parameters and whichever caste ticked off 50% of the criterion were included in the SC and ST list. Castes that were determined to be too small to be mentioned were lumped up together under Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The commission ultimately submitted a report that recommended a reservation quota of 22.5% reservation for SCs and STs and a further 27% for OBCs. This meant almost 50% reservation.
The Implementation
The Mandal report was submitted in 1980, but the Janata government had collapsed by then. Congress and BJP had strongly opposed the reservation idea and hence the Indira and Rajiv Gandhi governments were not keen to continue this venture. The Mandal report sat collecting dust until the V.P. Singh led National Front Government was elected into power in 1990. 
In August, they declared 27% reservation for jobs in the Central Government too much furore. The Supreme Court had to put a stay order on this since there was a claim that this reservation went against the very Constitution of the country on 3 counts. 

1. It violated the guarantee of equal opportunity to all citizens. 

2. Caste was not a reliable indicator of Backwardness. 

3. The efficiency of public institutions was at risk. Many people expected the Supreme Court would overturn the decision, but instead, let it proceed in 1992 with a 50% cap on reservations. 
As of today, the reservation is split as 22.5% for SCs and STs with 27% for OBSs. This means that of all the central government offices and funded institutes, 49.5% of all seats are reserved. Most of these seats often go unfilled or are sold off as management seats after a few rounds. The General category students have to compete twice as hard for a seat due to the reservation. 
The Pitfalls and the Way Forward
Time and again we see news reports of lynching, attacks and abuse of Dalits. Evidently, the reservation has not been working the way it was meant to. The system was supposed to be a dynamic structure that would be renewed every 10 years, except the numbers it was based on are almost a century old. Reservation has instead become a political tool for playing vote-bank politics. It creates resentment amongst the general category students and brings caste into the focus of 15-18-year olds when they enter the admission process. 
Time and again people write articles, blogs, Facebook posts or editorials about how the reservation system is flawed and needs to be replaced, but very few alternatives are put forth. One of the most popular ideas has been reservation on the basis of economic background. Splitting the reservation along financial boundaries would allow for the reduction in poverty and remove the focus from caste.
Communities that demand reservation now
Politically speaking, this reservation system has created a very interesting phenomenon. States are now putting up their own reservations to promote their own natives. Marathas in Maharashtra have demanded and obtained a reservation in Maharashtra at 12%. A state that was created because it had a majority if Marathas are now so threatened by the rest of the country that they want to make sure they retain their identity. Perhaps the worst part about this has been watching a community that once ruled over 2/3rds of the country demanding reservation meant for the socially and economically weaker sections of society. 
The Jats and Patels have followed the lead and are demanding reservations in Haryana and Gujrat respectively. This has rather serious implications for the nation as a whole. Perhaps it is time to remove the caste-based reservation entirely and establish one on economic lines before this becomes a socio-political issue instead of a simple policy issue.

- Nachiket Bhushan Kondhalkar


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Reservation in India - The Never Ending Debate? Reservation in India - The Never Ending Debate? Reviewed by EMN on August 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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