Reservation: A Path to Equal Representation
By: Shubhangi Mishra
Reservation in India has always been a very controversial topic. Controversial for various reasons like if the minorities deserve it or are they benefitting from a scheme that was supposed to be only 10 years long. Contrary to the popular belief that the reservation system is now being used by minorities as an excuse, there are various reasons why they still deserve and need it. While everyone has a different opinion on reservation, many are still failing to understand its importance.
Back in 1909, when the British Raj introduced the reservation system, it wasn’t supposed to last this long. At the Round Table Conference of June 1932, things took a turn when the Prime Minister of Britain introduced special separate representation for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans. It also provided depressed classes, i.e., the SCs and STs a number of seats to be filled by election from constituencies in which only they could vote, although they could also vote in other seats. After the bill was proposed, it got subjected to severe backlash and Mahatma Gandhi fasted in protest. On the other hand, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar saw this as an opportunity to finally establish a path towards equality that will help India in the future. Later, they both reached an agreement, and the Poona Pact was signed, which provided a single Hindu electorate with Dalits having seats reserved within it. Electorates for other religions, such as Islam and Sikhism, remained separate. After independence, significant amendments were made to accommodate SCs, STs, and OBCs who had been subjected to a lot of discrimination over the years.
Reservation in our country is critically influenced by the caste system that was and still is prevalent in various parts. The Indian caste system is the longest one to last till date. Under this system, people are divided into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. The most harshly affected are the Shudras, still suffering from caste-based discrimination, popularly known as casteism. The idea of reservation was born due to the prolonged oppression faced by the minorities in India. This crucial step was taken for the upliftment of those sections of the society that were failing to be equally represented and were consistently a victim of casteism.
In order to provide them equal status, the Constitution of India made provisions to protect these vulnerable communities. Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution sanctioned the State and Central Governments to recognize SCs and STs by reserving seats for government services. Article 330 and 332 included the representation of SCs and STs in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies through the reservation of seats. Article 243D equips SCs and STs with reservation in Panchayats. Another Article, Article 233T, ensures SC and ST representation in every Municipality by reserving seats. Article 335 of the Constitution says that the claims of SCs and STs shall be taken into consideration consistently with the maintenance of efficacy of the administration. The government has made sure that during recruitment 33% seats are reserved for Women, a major priority is to be given to Other Minority women, ST women, SC women, ST men, SC men, OBC women, OBC men, EWC women, EWC men, and after that Open category gets taken into account. The 81st amendment was made to the Constitution to permit the government to treat the backlog of reserved vacancies as a separate and distinct group, to which the ceiling of 50 percent did not apply. The 82nd amendment inserted a provision in Article 335 to arrange the states to grant concessions to SC and ST candidates when considered for promotions. Various other amendments have also been made in order to make them feel more inclusive.
While these Acts are helping in combating the historical injustices faced by the under-recognized communities, we must not overlook the injustices that take place even now. Dalits and OBCs are still exposed to numerous forms of violence and discrimination just because they belong to a supposedly lower caste. Every day various cases of harsh behavior and ferocity against them, including murders, are reported, and somehow people still question the need for special treatment for them. Dalit activists have recognized the loopholes in our flawed caste system and are actively voicing their opinions against the preconceived notions about them. As a society, we must use our platform and privilege to amplify their voices and contribute towards pushing them forward rather than inspecting if they deserve equal recognition or not.
As for the people constantly contemplating the necessity of reservation, they are the ones who usually belong to the upper castes that have been privileged since birth. The problem often is that they haven’t faced casteism, which makes it easy for them to ignore the obstacles of the oppressed ones. People need to understand that we aren’t violating anyone’s rights by giving special treatment to the disadvantaged communities; rather we are only trying to establish and enhance the equality within our country. They too are citizens of our nation and have the right to be represented just as much as anyone else. Their needs and requirements are valid as anybody else's, and it is our responsibility to not only recognize this but also call out the discrimination they have been facing all along.