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Why reservation is still necessary to uplift the depressed classes?

Why Reservation? The Supreme Court said that the reservation of seats to certain communities was not a Fundamental Right.

By Radhika12
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Why Reservation in India is important

Reservation isn’t a fundamental right, stated SC. The SC refused to act on a petition filed by Tamil Nadu's political parties who sought 50% OBC reservation in the all-India NEET seats surrendered by states. The Dalit communities around India were aggrieved by this statement. Several of them took Twitter to present their disagreement to this statement. #SaveReservations, and #आरक्षण_मौलिक_अधिकार_है trended on twitter, now known as X, for hours.

“We appreciate the concern of all political parties for the welfare of Backward Classes. But reservation is not a Fundamental Right,” Justice LN Rao said.

This entire discussion pushes us to ask an important questions, are reservations necessary? I am sure, every one of us has an opinion on the same. There are several narratives about it as well. Let us try and understand what the court said, and if reservations are indeed necessary.

caste based reservation in india

In that case, the petitioners were asked to approach Madras High Court. Former Justice Rao lauded the sentiment behind the move, which had parties of all shades from the state on the same page, as “unusual” for Tamil Nadu but refused to hear them. Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar had fought hard for the depressed classes and this statement shows disrespect of the work done by him.

A relevant part of the court’s decision is cited below:

“Now there is a cry within the reserved classes. By now, there are affluent and socially and economically advanced classes within Scheduled Classes and Scheduled Tribes. There is voice by deprived persons of social upliftment of some of the SCs and STs, but they still do not permit benefits to trickle down to the needy. Thus, there is a struggle within, as to worthiness for entitlement within reserved classes of SCs and STs and other backward classes.”

Inside views of the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi | Photo: Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons
Inside views of the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi | Photo: Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons

What basically reservation in India is?

Reservation in India is a system of affirmative action that provides representation for historically and currently disadvantaged groups in Indian society in education, employment, and politics. Enshrined in Articles 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution, it allows the Indian government to set quotas to ensure any "socially and educationally backward classes of citizens" is properly represented in public life. It is intended to realize the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Reservation is primarily given to 3 groups: Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes abbreviated as SC, ST, and OBC respectively. These are groups that have faced social and economic discrimination in the past and/or the present and were severely underrepresented in public life. Originally reservation was only given to SCs and STs but was later extended to OBCs in 1987 after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. There are income caps on EWS (Economically weaker sections) and OBCs (Other backward classes) and no income limits exist for members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Reservations aim to deter caste supremacists from ignoring the education rights of the disadvantaged. For millennia, most people in our country were denied education due to their birth status. Indian kings adhered to Manu Shashtra, a Hindu rulebook forbidding Shudras from learning. Non-Brahmins faced oppression, including denial of education, power positions, and good job prospects.

“Reservation” is a mechanism to give education and jobs to the oppressed based on their caste – yes, that very caste based on which they were earlier denied education and jobs.

Why is it still important for the depressed classes?

We live in the 21st century India and the caste system feels like history for some of us. As per that assumptions, SCs/STs/OBCs should be affluent, and won't be discriminated against? Somehow, we are aware that's not true either. Another argument might be that this is a rural issue. In urban areas, people don't discriminate. Class, not caste that is the social currency. Another argument, through Right to Education, schools are accessible for all. I can go on and list many more arguments are mentioned above. But, if we sit back and think, we realise that things are not in binaries. The reality is quite stark, and is happening beyond our purview.

The locations of birth and residence are already segregated based on caste. Distinct subdivisions such as "agraharas" designed for Brahmins, "colonies" or "cherish" meant for marginalized communities, and the remaining areas for other castes, are prevalent in towns and villages. Even the streets are caste-identified. Just by seeing a student’s address, one can predict their caste. Is the allocation of these segregated residences done using caste certificates? The answer is no. These divisions are forced upon us from birth.


Even today, in many villages, teashops serve tea to the oppressed castes (Dalits or Scheduled Castes) in disposable cups and the others in reusable glass tumblers. They have different benches for each caste group. Do those teashops ask for caste certificates? No. They identify someone’s caste based on his appearance or their names. In the next passage, let us try and break down a few things I mentioned above.

  • The gruesome Hathras rape case was nothing but an example of caste-based structural discrimination. The details of the case, and caste fault lines should explain the realities of 21st century India. Ask yourself about the status of the case, and if the realities would have changed of the victim's family in the village they live in.
  • In several incidents, if Dalits found burning Holika for the Holika Dahan ceremony, they are tonsured and paraded naked in the villages. In August 2015, it was claimed that a Jat Khap Panchayat ordered the rape of two Dalit sisters because their brother eloped with a married Jat girl of the same villages.
  • As per 2021, in UP alone, 24% prisoners were Dalits, 45% OBCs, the government told parliament. The undertrials prisoner data also as revealing.
  • Discrimination can also exist in access to healthcare and nutrition. A sample survey of Dalits, conducted over several months in Madhya Pradesh and funded by ActionAid in 2014, found that health field workers did not visit 65 percent of Dalit settlements. 47 percent of Dalits were not allowed entry into ration shops; and 64 percent were given fewer grains than non-Dalits. In Haryana state, 49 percent of Dalit children under five years were underweight and malnourished while 80 percent of those in the 6–59 months age group were anemic in 2015.
  • Apart from this, there are enough reports on the linkages between caste, malnutrition, and health care services. With these factors if we add gender, then women from depressed castes become one of the most vulnerable citizens in the country.
  • In 2014, a survey carried out by Dalit Adhikar Abhiyan, funded by ActionAid, discovered discrimination against Dalit children in 88 percent of the state schools studied in Madhya Pradesh. It found that 79 percent of these schools prevented Dalit children from having contact with mid-day meals. Also, in 35 percent of schools, these children were segregated during lunch, while 28 percent required them to use specially marked plates.
  • Incidents and allegations have arisen regarding discrimination and harassment against SC and ST teachers and professors in various educational institutions in India. They have been reportedly marginalised by authorities, colleagues, and students belonging to the upper castes.
  • Since 2018, more than 13000 SC, ST, and OBC students dropped from central universities, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). All these institutions have been questioned for their caste-based discrimination. Lately, the incidents have been widely reported on. As per other data set, significant students from mentioned communities don't get admission into colleges, due to several societal, and financial factors.

Way forward

Could additional inquiries be posed regarding whether the SCs and STs have adequate representation at the top levels of civil services, academia, judiciary – including both the Supreme Court and high courts - police, policy-making, and other public services? Does having jobs in lower tiers signify economic prosperity and the eradication of social backwardness? Is Indian society entirely free of caste-based discrimination? Has the domination of upper-castes in public institutions completely disappeared?

The fact that a Dalit judge has been appointed to the Supreme Court after nearly ten years, and his notable absence from the five-judge panel deciding on the reservation, reflects the unfortunate state of wealth disparity and the lack of representation in public institutions.

Delhi University Professor Dr Ritu Singh is protesting against caste-based discrimination she faced since September 2023. Outside faculty of Arts, in DU's North Campus, she demands the removal of Daulat Ram College principals removal. If this can happen in the capital of India, and still remain unnoticed then we need to ask more relevant questions than the relevance of reservation in 21st century.

Caste-based reservation weren't for economic prosperity, rather for social mobility of the historically oppressed communities. Hence, the understanding that just because a few from these community have prosperity doesn't mean the community has too. In the end, please read Gail Omvedt, US Sociologists work on caste, and society in India. It would be an enriching read, and a necessary one.

The article is written by Radhika Bansal. She is a Journalism student at Amity University.

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