Caste, class, gender and racial inequalities are issues that are prevalent across the world. That “people are unequal” is an accepted fact but this rational inequality should be based on merit, and only after everyone has been given equal opportunities. Throughout the ages, however, the world has ranked people. Hindu shastras have justified differentiation on the basis of caste by varnashram, an idea which is subject to severe criticism by men from all walks of life today. Varnas, which have come to signify caste discrimination, require urgent extermination from the Indian society. This differentiation, exclusive to the Indian subcontinent, has given birth to social stigmas that serve as the one of the biggest barriers to India’s development.
Progress in the economy and technology alone will not bring about development until social reforms are initiated. Despite the presence of fundamental rights in the Indian constitution which enshrines the right to equality as an integral and inviolable part of its ethos, India has failed to achieve the progress that was expected of it in the past 68 years. Social backwardness and caste antagonism had a vital role to play in the failures of policies. Historically, class discrimination has been the basis for the formation of all kinds of socio-political structures — monarchical, feudal, capitalist and socialist.
For monarchy, it was the rulers and the ruled classes; for the industrialist society, it was the producers and the laborers; for the feudal society, it was the feudal lords and their tenants. A common thread that emerges in all these scenarios is that the minority has inevitably formed the ruling class and the majority has had to bear the brunt of oppression by it. The majority of the populace, therefore, has remained dissatisfied and exploited. Instances of racial and gender discrimination are not rare either. The feminist and apartheid movements are the best examples of movements which have worked towards bridging these empirical gaps.
The Indian history has been a witness to all forms of discrimination, some of which have been justified by historical texts, thereby being pursued even in the wake of the 21st century. Being the hub of all sorts of discrimination against the backdrop of an extremely diverse population, riots are not uncommon in the Indian subcontinent. Destabilizing conflicts in the name of religion and caste are a characteristic feature of the private and public domains of the Indian society at large. Policies were devised in order to bridge the gap between the lower castes and the rest of the society. This policy took the shape of the reservation system.
Ever since its installation, reservation percentage in education and job opportunities have been expanding. Reservation is one of the most deliberated issues in India. For instance, the Gujjar community had been demanding a 5% reservation for their community for a very long time. It was only recently that the Rajasthan government hit the 50% upper limit of reserving seats for OBCs, SCs and STs by announcing extension of this quota to Gujjars and 4 other communities. They have been allotted a 1% reservation in job and educational institutions. This increment was subject to severe criticism by the rest of the society.
Like always this increase in reservation has also been associated to vote bank politics. Many see it as a tool in the hands of the politicians to receive more votes to win the seat, at the same time criticizing it on grounds that it creates further divisions within the society, therefore serving as, in fact, contrary to the very equality it aims at achieving. The demand for reservation doesn’t seem to subside in India due to extreme casteism. In Maharashtra, the Marathas threaten to take violent measures against the Government for failing to fulfill its promises, one of which was that of reservation. Reservation in India has been extended to other discriminated groups as well whether it be on the basis of gender or religion.
The sanctity of the reservation system has thus been lost. It would have been ideal if we could today pick the brains of the constitutional framers so as to enlighten ourselves with the concept of reservation system of India and the reason behind having the system in the first place. A new system of reservation is needed in contemporary India – a system that prevents the privileged OBCs, SCs and STs from taking advantage of this system, therefore making this provision available to those who are indeed socially, culturally, economically and educationally backward. No matter what one’s take on the subject is, the fact remains that the reservation system in India today is in dire need of reform, if for no other reason than to ensure the harmonious existence of the haves and the have-nots of Indian society.
-Contributed by Urvi Lahoti
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