India got its independence on the unforgettable day of the 15th of August, 1947. After years of struggling and protest India finally became a republic and broke away from the chains and shackles of the torturous British colonial rule which had left it wounded and scathed.
After British left India, India was left poor and divided. It has now been more than half a decade since India got its independence and attained its freedom. Today, India is one of the largest democracies and economies in the world.
It is one of the most powerful nations on the planet and would soon beat its colonialist in terms of wealth and power. It would not be wrong to say that India has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go.
There are many policies and structures in the Indian political system that is reminiscent of the colonial rule in India and has been followed since before its independence. One such policy is the policy of reservation. The policy of reservation in India has been a subject of a lot of controversies and has undergone a lot of changes since its inception.
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What is the policy of Reservation?
In India, the policy of reservation is a policy in which seats are reserved (not more that 50% as ruled) in Government educational, administrative or political institutions for the people belonging to the backward communities who are believed to be economically, socially and politically impoverished.
The main aim of the reservation policy is primarily to ensure that these backward communities get adequate representation in these educational, political or administrative institutions so that these communities can uplift themselves out of their impoverished state.
The reservation policy was never meant to be permanent. It was meant to be a boost to the backward and improvised communities so that they are uplifted and contribute to the development of their nation and find a respectful place in the society.
Origin and Background of the Policy of Reservation
The necessity for the unique policy of reservation in India stems from its societal structure since ancient times. The society was divided according to the caste system which was decided by the occupation of the person. The person’s occupation was decided by the caste she/he was born in.
These four castes were the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The Brahmins were the teachers and priests, the Kshatriyas were the warriors and administrators, the Vaishyas were the traders and businessmen and the Shudras were the paid servants.
The people who did not fit in any of these castes or varnas, because of being of mixed origin, or outside the scope of the caste structure were referred to as the Untouchables. These Untouchables were ill- treated, assigned menial tasks and were forced to live in the outskirts. They could not use the resources used by the other castes and they were considered the lowest of the low.
High castes did not touch the things that the Untouchables touched and oppressed them. They had no respect and were often humiliated. This oppression had been going on for a long time.
These Untouchables were denied education, resources and a chance to develop themselves by these so- called ‘high caste’. They were not given any rights. They were oppressed and subjugated and there was a need to uplift them. This is where the policy of reservation comes into play. This policy was originally aimed to provide opportunities to the communities that had been oppressed for so long.
They were so far back behind the other communities in terms of development that providing them with reservation was considered as a good way to bring them at par with the other communities. So, the policy of reservation was not considered to be against the doctrine of equality. To remove this age old, socially approved oppression and provide opportunities to the backward communities was the main idea behind introducing the policy of reservation.
Policy of Reservation before Indian Independence
The idea of reservation was introduced by the famous Maratha ruler Shahu in the 19th century. He understood the age old oppression of the backward communities and decided to reserve half of the total seat for them so that they could develop themselves.
Later, through the Government of India Act, 1909 and the Government of India Act, 1919, the policy position of reservation in India was further consolidated. Soon, in the first half of the 20th century, separate electorates for these communities were also introduced.
It was supported and introduced by the eminent lawyer, scholar and economist Dr. B. R. Ambedkar himself who was the pioneer of the rights of the Untouchables in India. But, this policy was vehemently opposed by Mahatma Gandhi who was fearful of the divide this policy would create in the Indian society.
Mahatma Gandhi soon took too fast to oppose this policy which resulted in an agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar which was popularly known as the Poona Pact. But, the policy of reserving seats for the ‘Depressed Classes’ continued while the process of separate electorates was done away with.
Policy of Reservation after Indian Independence
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is known as the father of the Indian Constitution. He was the President of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly and the first Law Minister of Independent India. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was instrumental in introducing the policy of reservation in the Indian Constitution so that this policy would have legal and constitutional backing.
In Part III of the Constitution of India which includes the Fundamental Rights, Article 15 lays down that the government can make provisions for the advancement and development of any socially, educationally and educationally backward classes who were refereed to as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
These communities had been oppressed for so long that to uplift them, reservation became necessary.
The policy of reservation was considered to be an act of positive discrimination and was considered to be along the lines of equality and justice. Not everyone starts at the same base line. Some need to be given a share in resources just to be at par with others.
Equality is not absolute. Equals need to be treated equally. Bearing this in mind, the Government amended the Constitution and added an exception clause to the fundamental right to Equality guaranteed by our Constitution. Article 16 (3) and 16 (4) allows the government to reserve seats for the local residents of the state in state educational institutions or state administrative institutions.
Later, after the famous case of Indra Sawhney V. Union of India, the Mandal Commission was set up which recommended the reservation of seats for the classes categorized as the Other Backward Classes of the OBCs which did not come under the category of the Schedule Castes (SC) or the Schedule Tribes (ST).
But, it was ruled that reservation of seats could not exceed 50 % or half of the total number of seats. Thus the Constitution of our country empowers the government to make certain provisions that would benefit the very castes that have a history of being oppressed and not being represented adequately.
The Controversy surrounding the Policy of Reservation
Many people consider reservation of seats for a certain community to be against our fundamental right to equality. They feel that providing seats to people belonging to a certain community would work against such communities because such a policy is not based on merits of the individual but by factors that she cannot control.
Thus, the important fact of merit is completely ignored due to this policy and candidates who are more hard -working and deserving get left behind. Due to this, there have been many protests in India against this policy of reservation.
There have been many protests due to other reasons as well. Many people feel that their community should be included in the list of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes and should be given the benefits of reservation. There have been many agitations for this, leading to controversies.
Due to this, the policy of reservation has unfortunately become politicized and is used by cunning politicians as a tool to win votes by making false promises.
The generally accepted view is that the policy of reservation should be on the basis of economic factors rather than a person’s caste. Reservation plays an important role in Indian Politics. It is often felt that the policy is outdated and major changes needs to be made.
India needs to develop, but there are many other more fruitful ways than reservation to achieve that. Thus, India needs to revamp and rethink its policy of reservation and make sure that resources and opportunities reach to the people that deserve it and are in need of it.