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What is the history of Reservation in India?

9 min read

By Diksha Sharma

Introduction

The Constitution of India has secured the first fundamental right to the people of India that is ‘Article 14 – Right to Equality’. This right prohibits the discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, gender or color. It is an essential ingredient of social and economic justice as it speaks about the real and substantive equality.

In Indira Nehru Vs. Raj Narain[1], it was held by the Supreme Court that the Right to Equality conferred by article 14 is a basic structure of the Constitution and an essential feature of the democracy or rule of law. It has been held to be “a right which more than any other is a basic postulate of our Constitution”.

‘Rule of law’ by British jurist Albert Venn Dicey in his book called ‘The Law of the Constitution’ in 1885 means that no man is above the law and that every person whatever be his rank or condition is under the same responsibility for ever act done without legal justification as any other citizen.

Breach of rule of law would amount to breach of equality under Article 14.

But, with the passage of time and with the making of non-discriminatory laws equality of people has been challenged on the basis of caste religion and gender and they are discriminated all over the places which people are facing by birth.

To cope up with the situation of inequality Indian Government considered ‘Reservation’ a heart of the matter.

It is an attempt to uphold equality among citizens by ensuring equal and fair opportunities to all and to ensure that minority groups are not pushed backward. This is just the Government duty to help the weaker sections of caste-based society.

Reservation policies do not violate Article 14 of the Constitution but it recognizes and helps to treat the special and backward group of society to be treated equally.

What does Reservation mean?

Article 15 is strictly titled as ‘Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. It generally indicates the equality of treatment that is also stated in Article 14. As discrimination is an unfavorable bias which involves discrimination against one person is the discrimination in favor of other.

Article 15(1) states that: “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on ground only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them”. It also means classification among persons or things and also reservation for some of the members of a group of class.

Reservation is a Governmental step which provides reorganization to disadvantage groups in field of education, jobs and politics. In simple words it means, reserving seats for lower caste people who were historically discriminated.

The discriminatory behaviour of citizens have forced the Government to take this step. Hence, it can be said as positive discrimination.

Basically reservation is given to three groups of society who are socially and economically backward citizens who have faced discrimination and always been insulted in past and in present also and always been unrepresented in public and that are following:

  • Scheduled castes, (SC)
  • Scheduled tribes, (ST)
  • Other Backward Classes (OBC)

Those who are not categorized in above groups and class they come under General category. Basically, this category involves high castes people and they do not enjoy any reservation and its benefit.

There are also reservations for women as a part of gender reservations as it is important for a society like India where girl child is killed before birth. This reservation for women will help them to recognize them self in the society.

For years, education was denied to the majority of the population just because of their caste and race. But not only education but also positions of power and beneficial jobs were denied to them.

So, reservation is the only measure to provide education and jobs to these people and to prevent false notion of injustice on the basis of caste. The reservation for women will also be a great step towards the women education, their social development and give them power to stand for self.

What is the need of Reservation in India?

Discrimination is in our holy books like the Mahabharata that also quotes of many instances wherein a warrior like Karna was not allowed to showcase his talent merely on the ground of him being a Shudra. He was often referred to as ‘Shudra Putra’ and humiliated because of his caste.[2]

Then from the time of Kings, our society was divided into different groups and classes on the basis of caste and religion. The Hindu society was an extension of the varna system, where the 4 varnas were: The Brahmins who were the most superior caste and then came Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and finally the Shudras.

Except these castes another caste existed which were the ‘untouchables’ and the lowest in the social strata. They were exempted from all benefits of society.

These untouchables were recognized as ‘Dalits’ they were not allowed to take education, their entry was prohibited in temples, they were treated like animals.

They were believed to be so impure that caste Hindus considered their presence to be polluting. They were mentally and physically harassed by the people of upper castes.

The touch of an untouchable was considered tarnish to an upper-caste Hindu. They were mostly given ‘impure’ tasks such as work involving human waste and dead animals. Moreover, they were excluded from drawing water from upper-caste wells.

Even if their shadows were casted on the upper-class people then it was considered that the person has got impure and many strict restrictions were imposed on them for social gatherings and social life and if these restrictions were get violated, they were severely punished and in some cases were even killed.

The divisions of society on these counterfeit norms of castes were lead to adverse effects on the development and growth of these lower class people.

Many reforms and steps were taken to over through these norms of society and Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambdekar played a very significant role in improving the situations and positions of the depressed classes.

Reservation of caste has a very vast history so have a look at the history of reservation in India that how reservation was introduced?

How was Reservation introduced in the Indian Constitution?

The idea of reservation was introduced and founded by the William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882. In 1902, Shahu Maharaja of the princely state Kolhapur introduced the reservations in favor of non-Brahmin caste for education. Mysore and the princely states of Travancore and Kochi also supported his idea.

In 1932, an agreement was signed by the Dr. Ambedkar and Madan Mohan Malviya on behalf of Mahatma Gandhi. This act was the significant result of the Communal Award of August, 1932.

The communal award was provided by the British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. It is also known as MacDonald Award which extended the separate electorate for the schedule caste and other minority sections of the society.

This award of separate electorate was available for the Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and the Scheduled Caste. He introduces this provision to solve the rising problems due to the caste systems in India. Under a separate electorates system, each community was allocated a number of seats in the legislatures

But many Indians including Mahatma Gandhi was against this award because they all were considering this provision as the controversy by the British Government of socially dividing the people of India.

On the other hand, it was supported by many minority leaders including Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

As Mahatma Gandhi was against the communal award, so he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister that if the communal award was not taken back then he would sit on a fast unto death. On 20 September 1932, Mahatma Gandhi sat on the fast unto death in the Yarawada Jail. But by the time Mahatma Gandhi agreed upon it and joined hands with Dr. Ambedkar.

So, in September an act was mutually signed by both of them at Pune and it was named as Poona Pact. This act considered the social approach of Mahatma Gandhi and political approach of Dr. Ambedkar but the goal was same to uplift the depressed class or untouchables who are called Schedule Caste today of society.

This act proved to be a rising voice against the depressed classes and made the entire country morally responsible for the uplift of the depressed classes. So the seats were reserved for SC’s and ST’s.

In 1979, when Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister of India, a commission was established by the Janta Party under the leadership of B.P. Mandal, an Indian parliamentarian, who was once the Bihar chief minister.

This commission makes it necessary to recognize the social and educationally backward classes of the society. So, the commission was named as Mandal Commission.

But Desai’s Government fell, and Indira Gandhi came into power and the issue was kept behind. Then in 1990, Prime Minister V P Singh announced in the Parliament that the recommendations of the Mandal Commission would be implemented which was the 27% reservation of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in jobs in central Government services and public sector units.[3]

Other Backward Classes were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.

In the Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India[4], also known as Mandal case of 1992, the Supreme Court while upholding the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC), struck down the Government notification reserving 10% Government jobs for economically backward classes among the higher castes.[5]

But today reservation system has just become the tool of gaining votes by the politicians. Moreover, who were the earlier advantage class now they are facing problems as reservation has created a criterion of putting backward classes at first. This again has created a situation of inequality among the citizens.

People of general category are fighting for their jobs, seats in Government institutions whereas SC/ST/OBC are getting admitted without any test or assessment.

One community after another has started demanding reservations due to the success of others Jat agitation in Haryana is an example which resulted into many deaths, loss of property and also decrease in economic growth.

Conclusion

As all human being are same no point of discrimination arises because we all are created by God. Our caste, religion, sex and place of birth are just a decision of God not of an individual. So, no person has right to discriminate other person. But this society has created an environment which does not allow any poor or low caste to survive in this beautiful world.

The reservation systems were introduced to give an identity to these backward classes who were discriminated so that they can rise up in the society and can get their basic rights and needs. These policies help these people to get their education and a special space in political opportunities.

But now it has been noticed that these all efforts have gone as giving admissions to undeserving students over deserving students is wrong.

As everyone accepts that these backward classes were denied of their rights but that does not mean that this should be repeated today with general class. This just shows that people are taking wrong advantages of these reservations.

Development is not a necessary point for backward classes only, but it is also a major part of other classes also as sticking on the uplift of depressed will ultimately result again into the situation of inequality. The reservation policies should not become a ladder to climb for those who do not deserve these seats.

  1. Indira Nehru Vs. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299
  2. All about reservation policy in India, available at:

    blog.ipleaders.in(Last visited on June 19th, 2021)

  3. 30 years since Mandal Commission recommendations how it began and its impact today, By Revathi Krishnan, available at:

    theprint.in(Last visited on June 19th, 2021)

  4. Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477
  5. Reservation in India – Explained in Layman’s Terms, available at:

    clearias.com (Last visited on June 19th, 2021)