The provision of caste based reservation for the backward sections in government jobs and educational institutions in India were started and provided for through the outcome of the Constituent Assembly debates. In order to reach to this decision there were long, heated and popular arguments from both the people in support and opposition in the assembly.
The arguments in favour has its base in the principles of Justice, Equality and Fraternity. Shri P. Kakkan of Madras argued that, “The government can expect necessary qualification or personality from the Harijans, but not merit. If you take merit alone into account, the Harijans cannot come forward.”
This statement of Mr. Kakkan was meant only for the initial period of 10 years for which caste based reservation was to be introduced. This is because the benefits of caste based reservation in educational institutions was expected to increase efficiency of the Harijans. However, the benefits of caste based reservation have been appropriated by the economically powerful sections of the backward communities, leaving the needy and poorer sections in backward communities still vulnerable and wanting. There is a need to abolish the system of caste based reservation and give economic support to these poorer sections so as to make them able to achieve high quality of education which will increase their efficiency and help them get gainful employment.
Majority of the pro-reservationists including leaders from the Harijans in the Constituent Assembly favoured reservations only for a temporary period so as to prevent perpetuation of caste-based identities in the country. 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 for ever, but so long as they remain so backward in getting admission into the services it is highly necessary that they must be given some protection”. Shri Pillai knew that the extension of reservations beyond a certain minimum time period would not only hurt the nations’s interest by reducing economic growth but would hurt the growth of the Harijans themselves by making them lax and inefficient. Moreover, ‘some kind of protection’ in the statement means that he was open to measures other than reservations to uplift the backward sections in case the system of reservations failed to deliver the desired results which we know is the case today.
Shri T. Channaiah of Mysore remarked that “the backward communities suffer from two disabilities, namely, social disabilities and educational disabilities. I want this reservation for 105 years which has been the period during which opportunities have been denied to them”. This statement of Mr. Channaiah seems to be inherently flawed as he has implicitly and arbitrarily predicted not only the way of improving the conditions of the backward sections but has also given a fixed time frame after which the evils of casteism will be flushed out of the country. There is no mention of the possibilities of the economically stronger sections among the backward classes appropriating majority of the benefits or the ways to safeguard the concerns of the economically weaker sections among the backward classes or to ensure for them their fair share in reservations. The proposal to continue the caste based reservation for a time matching the time of sufferings of the backward sections seems to be a “Revenge Policy” more than anything. In short, this statement lacks vision and is tilting more towards a ‘Rigid’ demand which is not sure to achieve anything.
The main concern of the pro-reservationists according to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was to achieve Equality of opportunity for all citizens with a broader concept of Equality at the core. For this, reverse discrimination strategy through reservations was proposed for a period of 10 years after which Equality was expected to prevail in the country. However, this goal is yet to be achieved even after 70 years of independence.
There were a large number of members in the Constituent Assembly who saw the harm that would be caused by the system of reservations including the likes of Stalwarts like Sardar Patel, Nehru, among others. They knew that the system once brought into force would become a political tool which would be misused for luring voters and hence would become difficult to remove.
Also, other members have found the reservation system to be anomalous and biased towards certain sections leaving out other needy ones. Z.H. Lahari made the plea that, “Take away the reservation from the Legislature and for God’s sake give us reservation in the services. Here I speak not only for the Muslim of the United Provinces but also for other minority people.” He argued that giving reservations to Anglo-Indians and excluding Muslims was a blatant discrimination.
According to Sardar Patel the system of reservations being based on communal lines was against the concept of Secularism which was very important for the prosperity of India. Sardar Patel declared that “this Constitution of India, of free India, of a secular state will not hereafter be disfigured by any provision on a communal basis”.
The definition of backward classes, according to many members, was not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution and could be misused by politicians to include their vote-bank in the backward classes. H.N. Kunzru deplored that “the word ‘Backward’ is not defined anywhere in the Constitution”. He pleaded that “whether any class is Backward or not should not be left to the law courts to decide. It is our duty to define the term”. T.T. Krishnamachari considered the term to be very vague and susceptible to varied interpretations. “It does not apply to a backward caste…. It says class. Is it a class which is based on grounds of economic status or on grounds of literacy or on grounds of birth?”
According to Ambedkar, to attain equality, the majority should not try to threaten the existence of minorities and the minorities should not try to perpetuate themselves. This means that Ambedkar wanted both classes to exist together and united. He wanted to find a solution to this problem for which he considered reservations to be a hindrance if it was carried on beyond 1960.
In the words of Ambedkar, “In this country, both the minorities and the majorities have followed a wrong path. It is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities. It is equally wrong for the minorities to perpetuate themselves. A solution must be found which will serve a double purpose. It must recognise the existence of the minorities to start with. It must also be such that it will enable minorities to emerge someday into one…. The moment the majority loses the habit of discriminating against the minority, the minorities can have no ground to exist. They will vanish”.
There were also members who thought that giving reservations on the basis of castes is not right. This is because within every caste there are prosperous people who don’t need reservations. But if reservations were given to a caste as a whole these people would get the benefits which is unfair to poor people who are not within the ambit of reservations. Mahavir Tyagi said, “The term Scheduled Castes is a fiction…there are some castes who are depressed, some castes who are poor, some who are untouchables…How is Dr Ambedkar a member of the Scheduled Castes? Is he illiterate? Is he an untouchable? Is he lacking in anything? … I do not believe in the minorities on community basis, but minorities must exist on economic basis.” He further said, “It was not the Scheduled Castes that needed special provisions “but “cobblers, washermen, and similar classes,” along with farmers, who did not enjoy this very urban provision.
Dr P S Deshmukh, said, “there are millions of people in our country whose obstacles are in no way different from those of the Scheduled Castes; and I wish to leave room for such people.”
Reservation was agreed to by the people who were uncomfortable with the system on the condition that it would be introduced for a period of 10 years only. These people strongly believed that social ills and economic inequality cannot be solved by political measures. They agreed with the policy of ‘reservation for 10 years’ so that the above theory was proved right at the end of this period which will eliminate the practice by building consensus against reservations. Amartya Sen has also highlighted the need to build ‘functional capabilities’ among the backward sections instead of giving reservations to them which is a more sustainable way to achieve real progress and equality.
It was also feared that reservations in jobs and educational institutions would satisfy only personal and vested interests instead of uplifting backward castes as a whole. In this regard, Shri R. K. Sidhva said, “people who will come in the name of the backward classes will come only for their own personal position and personal aggrandisement to insert themselves as backward classes to win their own personal ends I know people would come in the name of the
backward classes only to get a few posts, leaving the poor masses of that community in the lurch. I am therefore strongly opposed to the inclusion of the term ‘backward classes’.”
Mr. Sidhva also alerted other members that the inception of the caste based reservation system and consistent increments in the number of backward castes by inclusion of new castes in the list would undermine India’s Freedom and strength in multilateral fora due to the possible misuse of the provision by hostile nations like Britain at that time. Mr. Sidhva said, “Britishers wanted to dub many as backward classes and then play them up to the whole world and say that India consists of so many backward classes and so they do not deserve freedom. I do not want this term “backward classes” perpetuated in our Constitution. The sooner we do away with this, the better for our country, the ‘better for our position in the world.”
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar considered castes as anti-national. Due to this reason he did not support caste based reservation beyond a certain period of time. He was a staunch supporter of the idea of ‘Annihilation of Caste’. In the words of Ambedkar, On 25th November, 1949, in Constituent Assembly, Doctor Ambedkar spoke:
“In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste.”
At the time of independence, reservations were introduced as a means to wholesome development. But today a stage is reached where the means have become an end which has led to the fragmentation and division of the society on caste lines which was never the intention of the members of the Constituent Assembly. ‘Compensatory Justice’ to some sections of the society should not lead to or mean ‘Compensatory Injustice’ to the remaining sections. If the Constituent Assembly was reconstituted today comprising the old members, they would definitely not have continued with the caste based reservation system looking at the condition of the nation and results of the historical disaster. Thus, the effort should now be to replace the reservation system with a more realistic and holistic plan for the backward classes and for the nation as a whole.