Do caste-based reservations make a society fair and just?
The difference between equality and equity shows the need for reservation at the time when the Indian constitution was framed or even in general for a fair and just society. The principle of fostering equity means giving everyone what they need to achieve the same standards of successful social living and not merely the same quantum of assistance irrespective of their respective starting points.
On that note, the answer seems simple. Yes, we need reservations. But today the question revolves more around the conditions and regulations of the reserved seats in every facet of social life. It is further this discussion that the following bytes for thought have been enumerated here:
- Collective progress is an unquestionable shared common goal of everyone (or so we hope). The basic foundation of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s principle talks about having a system of reservation in India only till the time every section of the community reaches a minimum standard level of social life and livelihood. Even after over 76 years of independence, it seems like our colonial hangover continues to pull us back repeatedly into the divide-and-rule authoritarian regime. That is to say, the initiative meant for collective progress has been time and again misused and abused only for furthering the development gap and aspiration gap amongst the different sections of society.
- The idea of caste started with designating people based on their work and livelihood, i.e. grouping people based on how they contribute to society. In fact, if ancient religious texts are to be believed, every person lives through different castes in the various phases of their life. This understanding itself takes away the logic of labelling people generation after generation since livelihoods change across generations, or even across contemporaries of the same generation from the same family.
- In a parallel conversation, when we talk of feminism and gender equity today we talk of sharing not just social opportunities and resources equally across general groups but also about sharing responsibility and accountability of pro-social behaviour across all gender groups. Likewise when we talk about fair and just developments and the progress of society as a whole, reservation increases bias by sharing opportunities and taking away accountability and responsibility in more ways than one. The consequent effect of reservation on the mental health of the people who are categorised as designated minority groups as well as on those who are the uncategorised section of the society cannot be overlooked either.
- The even greater hindrance to progress is when reservation applies to not only stages of recruitment but also at every stage of promotion throughout the professional tenure of the workforce. Notably, the apex court in the case of Indra Sawhney and others versus Union of India and others held that article 16(4) of the constitution had ruled against reservations in the matter of promotion. Irony could die a thousand deaths at the spectacle of the country demanding merit and integrity but applauding only sugar coatings like the community one is born into over and above knowledge and skills.
- A fair and just feedback mechanism based on knowledge, skills, teachability, and accountability is the strongest weapon against corruption too. Somewhere that purpose is lost with the present implementation of the distorted ideals of reservation. The greatest help we can offer someone is for that person to no longer need our help, to truly empower and enable that person to transform into an independent, exemplary individual of society. To this end, we need to prioritise merit-based achievements over and above handing out accolades based on other extraneous variables like caste which have zero impact on a person’s mindful capabilities anyway.
- When we say caste-based reservation is for the upliftment of the downtrodden or marginally discriminated sections of the community and then we set the lowest possible benchmark for them, for example, colleges announcing 0% cut-offs for students from SC-ST-OBC category, what is the implied conversation then? That someone from a particular caste or community is not even capable of scoring more than 0% in any subject? Are we really respecting that particular community or belittling and humiliating them further? Is not the present practice of negligible social expectation from the designated backward communities hindering their aspirational growth instead of giving them reasons for fair progress?
- Fairness and justice in society can find their foundation in the Vedic ideals of “Tat Twam Asi”, which means “love your neighbour the way you’d love yourself” – not conditionally based on caste, religion or anything of the sort. That is the foundation of the Indian community, the heritage and culture of harmonious communal living based on basic humanity and kindness. Mind you, unconditional kindness means acceptance and respect simply on account of your human nature, and not dependent on the other person’s characteristics at all.
- Having said all of that, do certain communities in India need the protection of the law even today? The answer is sad and unfortunate yes. Human behaviour needs the regulation of the law. The question is can we trust ourselves to have an ideal equal indiscriminate representation of all communities of India in all social institutions without the black letter of the law ensuring the same? How we wish!
- The preamble to the constitution does not only declare India as secular and democratic but also mentions that “we give to ourselves this constitution”. The fundamental duties have as much, if not greater, priority than the fundamental rights. That is to say, in a democratic country, the practice of legal trade, choice of livelihood, way of living, and aspirations for social progress are all personal life goals of every Indian citizen that are very much protected by their right to protection of life and personal liberty under article 21 of the Indian constitution. When we institutionalise a system of differential standards of social achievement for historically disadvantaged communities, we take away their dreams and hopes of being truly integrated into the Indian community as equals, equal in intellectual capacities, and equal in terms of human resource potential.
- Fairness and justice are related to (a) social resources and opportunities which have been mentioned above and (b) crime and abuse of power. When the gravity of an offence is hierarchized based on the caste and community of the victim, or worse the offender, and not the nature of the criminal behaviour which is to be taken note of for ensuring peace and justice in the community, what fair and just society are we dreaming of here?
- This system of reservation in India is meant to provide historically disadvantaged groups fair representation in education, employment, government schemes, scholarships, and politics. Maybe caste-based reservation to ensure representation of all communities is needed. However, ear-marking each community’s potential and reducing the bar of expectation from the youngest population of the world based on such irrational reasons as caste and community assures neither fairness nor justice. Neither to the ones it claims to protect and definitely not to the declared historically-advantaged-yet-presently-sidetracked-for-the-same unreserved population.
A fair and just Indian community may be ensured by justifiably equal representation of all residing communities of the vibrant diverse society based solely on individual skills and prospects.