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Social backwardness, not economic status, should be the basis for reservation

Why reservations based on economic status would not be an alternative to the caste-based reservation?

By Vivashwan Singh
Updated on :
Social backwardness, not economic status, should be the basis for reservation

The Narendra Modi government has approved a 10 per cent reservation for economically backward upper castes in government jobs and education. Following the cabinet approval, the government will now move to amend the Constitution in order to grant this reservation on the basis of economic backwardness. In order to do so, the government will amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution which would benefit several upper castes across the country.

The existing reservation policies had been highly unpopular among the middle classes, but of late, dominant groups like Jats, Patels and Marathas had also began demanding reservation for themselves. The upper caste groups had long back begun violent protests demanding reservation quotas on the basis of economic status of the individuals. It is a matter of concern that the term ‘social backwardness’ is not correctly understood by people in India. Usually, socially backward communities are linked to a traditional occupation, which is considered to be inferior or “lowly” and sometimes even vilified. We usually never find a Brahmin doing manual scavenging or cleaning toilets in the households. If a caste or community is not established to be socially backward, the question of reservation would not arise. The economic status based reservation can never be an alternative to caste-based one because the poverty prevailing among the scheduled castes has its genesis in the social-religious deprivations based on caste system.

Also, the creamy layer in SC/ST and OBCs cannot be excluded from reservation policies because they are entitled to protection against discrimination based on their group identity. As far as economically weak SCs and STs are concerned they need both financial support as well as reservation to ensure fair access to employment and education.

The solution to every problem is to strike it at its roots but poverty is an effect having its roots in the caste system. The economic status of individuals are subject to change and most importantly, in a caste-ridden India, infested with rampant corruption, it will be a cakewalk to purchase a false “Income Certificate” from the authorities. The ‘economic criterion’ simply allows upper caste groups to monopolise state power which is something that the reservation scheme was meant to counter.

The Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan demanded the central government to grant 15 per cent quota to poor people who belong to upper caste but the introduction of creamy layer in reserved categories with scuttle the whole effectiveness of reservations. The argument that SC/ST people use reservation quotas even after obtaining top positions in the society is popular propaganda circulated to make society believe that people from the lower castes are inefficient and don’t work hard since, they get through, using the quota system. The malicious campaign against reservation is spread rigorously on the grounds of education and employment because that’s perhaps the only time an “upper caste” feels discriminated on the basis of caste.

The people who have benefited from the reservation are in turn helping and inspiriting their communities to come up to their ranks. There is a feeling that reservation is contributing to the strengthening of casteism, by constantly reminding people about their caste and how they can use it to their advantage. However, it is the upper castes people who strengthen casteism by setting up their caste organisations and organising caste Sammelans (conventions).

Also in elections, open, and sometimes not-so-open, appeals are made to caste affinities, from the moment of choice of candidate to the time of the actual poll, to fuel casteism.

During a rally in Alwar, UP CM Yogi Adityanath said that Hindu God Hanuman was a Dalit tribal while appealing to people to vote for BJP. In 2017, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “neech aadmi (vile man)” and one who does “dirty politics”. Responding to Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks, Modi linked the word “neech”with  “neech” (lower) caste. “I have been called a neech, and this is an insult to Gujarat,” Modi said during an election rally in Surat. A person occupying a constitutional post is not expected to mislead the country, but in 2018 Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan raised questions over the benefits of reservation, by quoting Ambedkar who had said reservations must be only for 10 years.

Many eminent scholars and journalists too often get confused over the limit for quotas for government jobs and educational institutions, but the 10 years limit Ambedkar mentioned was only in reference to the political reservations in the legislature.

The SCs form around 16.2% of India’s population, while STs form 8.2% of it. Although there’s no accurate data available on the population of OBCs, a survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2006 had put the OBC population in the country at 40.94%. Going by the available statistical data, that SC, ST and OBC comprises of more than 65% of India’s population. The IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) have reserved 27%, 15% and 7.5% for OBCs (Non-Creamy Layer), SCs, and STs respectively.

It is to be observed that students belonging to communities which make up 65% of country’s population are competing in 49.5% seats while the ones accounting for 35% population are competing in 50.5% seats. Even in this scenario, the upper castes have the privilege of not facing stiff competition.

Many people complain that reservations are making India inefficient, but we must remember that to achieve economic efficiency, certain freedoms, like the choice of occupation, work and educational opportunities are necessary preconditions.

The reservation system is just like an athletics track where the players are given different starting positions to make sure that the distance they run in total is the same.

Until we create an environment where everyone is guaranteed some minimum capabilities through the guarantee of reservation, we cannot claim to have a fair competition.

The cabinet’s decision to grant 10 per cent reservation to those who are economically backwards comes months ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha election where Narendra Modi will be seeking a second term in office.