ndsharma's blog

Reservations — Why?

Posted on: August 28, 2014

The Constitutional provision of reservation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes was never meant to be a poverty alleviation programme. The provision, outlined in Chapter XVI (Article 330 onwards), should be read in the context of Article 46 (Directive Principles of State Policy) which enjoins upon the State to take special care of the “weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”.

This was considered necessary to ensure Right to Equality for all citizens of the country irrespective of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. In the rigid Varnashram Vyavastha practised for ages in Bharat Varsha, the Shudras (roughly comprising all who were not Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas) were forced to live a condemned life. They did the unclean work, constructed their houses in a corner of the village away from the dwellings of the Savarnas, were denied education and were made constantly conscious that their very touch would contaminate the Savarnas of the villages. In some parts of the country, even their shadow was considered impure.   

Through reservations, it was sought to pull them up from the mire and place them on par with the other citizens of the country; in other words, give them a social status. The provision has helped, but not to the extent the Constitution-makers had expected. That is mainly because of the failure of those who were elected by the people to rule the country and enforce the various provisions of the Constitution. Gradually, the reservation was turned by the rulers into a vote-catching device, and the uplift of the weaker sections became only incidental.

The BJP had never had a social policy concordant with the modern society. The Sangh Parivar (of which the BJP is only a limb) had always dreamed of taking the country back to mythological Dwapur or Tretayug when the Varnashram Vyavastha was in vogue and the things like social equality or social justice, as understood today the world over, were not known. The Congress had, however, evolved from the struggle against the foreign rule and with the commitment to end injustice to all sections of the people and establish an egalitarian society.

It was, therefore, surprising how the Congress started talking of reservations for the poor Savarnas. First it was Pandit Narasimha Rao (then Prime Minister and Congress President) who had proposed reservations in government jobs for the poor Savarnas. His proposal did not find favour in his own party and it was almost forgotten. Later the issue was revived by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who comes from a feudal background, and endorsed vigorously by then AICC spokesman S.Jaipal Reddy; for all practical purposes the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi appeared out to transform itself into the clone of the BJP.

No one can find fault with the concern for the poor, whether belonging to the weaker sections or the Savarnas. The Constitution’s Chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy details guidelines on how to improve the quality of life of the people, the poor included. It enjoins, for instance, upon the State to ensure right to work and to education, provide for just and humane conditions of work, endeavour to secure living wage to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, and provide for free and compulsory education for all children. Had the elected governments been honest in implementing the Directive Principles, the requirement of reservation for any class of people would probably have become unnecessary by now.

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