In easy words, Reservation means reserving access to seats. In India, reservation is all about reserving a certain percentage of seats in government institutions. It is for people who are from backward classes and under-represented communities. Reservation has been around for a long time. The Varna system divided Hindus according to their caste. There were four types i.e., the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas, and the Shudras.
Today, the reservation policy has only reinforced the varna system’s hierarchy and division. Where seats in the government jobs, educational institutions, and even legislatures are reserved a certain section of the population. It is a government policy backed by the Indian Constitution. Initially, when it was implemented, it was set up for 10 years, but after seeing the situation, it was extended and continues till today, even after more than 70 years of independence. The main purpose of introducing a reservation policy was to give them an equal opportunity, an equal status in society, to uplift them socially, and to bring development to the society.
Reservation Policy from Legal Perspective
The legal origins of the reservation policy in India begin with the laying down of the Government of India Act which came during the turbulent period of World War I. This act not only introduced several reforms for the Indian government institutions, but also addressed many issues of minorities, including the formation of communal electorates, but after the Government of India Act, the controversial Simon commission came up, to examine the Montague Chelmsford Reforms.
To examine the report of the Simon Commission and the reforms proposed by them and to decide how to incorporate them into the new Constitution, a conference was convened in London in 1931. There were appeals for a separate electorate from BR Ambedkar but Mahatma Gandhi opposed him and because of the opposition from Mahatma Gandhi the issue of minority remained unresolved. After independence, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly introduced the reservation policy and many articles in the Indian Constitution.
Article 15(4) – Special provision for the advancement of backward classes.
Article 15(5) – Special provision for backward classes for advancement in education, including, for admission in private institutions.
Article 16(4) – Reservation for backward classes in public employment.
Articles 330-342 – Talks about special provisions for a certain class of people, such as scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, Anglo-Indians, linguistic minorities, and OBC.
Before independence under British rule, a separate electorate meant that not only the seats but voting for the reserved constituency were reserved only for members of that specific community.
Groups with reserved seats
The Anglo-Indians – The Anglo-Indian community is the only community that has a representative nominated to the Lok Sabha in the Parliament of India. The president can nominate two Anglo Indian members to the Lok Sabha. Article 334 of the Indian Constitution provides reservation to the Anglo-Indian community. When it was initially applied, it was just for 20 years, but it has been extended many times since, through amendments.
Other backward classes – Other backward classes also receive reserved seats in the rural and urban bodies’ elections. It is based on the proportion of OBC in the total state population.
Women – Women also get a reservation as per the Constitution. Women get one-third of the reservation in the gram panchayat, block panchayat, district councils, and municipal bodies. The women’s reservation bill proposed in 2008 reserved 33% of all states in Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women. Between 1957 and 2019, before the abrogation of Articles, 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India, the former 89 member-Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly had two seats reserved for the nominated women members.
Women Reservation Bill
The Women’s Reservation (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 proposes to reserve a minimum of 33% seats for women in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. The passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill will help us fulfil our SDG-5 and gender equality pledges at International forums. This bill has been introduced in the Indian Parliament several times since its initial launch in 1996 however, the status of the bill remains to be decided primarily due to a lack of political consensus.
This bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9th March 2010 but is still left pending in the Lok Sabha. Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act. There has not been any major development regarding the passing of this Bill in recent months but if the current government takes some measures or steps towards this, it will be passed by the Lok Sabha soon.
Need for Reservation Policy
Increase in the number of people from the backward sections in various decision-making processes i.e., increase in representation from different sections of society.
It helped the people from the backward sections to achieve higher posts, jobs in the public sector as well as in private institutions.
Reservation has slowed down the process of the privileged becoming richer and the backward classes becoming poorer.
The Downfalls of Reservation
It is just like positive discrimination or ethnic discrimination. Because of this, there is inequality among students and workers.
It works, where there is a lot of discrimination, but this results in others being denied their rights.
Beneficiaries of reservation are largely from the dominant class in backward caste, the marginalized section remains marginalized.
Unfortunately, there has been a failure of this policy to achieve its aim to uplift the marginalized classes. It has become a political tool in the hands of politicians.
The Reservation System has only divided the society, leading to more discrimination and conflict between different sections of the society. This plays a major role in the politics of India and now has become an integral part of Indian society. It was adopted to uplift certain castes but now it has become completely political. Nowadays, it has become impossible to describe reservation policy as good or bad because it has advantages, but a lot of disadvantages too. It is good till the point where deserving candidates do not miss out on opportunities.
Editor’s Note Reservation- boon or bane, is a highly debated topic. The author puts forth her thoughts on the matter, traversing through its history and why it was introduced in India, and why it still continues to exist. The article elaborates on the legal backing reservation finds in the Constitution through its articles and elucidates each section of the society that benefits from this reservation. Lastly, the author puts forth the negative effects of such reservation, posing the question, can reservation really be considered all-good when it reinforces, while “positively”, what it tries to compensate for?