Reservation In India

1. Caste System

Cast: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is derived from the Portuguese casta, meaning “race, lineage, breed” and, originally, “‘pure or unmixed (stock or breed)”.

The caste system in India has its origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. Untouchability and injustice based on caste still exists in certain parts of the country.

Castes in India were broadly divided into four different categories:
  • Brahmins: Priests; Academics
  • Kshatriyas: Warriors; Kings
  • Vaishya: Merchants; Landowners
  • Sudra: Commoners; Peasants; Servants
  • Untouchables: Outcasts; Sweepers; Latrine cleaners 

2. Important concepts (equality of opportunity, preference & reservation, exploitative & protective discrimination, social justice, welfare state)

Meaning of Reservation: Reservation also known as Positive Discrimination or Affirmative actions are steps taken by the government to uplift the socially and economically weaker sections of the society. Reservation as a tool is used to reserve seats in Jobs, Government Institutions, and Legislature.

Equality is a powerful moral and political ideal that has inspired and guided human society for many centuries. It is implicit in all faiths and religions which proclaim all human beings to be the creation of God. As a political ideal the concept of equality invokes the idea that all human beings have an equal worth regardless of their color, gender, race, or nationality. It maintains that human beings deserve equal consideration and respect because of their common humanity. It is this notion of a shared humanity that lies behind, for instance, the notions of universal human rights or ‘crimes against humanity’. 

Preference and reservation are two different concepts used to attain equality among the citizens of a country. 

Discrimination as the name suggests, is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group differently from other people or groups of people. Discrimination has been a prevalent demon in countries around the world. Some countries witness discrimination on the basis of race, some on the basis of caste and most on the basis of gender. Economic discrimination too is a common concept in the world. India, however has been facing discrimination on the basis of decision in castes for centuries. It was until the constitution of India prohibited discrimination through article 17, the citizens were faced with the evil. Discrimination can be of two types, exploitative and protective.

A Welfare State is a concept of government in which the state or a well-established network of social institutions plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of citizens.

Why is Reservation given? The Caste System in India has existed since ancient times. Certain Socially backward sections of the society have been marginalized and hence cannot perform on an equal footing with the other privileged members of the society. Reservation is hence given to uplift and help these communities.

3. History of reservation

William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882 originally conceived the idea of caste-based reservation system. The reservation system that exists today, in its true sense, was introduced in 1933 when British Prime-Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the ‘Communal Award’. The award made provision for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and the Dalits. After long negotiations, Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the ‘Poona Pact’, where it was decided that there would be a single Hindu electorate with certain reservations in it. After independence, initially reservations were provided only for SCs and STs. OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.

Jyoti Rao Phule: 

One of the earliest critiques of the Caste System in India. His critique of the caste system began with an attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of Hindus. He considered them to be a form of false consciousness.

 At an education commission hearing in 1882, Phule called for help in providing education for exploited castes. To implement it, he advocated making primary education compulsory in villages. He also asked for special incentives to get more lower-caste people in high schools and colleges.

 On 24 September 1873, Phule formed Satyashodhak Samaj to focus on rights of depressed groups such women, the Shudra, and the Dalit. He is credited with introducing the Marathi word Dalit (broken, crushed) as a descriptor for those people who were outside the traditional varna system.


Communal Award- Ramsay MacDonald: 

On 16 August 1932, The Communal Award was created by the British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald. It was announced after the Round Table Conference (1930–32) and extended the separate electorate to depressed Classes (now known as the Scheduled Caste) and other minorities. 

The separate electorate was introduced in Indian Councils Act 1909 for Muslims and extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans by Government of India Act 1919. The Award was controversial as it was believed by some to have been brought in by the British to create social divide among the Hindus. 

Gandhi feared that it would disintegrate Hindu society. However, the Communal Award was supported by many among the minority communities, most notably the Father of Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

The Poona Pact: 

Poona Pact was an agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar on behalf of depressed classes and upper caste Hindu leaders on the reservation of electoral seats for the depressed classes in the legislature of British India in 1932. It was made on 24 September 1932 at Yerwada Central Jail in Poona, India. 

It was signed by Ambedkar on behalf of the depressed classes and by Madan Mohan Malviya on behalf of Hindus and Gandhi. Poona pact was used as a means to end the fast that Gandhi was undertaking in jail as a protest against the decision made by British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald to give separate electorates to depressed classes for the election of members of provincial legislative assemblies in British India. 

They finally agreed upon 148 electoral seats. Nearly twice as many seats were reserved for Depressed Classes under the Poona Pact than what had been offered by MacDonald’s Separate Electorate.

4. Constitutional Provisions related to Reservations 
  • Part 16- of The Indian Constitution: Part XVI of the Constitution of India establishes that certain castes and tribes shall be represented in the Lok Sabha (the lower house in India’s bicameral legislature) in proportion to their population—that is, if the specified caste makes up 20% of the population in a given province, at least 20% of that province’s members of the Lok Sabha must be of that caste. The Constitution specifies that this is to be accomplished “as nearly as may be”, accepting that due to limited delegation size proportions not always match exactly.
  • A15(4): Article 15(4) capacitates the state to create special arrangements for promoting the interests and welfare of socially and educationally backward classes of the society such as SC and STs. 
  •  77th Amendment 1995- The Constitution (Seventy Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 31st 1995. This Act extended reservations for promotion in employment for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SCs and STs). 

 77th Amendment’s objective stated that the representation of the SC’s and ST’s had not reached the desired level in the States and that this system had to be continued to bring about their adequate representation.

This amendment inserted a clause after the clause (4) of Article 16 of the Indian Constitution as follows:

(4A) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favor of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

  • A16(4): Provides “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the state.”
  • Article 330 and 332: Reservation of seats in the House of the People for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Seats in the House of People shall be reserved for (a) the Scheduled Castes; (b) the Scheduled Tribes except the Scheduled Tribes in Assam’s autonomous districts; and (c) the Scheduled Tribes in Assam’s autonomous districts. Article 332 of the Constitution of India provides for reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assemblies of the States. No person who is not a member of a Scheduled Tribe of any autonomous district of the State of Assam shall be eligible for election to the Legislative Assembly of the State from any constituency of that district.

Article 243D: Article 243D provides for reservation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in every Panchayat

5. Mandal Commission

In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 340 of the Constitution, the President appointed a backward class commission in December 1978 under the chairmanship of B. P. Mandal. The commission was formed to determine the criteria for defining India’s “socially and educationally backward classes” and to recommend steps to be taken for the advancement of those classes. 

The Mandal Commission concluded that India’s population consisted of approximately 52 percent OBCs, therefore 27% government jobs should be reserved for them.

The commission has developed eleven indicators of social, educational, and economic backwardness. Apart from identifying backward classes among Hindus, the Commission has also identified backward classes among non-Hindus (e.g., Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists. The Commission for the first time  included Hindus as well as non-Hindus

Mandal Commission generated an all-India other backward classes (OBC) list of 3,743 castes and a more underprivileged “depressed backward classes” list of 2,108 castes.


6. Landmark Judgements related to Reservations in India. 
  • State of Madras v. Smt. Champakan Dorairajan (1951) : 

In 1950, the year in which the Constitution came into operation, one Champakam Dorairajan, a Brahmin candidate, filed a petition for

issuance of a Writ of mandamus restraining the (then composite) state of Madras from enforcing a communal Government Order that provided for reservation in electoral constituencies. A full bench of the Madras High Court upheld the petitioner’s plea. The state appealed in the Supreme Court. A seven-judge bench dismissed the appeal. It was this judgment that necessitated the Constitution First Amendment, which added Clause (4) to Article 15. 

Indra Sawhney Case of 1992:

The Supreme Court while upholding the 27 percent quota for backward classes,struck down the government notification reserving 10% government jobs for economically backward classes among the higher castes. 

The Supreme Court in the same case also upheld the principle that the combined reservation beneficiaries should not exceed 50 percent of India’s population. The concept of ‘creamy layer’ also gained currency through this judgment and provision that reservation for backward classes should be confined to initial appointments only and not extend to promotions. 

Recently, the Constitutional (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has provided 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the “economically backward” in the unreserved category. The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness. This 10% economic reservation is over and above the 50% reservation cap.
  •  M. Nagaraj vs Union of India 2006:

In 2006, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court delivered its judgment validating parliament’s decision to extend reservations for SCs and STs to include promotions with three riders. It required the state to provide proof for the backwardness of the class benefitting from the reservation, for its inadequate representation in the position/service for which reservation in promotion is to be granted and to show how reservations in promotions would further administrative efficiency.

The judgment in Nagaraj soon gave rise to misgivings that it failed to recognise that the SCs and STs continued to suffer from centuries of discrimination, by requiring the state to reassess their backwardness in the case of reservations in promotions.  The critics of Nagaraj claimed that a five-judge bench erroneously and impliedly overruled a nine-judge bench decision in Indra Sawhney, which clearly held that SCs and STs are homogenous and could not be sub-categorised.

  • Jarnail Singh vs Lachhmi Narain Gupta 2018: 

Five-judge bench held that Nagaraj’s insistence on collection of quantifiable data on backwardness in relation to the SCs and STs was contrary to Indra Sawhney, and therefore, bad in law. But the bench approved Nagaraj’s insistence on proof for inadequate representation of classes for whom promotional posts are reserved, and on submission of additional proof that efficiency would not be impacted by such reservation, because of Article 335.

Secondly, the bench in Jarnail Singh held that the creamy layer principle is an essential aspect of the equality code, and therefore, exclusion of creamy layer while applying the principle of reservation is justified, even in the case of SCs and STs.


7. Types of reservation:
  1. Horizontal- provided to women and Persons with Disability in India. 
  2. Vertical- provided to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Economically Weaker Sections of the Indian society. This type is highly controversial among the Unreserved classes.
8. Reservation in Jobs

The government and public sector hires job seekers based on the percentage of reservations from two different categories. 

1st: Reservation type (SC, ST, OBC, EWC and other minorities) 

2nd:Unrestricted (General, SC, ST, OBC, EWC and other minorities).

 Priority in hiring is given to the reservation category, which includes 33 percent reservation for Women, Other Minorities women, ST women, SC women, ST Men, SC Men, OBC women, OBC Men, EWC Women, EWC Men, and only then Open category will be considered.


9. Reservation around the world

Reservations aren’t just a thing in India. Reservation systems occur in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, to name a few. However, while quotas are uncommon in countries, affirmative action is in use all across the world. Affirmative Action is the name given to the reservation system in the United States. In many places, racially discriminated groups are given additional numbers to ensure equal representation.

  • The United States has the policy of Affirmative action. 
  • Brazil has the Vestibular policy. 
  • The Equality Act 2010 was passed in the United Kingdom. 
  • Japan has policies in place to assist the Burakumin, who are considered as Japan’s outcasts. 
  • Employment equity (Canada) impacts aboriginals and minorities in Canada. 
  • Women and ethnic minorities are given priority in China. 
  • Quotas for Swedish speakers exist in Finland. 
  • Germany’s Gymnasium system has quotas. 
  • Israel implements affirmative action policies. 
  • Albanians have quotas in Macedonia. 
  • Malaysia has a new economic policy called the Malaysian New Economic Policy. 
  • Affirmative action is in place in New Zealand for Maoris and Polynesians. 
  • Women must make up 40% of the PCL boards in Norway. 
  • Romas in Romania are subject to quotas.
  •  Employment equity exists in South Africa. 
  • South Korea maintains a policy of affirmative action for Chinese and North Korean citizens. 
  • Sweden has a broad affirmative action policy.

The reservation policy in Bangladesh was scrapped in the government services after a huge protest march by thousands of students against keeping certain jobs for special group of people. The Prime Minister Hasina suggested this abolition as the students did not want the system. 

China’s success is owing to its emphasis on merit and a high-quality education system, which has driven it to compete with Western countries and produce world-class intellectual output. In 2016, China fell behind the United States in terms of the quantity of scholarly papers published, while the quality of the work published was not as high. China has a merit-based ‘Thousand Talents’ programme to attract top-quality out-of-country academics with world-class amenities and wages.


10. Objectivity- For and against

The debate about reservation in India has been  a hot topic for discussion for years now. The reasons for this are:

  1. Resources at stake- India faces issues like unemployment, poverty and hunger. This dearth of resources essential for survival is a serious cause of concern and hence the thought of preference of one section of society over the other in resource allocation is often a ground for conflict.
  2. Radically opposite views- factors like upbringing, immediate environment/society, historical background, mindset, etc. people in a diverse country like India tend to have different (often opposing) viewpoints. When faced against each other, as in the case of reserved and unreserved categories, these might lead to mutual conflicts.
11. EWS reservation

Economic reservation just like caste based reservation was introduced with the purpose of providing equality to the economically weaker sections of the society.In 2019, the Indian Parliament passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Third) Amendment Act, which added Articles 15(6) and 16(6) to the Indian Constitution, allowing the state to reserve jobs and seats in public services and educational institutions for EWS candidates, respectively. For such reservations, a 10% ceiling has been set, which is separate from all other reservations made for other groups. The family income, agricultural land, residential house, and plot will determine an individual’s economic backwardness. The bill aims to help persons with a family income of less than Rs. 8 lakh per annum, farmland of less than 5 acres, a residential plot of less than 1000 square feet, and a residential plot within 100 yards of a notified municipality, or 200 yards in the event of a non-notified municipality. The criteria for the EWS category keeps evolving with the level of income/income slab and other indicators of economic disadvantage. This reservation is in addition to the other reserved categories. A maximum limit of 10% reservation can be availed by EWS section.Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar stated in the comprehensive guidelines that the benefit of EWS reservation could be obtained by presenting an income certificate issued by a tahsildar. After carefully reviewing all required documents and following the appropriate process, the official who would issue the certificate would do the same.

Upper-caste groups in the EWS category (those who do not belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), or Other Backward Caste (OBC) groups and hence are not eligible for reservations) are underrepresented in public jobs and higher education.Because of their financial inability to compete with those who are economically more affluent, the economically weaker sectors of the population have been generally deprived from higher educational institutions and state employment. As a result, it was determined to alter the Indian Constitution in order to ensure that individuals from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have a fair chance of getting higher education and employment in government services.The government of India seeks to create equal opportunities by providing relaxations in education fees and cut off scores in education and public employment. This step is taken to ensure that due to lack of financial resources, student does not face hindrance in acquiring the primary education and motivating them to enroll themselves in educational facilities rather than working as child labour. 

There have been multiple debates regarding the income slab set for the EWS classification as the majority of the population lies below the 8 lakh income category. However,this policy is based on economic conditions which aims at solving the creamy layer issue with India. 



The debate of reservation is a serious one with no ‘one size fits all’ opinion. It is absolutely necessary to listen and understand conflicting viewpoints with an objective approach. As discussed the necessity for reservation is undeniable, but whether the aid reaches the ailing and not the already healed ones is a cause of concern among the populations. In order to create awareness about the topic there is a need for proper and well-informed discussions. Legitimate, rational points need to reach the common masses who can then form an informed opinion about the provision. Without such discussions the topic remains at a risk of potential ignition point in the society.

Why is there a debate?

We have to look forward to this issue by being neutral. The pros and cons will not arise and create bias towards a concept. Value and interest neutral.

  • Positive equality was followed to ensure equality in opportunities to uplift the needy. LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.
  • Resources are limited: The allocation of resources is vital and the policies related to it become debatable. 
  • Radically opposite views: The groups are extremely divided and the opinion within it provides a one sided view. The discussions are not based on facts but on emotional outlook towards the issue. Confirmation bias,selective avoidance, biased assimilation. 

-Key voting tactic

– 95% of India’s population is somewhere constituted in the reserved category.

The only solution? – Increasing the resources.

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