Reservation in Educational Institutions must be done away with
June 7, 2021
India is extensively divided along caste, linguistic and religious lines. The co-existence of people of different groups despite such cultural diversities can rarely be witnessed elsewhere in the world. However, this harmony can also be seen to be accompanied by social tensions at times between the same groups. These tensions or differences are bound to occur in such a diverse social fabric. But they become a cause of concern the moment they widen the deep-seated inequalities of our society. Caste-based reservations happen to be one such sensitive issue that can potentially lead to an unbridgeable gap between the different classes.
It is a known fact that reservations have been incorporated to lessen the existing gaps and not to widen them anymore. After all these years of independence, can it be claimed that this motto has been successfully achieved? And if no, then there is a need for an analysis as to their effectiveness in reducing the divisions in society. The flaws of the reservation system need to be detected and addressed. But this is where the problem starts. The mere idea of caste-based reservations being scrapped raises a major hue and cry and so no dispensation ever wants to address the defects associated with them. So, reservations more or less have become a tool of garnering votes primarily, used by leaders to lure their electorate.
The controversy over Prakash Jha’s ‘Aarakshan’, a movie that talked about caste-based reservations in educational institutions and jobs is etched in each of our memories.The status quo is so blindly coveted that no one wants to even talk about changing it irrespective of all the existing flaws of the reservation system. It is undeniable that some classes of society have gone through years of oppression and discrimination which is the sole reason behind their backwardness both socially and educationally. Bringing them into the mainstream has been the greatest challenge. In the post-independence period, the reservation was the only tool that could make these classes avail themselves of all sorts of opportunities that were previously being denied to them. This justifies the reservations that were given in jobs, educational institutions, etc. back then as otherwise, these classes could not access any of these.
But with time, though not completely but considerably, there has been some improvement in the conditions of the people of these classes. Many of them have been brought to the same level as the ones who were privileged in the past, that is to say, the so-called upper castes. Keeping this in mind should an end not be brought to them receiving the benefits of reservation? Without the reforms and revisions of reservation lists, those who are already uplifted unjustly usurp the rights of not only the needy people of their community but also of the under-privileged so-called upper caste people. Reforms can be a step towards providing a level playing field to all so that no one feels disadvantaged. Also, can the reservation be seen as the only panacea for all sorts of inequalities existing in society? Not, as there have to be other ways to bring greater inclusiveness amongst the communities like increasing the number of opportunities so that everyone can have their fair chance.
Reservation in Educational Institutions and Constitutional Provisions
Education is viewed as the greatest tool of empowerment. It helps people overcome irrational restrictions and makes them aware of their rights, thereby ensuring that no injustice is meted out to anyone. This is the reason why the Indian Constitution backs reservation in educational institutions by virtue of Article 15(4) added by the First Constitutional Amendment Act, 1951. This clause was added as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in the State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan. By virtue of this clause, the constitutional hurdles of Article 15(1) and Article 29(2) were overcome. These provisions prohibit discrimination by the State on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.
Prior to the incorporation of Article 15(4), Article 46 of Part IV of the Constitution was there supporting the special treatment meted out to the deprived sections of the society but its non-justiciability led to the said incorporation. Apart from this, Article 16(4) and Article 16(4A) guarantee reservations in matters of public employment.
Why should Reservation in Educational Institutions be scrapped?
The Constitution Bench in M. Nagraj v. Union of Indiaopined that reservation is necessary for transcending caste and not for perpetuating it. It held that reservation has to be used in a limited sense otherwise it will perpetuate casteism in the country. This observation made by the honorable Supreme Court throws light on how instead of removing the caste divisions, reservations can aggravate them. With the rapid population growth and limited opportunities these days, either in educational institutions or jobs, securing a place there is tough for everyone. Reservations make it even harder for those belonging to the unreserved categories. Firstly, the seats left for them after reservations are very few and secondly, those belonging to the reserved categories can occupy the same if their assigned quota gets full. The same practice of exclusion based on birth in a particular community gets perpetuated. Reservations do provide certain communities a chance to compete with the rest but the underlying basis is caste. This needs to be changed as caste should not be the only basis for reservations. Not having a history of oppression in the past does not mean that a community cannot be disadvantaged at present. Compensating the oppressed classes for the discrimination done to them in the past should not lead to reverse discrimination against any class at present. There is a need to look beyond vote politics and devise something that can actually help the needy. The aspirations of a caste-less society and caste-based preferential treatment cannot go hand in hand.
Another demerit associated with caste-based reservations in educational institutions is that of the diminishing meritocracy. The relaxation in qualifying marks of any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation compromise with meritocracy. Due to reservations, caste is preferred to ability and caliber. The incompetent and undeserving are likely to avail greater opportunities than the competent ones due to caste-based reservations. This in turn reduces the overall efficacy and also affects the quality of education being imparted.
Due to the lack of opportunities in India and the cut-throat competitions, many people with caliber get forced to seek opportunities abroad and that affects the development of the country.
Vote politics every now and then leads to leaders running reservation campaigns. The Maratha and Jat reservations are examples of the same which violate the 50% limit imposed on reservations by the Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney v. Union of India.Such political moves incite agitation amongst the various classes, where every class wants reservation whether they need it or not.
The deeply ingrained class inequalities have hindered the country’s progress for decades. Reinstating the same through caste-based reservations can aggravate the problem. This fact needs to be acknowledged that reservations alone cannot uplift all of the disadvantaged classes. They need to be replaced at some point in time with better substitutes guaranteeing greater inclusiveness.
Especially, in educational institutions, reservations have led to a greater loss than benefit. The reservations have certainly made it easier for the students of the backward communities to enter the institutions but owing to the flexibility of the selection process, they do not hone their skills as much is required. This makes them less prepared for the journey ahead as compared to the students of the unreserved categories who secure their places with merit. The governments instead of introducing newer caste-based reservation schemes should focus on developing the infrastructure. At present in every competitive exam, lakhs of students compete for thousands of seats. Increasing the number of seats in colleges over the country can be a step towards ending this fierce competition.
It cannot be denied that scrapping reservation in toto is not really feasible due to the lack of political will. Moreover, it would not be fair to the needy sections of society. The Creamy Layer formula laid down by the Indian judiciary needs to be adhered to strictly as it ensures that the privileged amongst the backward communities do not end up enjoying all the benefits of reservation. So, the scope of the reservation should be limited to those only who cannot reach the educational institutions without its aid due to backwardness and a generalized basis of reservation like caste should be done away with completely.
Editor’s Note The author has dealt with the issue of reservation in the backdrop of the merit-based selection process of higher educational institutes. The author discusses the relevant provisions in law as well as relevant judgments. Various arguments against the reservation of seats in the field of education are given.