Reservation in Constitution of India – What was the aim to achieve?


On 15th August, 1947, our country India became independent. As India was independent now, law and order was important to be implemented soon. So the names of the Committee for drafting the Constitution of India were announced by the Constituent Assembly on August 29, 1947. It was headed by Dr. Ambedkar as its chairman. On November 25, 1949, Dr. Ambedkar gave a 40 minute speech after the draft Constitution underwent three readings by the Constituent Assembly. At the end of the speech, he made an appeal to all the Indians to be a nation in true social and psychological sense by totally discarding the caste system.

Dr. Ambedkar knew that the dalits would never be in a position to be equal partners in the administration of the country unless reservation in jobs and legislature was given to them and they will remain oppressed and slaves forever. He said that Harijans must be given more jobs in this government and be encouraged by the government. At the same time, Shri T.V. Muniswami Pillai of Madras said that “I may tell this house that it is not the object of any of the leaders of the Harijan community to perpetuate the communal bogey in this land forever, but so long as they remain so backward in getting admission into services it is highly necessary that they must be given some protection”.

Article 296 of the Draft Constitution laid down that “the claims of the minority communities shall be taken into consideration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or a State”. Till then, there was no question of providing safeguards for any religious minority. An exception was made in the case of the Anglo-Indian community due to certain special circumstances.

In May, 1949, a proposal was moved in the Advisory Committee that the system of reservation of seats for minorities in the legislature should be abolished. While it was welcomed by the Muslim members, the representative of the scheduled castes put forward the plea that as they were backward the system of reservation would help in safeguarding their interests and facilitate their advancements. Accordingly it passed the resolution which read: “that the system of reservation for minorities other than scheduled castes in the legislature be abolished”. Thus, the Constitution provided for the reservation of seats for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the legislature for ten years.

The representative of the Sikh community in the Constituent Assembly fought to the end that the safeguard should extend to all minority communities. Some Muslim representatives also pleaded for reservation in services to Muslims. They said that take away the reservation from the legislature and give us reservation in the services. They further clarified that they are not speaking for the Muslims only but also for other minority people. But the Constituent Assembly was not in favour of reservation post to the minority communities.

The constituent assembly was opposed for the policy of reservation. However, it was not against the adoption of the policy of reservation in favour of backward classes and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. It was put up against the policy as being inconsistent with the concept of secular state. Mr. Damodar Swarup Seth said that “It is not easy to define precisely the term ‘backward’; nor is it easy to find a suitable criterion for testing the backwardness of a community or class. It will give rise to casteism and favouritism which should have nothing to do in a secular state.” Ambedkar defended it in favour of backward classes and argued that it reconciled three points of views expressed in the Constituent Assembly “The first is that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens. Another view is that there ought to be no reservations of any sort for any class or community at all. Then we have a massive opinion which insists that while there shall be equality of opportunity, there must at the same time be a provision made for the entry of certain communities which have so far been outside the administration”. There was demand in the Constituent Assembly for a precise definition of the term ‘Backward’.

Sardar Patel said that it is the interest of all to lay down real and genuine foundations of a secular state and to place confidence in the minorities. But in the long run, it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like majority or minorities in this country and that in India there is only one community.

Ambedkar himself would have preferred a longer period of special protection to ten years for the Scheduled Castes. But the consensus was in favour of ten years, which was accepted.

In 1954, the Ministry of Education suggested that 20 per cent of places should be reserved for the SCs and STs in educational institutions with a provision to relax minimum qualifying marks for admission by 5 per cent wherever required. In 1982, it was specified that 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent of vacancies in public sector and government-aided educational institutes should be reserved for the SC and ST candidates, respectively. In 1978, a significant change began when the Mandal Commission was established under Prime Minister Morarji Desai to assess the situation of the socially-and-educationally-backward classes. In 1980, the commission’s report recommended that a reserved quota for OBCs of 27 per cent should apply in respect of services and public sector bodies operated by the Union Government. It called for a similar change to admissions to institutes of higher education. This resulted in total of 49.5% quota in government jobs and public universities. The report was submitted on December 30, 1990 and was implemented by V.P. Singh, the then Prime Minister of India, giving government jobs to certain castes of society on basis of birth rather than merit of the candidate. This unethical decision fuelled anger in the general masses, ultimately leading to a mass nationwide protest. It was led by the youth since they were affected the most. Roads, highways, businesses, schools, government institutions were closed. There were cases where students attempted self immolation. Parts of the nation were totally closed. The situation became so tensed that talks were going on to declare National Emergency and calling the Army but later it was realized it would only escalate the problem. Janta Dal’s Party’s V.P. Singh had to resign from the P.M. post.

The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1992 that reservations could not exceed 50 per cent, anything above which it judged would violate equal access as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Another major protest occurred in 2006 when the government proposed to reserve 27% of seats in the premier educational institutions of India like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), other medical colleges, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and other central institutes of higher education for the OBCs in order to help them gain higher levels of representation in these institutes. The proposal reduced seats for the general category from the existing 77.5% to less than 51% (including OBCs). This move led to massive protests, particularly from students and doctors belonging to the general castes, who claimed that the government’s proposal was discriminatory, discarded meritocracy and was driven by vote bank politics. The government and police took severe steps against the protesters by lathi charges and arresting thousands of students. In response to this, students launched a nationwide strike. The strike was joined by the traders, businessmen, teachers, doctors, etc. But because of no support from major political parties, the movement slowly died. Parties like SP, BSP, JDU, CPI heavily criticized the students and other protesters. CPI(ML) even came forward to ask for a further increase stating that government implementation was still not enough and there should be reservation in private sector too. The only party which supported the protest was Shiv Sena stating the move as a vote bank politics and a means to divide.

Reservation was first extended for 10 years  when 8th amendment was made in the constitution in 1960. Then in 23rd Amendment of the Constitution in 1970, it was extended for 10 more years and since then, it is being extended after every 10 years till now. But is reservation leading to a secular and caste free India or is it increasing the differences and hatred? The educational institutes are there to spread education and need talent and hard work, not minority or majority representations. When a minority group protests to get more reservation just by sitting on the railway tracks and causing inconvenience to everyone, the government fulfils their demands. But when the students of such esteemed institutes protest against reservation by suiciding, by burning themselves in front of everyone, then no one really cares. Instead they are arrested and criticized. Is continuing reservation even now, equality in any sense or is it fruitful or beneficial for anyone and most importantly, for our country?


To be continued in Part 3…