Reservation in India

7 Feb

When I talk about reservation certain questions crop up in my mind.

1)   Why is reservation given on caste bases?

2)    It affects merit? Does it?

3)   Has it helped in their development?

4)   Should it be scraped?

I need to specify that this article particularly talks about reservation for SC and ST. In this article I have made an attempt to find answers to these questions and how India can lead towards a Zero Reservation Policy, in my personal capacity.

1)   Why is reservation given on caste bases?

Marc Galanter a well known scholar and professor, and an international authority in the subject, explains in his book Competing Equalities, “ the policy of compensatory discrimination is premised on the understanding that, in a regime of formal equality and open competition, members of previously victimized group, burdened by accumulated disabilities, will fall further behind( or gain too slowly)”.  Thus to help the earlier victims to enlarge their capabilities and achieve equality a scheme of compensatory discrimination is necessary.

Lack of cultural resources, home environment, access to opportunity, unfavorable self-image, subjection to disabilities and discrimination, play a significant role in limiting the achievements of the members of the marginalized groups. Poverty is not the sole cause of backwardness it is only one of the factors affecting social position. Failure to take advantage of educational opportunities can be the best indicator of social backwardness, besides the atrocities and downtrodden treatment given to this people mostly in rural areas.

Even after 60 years of Independence and a long history of affirmative action the SC and ST still live in the outskirts of villages. Those who are in favour of  economic condition as bases for reservation should know that ,  it was given to SC and ST  to  be a part of ruling section of this country which was (and  is ) dominated by upper caste people.


To further support my point, I have linked two videos of Dr Subramanian Swamy where he has supported reservation for SC & ST with the backing of actual facts. It will be worth mentioning that both these videos are not part of any political rally; first is from a seminar and second is from a book launch.

If we still think that it should be based on economic bases the following table clearly shows that SCs and STs are the most economically downtrodden as well.



2)   It affects merit? Does it?

The main criticism that is often made is that reservation policy affects merit. Can anyone define what merit is? Are grit determination and ability to fight odds not the essentials of merit?  How correct it is to call an economically and socially upward person who scores distinction marks more meritorious than a so called poor one who has shown courage and determination against all social evils, humiliations, atrocities and financial odds but has not secured distinction marks?

Now tell me who is better qualified to face the odds in life and career? Who will be more suitable to tackle the development problem of a country consisting of two types of people, one who have been deprived of the equality and the opportunity to better his/her lot, and the other a well enriched rich while most of the problems relate to the welfare of the former.

And what is management? Is it not to plan and execute the programmes for the balanced development of society including the poor, socially disadvantaged, economically backward?

As reservation is in government jobs many people blame SC & ST for ineffectiveness and stagnation of public sector but it is  mainly due to lack of public servants.

3)   Has it helped in their development?

This is the most contentious issue as development is explained in terms of an overall change which includes social progress, economic growth and changes in perception and attitude. It also includes greater political participation and more access to power. In case of SC and ST development means progress in their overall socio-economic condition and an upward enhancement in their caste status.

During the last sixty years or so, the share of SC/STs in the government services has improved quite significantly. But this development is uneven. Though the literacy rate of SC has increased considerably, from 10.3% in 1961 to 54.7% in 2001 till recently the gap between literacy rates of the general and SC population has not been reduce.  The school dropout rates for SC children are still very high 32% in Classes I to V; 55.2% in Classes I to VIII; and 69.1% in classes I to X in 2004–05.  In the area of higher education, also, there is a gap between the SCs and the general population. The gross enrolment ratio for the country as a whole in 2000 was about 10%. For the SCs, however, it was significantly lower at 6.4%.

During same period the literacy for ST increased 5.32 times, while that of total population increased 2.69 times, however the gap between the literacy rates of ST and general population continued during the three decade between 1971 and 2001 almost at the same level of 17.70% and above, but with marginal variations. The dropout rates are still very high –42.3% in Classes I to V; 65.9% in Classes I to VIII; and 79.0% in Classes I to X in 2004–05. (For further information check Social Justice- of Planning Commission)

pp., – 105, 106, 107, 113, 114

Despite of all effort the SC have secured  between 10.25% to 11.25 % in IAS and Class I services, 12.06% to 13 % in Class II and 15 % in Class III services as against the prescribed 15% reservation in each category. They are mostly sidelined and given regulatory departments. They, have, therefore, no hand in policy planning and implementation so crucial for their people’s amelioration and emancipation. This has created unevenness.

The article by Supriya Verma which appeared in The Economic Times gives us a glimpse of how effectively is government working for the development and welfare of SC & ST.

4)   Should it be scraped?

Undeniably, protective discrimination policy and other policies and programmmes initiated by the Indian government have helped the weaker sections in getting access to different jobs in government, public sector undertakings, political arena and educational institutions.  But this development as explained above is unevenly distributed and mostly (not always) limited in urban area. On one hand there is a small section of population(creamy layer) who has benefited from reservations for two to three generations, whereas on other hand there is a large section of population which is still marginalised and has never received the benefits of reservation even ones. The situation in most of the rural areas of our country has not changed much in last sixty years.

What should be done?

Government should establish a commission which should include intellectuals from all sections of society. This will review the need and effect of reservations every 10 years. It should also ensure that reservations are applied effectively and appropriately to the needy, there should be an audit report on reservation every year and local government should try to curb corruption in Tehsildars office which is responsible for giving caste certificate. The quality of basic education should be increase which is the root cause of problem. The quality of education is so pathetic even in small cities one can only imagine what happens in most of rural areas. Following video shows a glimpse of it.

Creamy layer which is applicable to OBCs should also be applicable to SC & ST, but the criteria must be clearly specified and based on current data. SCs and STs who have taken benefits of reservations, developed themselves and have entered into main stream should be excluded from reservation. This will help the still marginalized and backward section of SC and ST people to get reservations, as this creamy layer who has established monopoly over reservation will be excluded, and benefits of reservation will reach to the real needy. Once the gap between the SC/ST and general population is reduced and they join main stream along with general sections, India can move towards Zero Reservation policy till then we should continue with reservations for SC & ST.


 By Sumedh Lokhande






8 Responses to “Reservation in India”

  1. smita bankar February 9, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    hey sumedh its really fantastic nad gr8 to know dat we r intellectual who hve to make people understand the clearcut fact of reservation and those who blindly oppose it must be made realised about it…Good job keep it up!!!!

  2. Vipul February 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Sumedh great job!!..It mirrors a careful assessment of all dimensions. Reservation issue is inundated with intricacy and requires a measured reaction from all section of the society….Keep it up!!

  3. Vikrant February 13, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    I am totaly agree with you on most issues but have fundamental questions.
    1) As SC & ST’s are most backward communities in India and continiously pushing further by Neo Liberal onslaught. And most of the opportunities are accessible only to better off section, how can then reservation will be productive?
    2) Reservation is strongly associate with Welfare government which made it usefull by creating opportunities like qualitative government schools and large scale government spending in social sector. But government is cutting spending in social sector and is withdrawning from it. So there is dearth of opportunities accessible to poor and marginalised section of society, SC & ST are constitute bulk of it. And reservation is not applicable to private sector which is dominant sector in Indian economy, so how it is going to beneficial to targeted population?

    • sumedh February 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      It’s good to see that you agree on most of the issues that I have raised and tried to provide a solution. The questions that I have raised have been and are been raised by people who are against reservation, most of them know nothing or very little about reservation and oppose it blindly as they feel that it has affected them adversely.
      For e.g. take a look at this article which is against reservation
      This article not only shows the hatred among the upper caste and upper class against reservation but also their apathy towards issue related to SC/ST , there are thousands of such articles against reservation which raise the same question and mostly have biased or wrong facts to support their argument. In fact the author of this article believes that SC/ST have 27% of reservation which is 22.5% (15%SC/ 7.5%ST). My article also raises the same questions but in support of reservation with help of relevant governmental documents and facts.
      The above explanation has connection to your first question.
      In this article I have myself criticized the ineffectiveness of reservation, the effectiveness of reservation was low even before Neo liberal world because of various reasons, most important of them is lack of political will on the part of the government and also on the part of bureaucracy in particular about the welfare schemes for SC & ST. There is high rate of disparity in the implementation of reservation policy for SC & ST which has resulted into serious economic consequences, which are closely connected to their life. Not only this, there is a lot of contradiction between funds allocated for the development of the SC/ST and actual spending by government what is even worse is that this dedicated funds are been diverted to other departments.
      Globalization is making a considerable impact on all the sections of society in India but most adversely affected are the marginalized. Although the government pretends to reduce the disparity, in the phase of globalization, large numbers of posts have been wiped by the government itself. Eradication of reservation posts on large scale could be seen in all public sectors. The most common reason given for it is excess recruitment. During the last few years, several lakhs of reserved posts mostly high-class have been wiped out.
      Hence, it’s a three way bulling of reservation first by lack of willingness of government, second by globalisation, third by conservative upper caste and class. I have also given some recommendations for the efficient implantation which will give more productive results of reservation policy. Efforts should be made to observe that it is being implemented sincerely and honestly. However the reservation would not be enough for the productive development. Many side developments, as described in my article would be required.

      As long as benefits to the targeted population is concerned whatever little development you see among SC/ST it’s because of reservation and other protective policy. After Globalisation the restructuring of the public sector was accomplished through the National Renewal Fund as part of the New Industrial Policy (1991), which called for voluntary retirement schemes, technological advancement and government disinvestment. The new policy of structural adjustment had an adverse impact on employment in the formal economy, reducing it from some 10 per cent in the early 1990sto approximately 7% in 2009 the remaining 93% workers most of which belong to the backward sections of society work in informal sector. Despite the resulting decade-long high economic growth from the structural adjustments, the majority of the workforce, accounting for nearly 93% of the informal economy, did not share in the fruits of that growth.
      Hence one thing is clear reservation for jobs in public sector is not helpful anymore. According to me the most beneficial in this neoliberal world is reservation in education which is still not affected much. Education leads to social development, economic development, cultural development etc. Education is empowerment, what so ever may be the socio economic status of the person, it leads to his empowerment.
      Correct me if I am wrong, as far as I know you want a revolution among the marginalised against the haphazard implementation of reservation and other protective policies by government which is turning ugly in the era of neo liberal world. But as long as reservation in education exist it can liberate SC/ST from there miseries and destitution. I know there are problems with reservation in education also, but you can’t reconstruct a ship in middle of an ocean you have to look for leakages and repair it.
      Let me quote DR B. R. Ambedkar “For a successful revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights” which one becomes aware only through education.

  4. Ajinkya Gaikwad March 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    By saying that reservations have brought the SCs and STs in the “mainstream”.. are you trying to limit it to the ‘economic’ domain overlooking and ignoring the ‘social’ domain.??.

    Because in my opinion reservations haven’t really changed the social status of these communities..Reservation was a sort of a social policy constituted for social emancipation and i dont really think that the stigma of the ‘caste’ has vanished…the recent attacks on Dalits in Maharashtra’s hinterland has actually reinvigorated the issue of ‘social’ equality and status…

    I would like to know your views on the recent interview of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh president, Prakash Ambedkar where he said that it is high time to get rid of reservation for SCs/STs in electoral politics.

    • sumedhironman March 4, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      What I mean by mainstream here, is a kind of economic, political and social independence which can be achieved through education. Today there are a number of SC/ST people who have developed themselves, and are doing jobs in Public as well as private sectors, in fact today u can also see SC/ST entrepreneurs, though the number is small but you can’t ignore their presence. These are those people who received education, went to cities got better opportunities and were able to establish themselves. Today these people belong to upper middle class – middle class strata, and there are many people among them who don’t disclosed there caste, they also don’t use financial benefits as they are financially stable. But they do have the notion of caste within them and if any uneven thing happens to them they first go to Dalit organization and say that injustice has happened to a Dalit.

      At least they can raise their voice against injustice, through judiciary system and other legal remedies as they have the financial backing along with some knowledge of law. But when any atrocity takes place against a poor Dalit in the hinterlands of India they don’t have any resource to fight back for justice and it’s hard for them to get any support. e.g. The Nevasa Massacre in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra that took place on 1st January 2013, it never came in mainstream media. The local activist alleged that the negligence to this incidence occurred even at the local level, where most of the media person belongs to Maratha and other castes and that this is an important dimension in understanding the neglect of the case by media which calls itself as the fourth pillar of Indian democracy. Hence no matter how modern we become caste system still persist as it not only gives economic profit or loss but it is also an important factor which defines your social status and has been used by politicians to unite or divide people. So in today’s mainstream politics you can’t distinguish facts as black or white it will also remain a gray area with caste based politics embedded in it.

      As far as your second question is concerned, I also don’t believe that reservation in politics had made any difference for SC/ST. Political reservation has only created sycophant and yes mans of ruling parties, capitalist and upper caste peoples, who are loyal and obey them blindly. As a result the candidate who wins election from a reserved seat mostly belongs to Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena or any other party, many a times the candidates in this seats are borrowed from other district only to fill place by the loyalist, Pandharpur, Latur, and Vadgoan are some examples. When this people come to power they have to fall along the party line and obey orders from their party high command as a result the condition of the marginalised and deprived people haven’t changed much. Its open truth that political reservation has only helped major parties those have ability to co-opt the marginalised and maintain the status quo. This system has its root in ‘The Poona Pact’ Dr. Ambedkar predicted that under reservation this kind of system would occur hence he opted for separate electorate but instead he had to settle for reserved seats, as a consequence he himself was defeated in 1952 general elections by Congress party candidate N. S. Kajrolkar.

      Electoral reservation was initially given only for 10 years as it was believed that people from the deprived community will be able to develop themselves but this didn’t happened, and since then the ruling parties have extended it on the ground that the marginalised have not yet developed and should be given reservation. It means first keep SC/ST underdeveloped and through reserved seats see to it that only loyalists comes to power. Today you can’t distinguish caste factor from politics, further the 73rd and 74th amendment has made caste system in rural areas stronger than ever. So when a Dalit leader like Prakash Ambedkar says that it should be removed as it is not useful for SC/ST, he should also consider the fact that whatever representation of SC/ST in politics is only because of reservation, you will hardly see any SC/ST candidate wining from an open seat, what I fell instead of only keeping Caste as single criteria for reservation candidates economic and educational background should also be considered, a poor Dalit who had received education through hard work can efficiently represent the marginalised, rather than a pampered yes man of major ruling parties.

  5. Kester Pereira March 4, 2013 at 4:28 am #

    It’s a really good article in the sense that it provides a solution and not simply a

    description of a theme. Reservations has and will be a controversial topic and I

    believe the author has done justice to this theme.

  6. Akash Unnikrishnan July 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Really sir, its an outstanding article. You have nicely covered all these topics in your lectures.

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