Reservation is a kind of affirmative action taken up by the Indian state to uplift the marginalized and historically disadvantaged sections of the country. It is seen in many sectors of including those of education, employment, and political participation.
Stated in Articles 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution, the system of reservation is meant to be a step towards achieving equality and equity by causing an upwards push towards the ‘socially and educationally backward classes’ of the population.
HISTORY OF RESERVATION
India has witnessed caste-based affirmative action even before its independence.
In 1954, it was recommended by the Ministry of Education that 20% of seats in educational institutions should be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It was also suggested that the qualifying marks for these sections of society be relaxed by 5%. A decision came about in 1982 when it was decided that 15 percent and 7.5 percent vacancies would be reserved for SCs and STs respectively in government-owned and government-aided educational institutions.
A major shift in the system of reservation came about after the Mandal Commission of 1979. The Committee recommended the introduction of a reservation of 27% in public sector bodies for OBCs (Other Backward Classes), considering that they formed more than 50% of the country’s population. This was however not implemented until the 1990s.
In 2019, the government announced a 10% reservation of economically weaker sections of the upper castes in educational institutions.
Reservation, though controversial, has been advantageous for the society in some ways.
- As was intended, the reservation has helped the lower rungs of society to improve their socio-economic standing in society. More and more people from SCs, STs, and OBCs are being included in mainstream education, employment, and politics.
- Reservation has provided agency to those sections of the society that have previously gone unheard. By being part of the political system of the country, they are now able to voice their demands and rights that they seek from the center.
- It has also made the society more representative, be it in politics or other sectors, it is now feasible for SCs, STs, and OBCs to occupy positions in high places which would previously have been inaccessible.
In many ways, the reservation has also been a contentious issue. This is due to the following reasons.
- People have raised concerns about how the reservation system may disrupt the unity of the nation. Though, it can also be debated that there would not be any unity in a society where most of its population was drowning in poverty and desolation and there was no way to raise them from such a state.
- Critics have argued that in pursuit of providing justice to one section of the society, the state has deprived another. More deserving students do not get seats and lost opportunities create feelings of detestation in their minds.
- Concerns have also been leveled at the validity and quality of today’s workforce when half of them have been recruited with the help of reservation.
- The main beneficiaries of affirmative actions are the dominant portions of the lower classes and castes. The real marginalized sections still remain marginalized.
The most controversial issue about reservation is probably the non-existence of reservation on the basis of gender. Despite the Women’s Reservation Bill being passed in the Rajya Sabha, the Bill still un-voted in the Lok Sabha. Currently, only the states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have a reservation for women in all state government sectors.