Ever since the concept of separate electorates came into being when India was still under imperial British, various communities have been engulfed in a perpetual fight to be backward. Paradoxical as it may sound, being backward in the country comes with huge benefits. In this age, getting reservations for education and jobs is nothing short of something god sent. Grafting government officials to procure fake caste certificates has been going on since time immemorial.
Reservation in the country can be traced back to the Indian Councils Act of 1909 (popularly called the Morley-Minto reforms). Though the reservation was in the form of separate electorates and for a religious minority (Muslims), the essence of it remains the same. It can also be traced back to the Poona Pact which negated the communal award set out by the then British PM Ramsay Macdonald.
When we did attain independence, the stage was set. The constitution of the country contained Article 16(4) which "empowered the state to provide reservation for a particular community in public employment, if in the opinion of the state the community is not adequately represented in public employment". Since then, a plethora of agitations to attain the backward tag have sprung up across the country, the demand by Maraths being the recent of them. Demand for a maratha reservation has been going on since a long time. Though the state government has accepted their demands tentatively, it is quite impossible for it to survive judicial scrutiny. Let me tell you why.
The dialectic of Reservation in India is incomplete without the mention of the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, 1992 case. The SC clarified that article 16(4) does not confer any fundamental right on the citizens and nor does it prescribe a duty on the state to provide reservation either. The state thereby provides reservation at its discretion. Consequently, the courts cannot issue writs against the state to provide reservation either, if the state fails to do so. This landmark judgement came out with certain guidelines for the reservation of a particular community to be legally valid, some of which are stated below:
- The community shall be socially and educationally backward.
Fact check: Little background story, the then NCP-Congress government had extended 16% reservation in 2014 (Before the elections to allegedly secure the vote bank). The Bombay High Court stayed the order, and it has been pending ever since. Back then, the Indian Express came out with an article published on June 27th 2014.
A former chairman of the Maharashtra Planning Board tells The Indian Express, "Almost 50 to 55 per cent of educational institutions undergraduate and postgraduate, medical and engineering across the state are controlled by leaders who represent the Maratha community. Of 200-odd sugar factories, the base of the state economy, 168 are controlled by Marathas. Of district cooperative banks, 70 per cent are controlled by Marathas as directors, chairman or panel members".
- The community should be inadequately represented in public employment.
Fact check: 10 of the 17 Chief Ministers Maharashtra has had have been Marathas. Additionally, since 1960 (when the state was formed) to 2004, of the 2,064 MLAs that have been elected to the state assembly, 1,336 have been marathas. Inadequate? Not quite.
- The overall reservation in favor of backward classes should not exceed 50%.
Fact check: According to the data available in the public domain, reservation in Maharashtra already stands at 52%. Interesting story, Tamil Nadu slyly tried to pass off 69% reservation by placing it in the IX schedule of the constitution. It has been stayed and the case is pending in the SC.
- A concept of creamy layer shall apply in the case of reservation for OBCs.
- The backward class reservation policy of the government shall not affect the overall efficiency of the administration.
The SC clarified that educational and social backwardness can be the sole determinants to identify a community as backward, none of which applies to Marathas as we have already seen. The article 16(4) in the constitution clearly states that a community can be given reservation on the basis of social and educational backwardness only if it is not adequately represented in public employment. What amounts to 'adequate representation' is subjective and is to be determined by the court on a case to case basis.
Another case that begs attention is the recent Ram Prasad vs Union of India, 2015 case. The SC in this case held the reservation provided by the Union government for the Jatt community as unconstitutional and void, elucidating that the Jatt community is not socially or educationally backward. The SC further clarified that even though caste can be the easiest determinant to identify a community as backward, it cannot be the sole factor.
The Maratha community in the state has been engaged in agriculture outside the cities. The demand for reservation is linked to this. If media reports are to be believed, the reasons cited for reservation have been dwindling farmer incomes and a lack of jobs for the youth. Though these problems are understandable, reservation as a solution is not only wrong but daft. The problems allegedly faced by the Maratha community are not exclusive to them. These difficulties are faced by people of every caste across the country. Providing reservation for these would therefore be unfair and extremely fallacious.
Another demand of the Maratha Morcha has been the dilution of the "Schedule Tribes and Schedule Caste (Prevention of atrocities act)", which I do not agree with. The problem with people living in cities such as Mumbai is that we live in our own bubble, oblivious to the happenings outside of our city. I am in no way saying that you people live in a bubble, I am as guilty as you are, or was. My bubble burst when I stayed in Delhi for a year. I lived and interacted with people who had come from different states, just as I had. The mentality that people possessed regarding lower castes was downright disgusting. I was flabbergasted with the thought process people had, either through their upbringing or acquired. There were times when the question of "What's your name?" was instantly followed up with the question of "What's your caste?". The country has been reeling under the attacks on minorities for a long time now. Recently the rise in attacks on Dalits has been alarming. At such a time, dilution of the act would be detrimental to the democratic fabric of the society. I do concede however, that misuse of the act must be condemned in the highest order. A punishment, on par with the violation of the act must ensue.
Reservation in India must be accompanied with sincere efforts to uplift the depressed sections of the society. While granting reservations, a specific time frame must be provided within which the government must take efforts to improve their situation. After act, the reservation policy of the government for the particular class can be disbanded. Reservation policies with an infinite time frame must see the end of the day, for they ferment discontent and make the executive lax in acting upon it.
We are at a stage whereby the country has achieved 70 years of independence. Even after such a long period, if more and more communities are demanding reservation, purpotedly to escape the injustices faced by them, it showcases that we have not only failed misreably as a nation but also as a society on a holistic level.
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