Social Inclusion

Historical background of Reservation Policy

In Indian law, the reservation system facilitates the access of certain sections of the population, primarily, socially and educationally backward communities and Scheduled Tribes to seats in government jobs, educational establishments, and even legislatures. Because of their caste identity, these groups have historically faced discrimination. As a step to overcome India's age-old caste system and provide everyone with equal resources and opportunities, the country's reservation system was established. Hence, the reservation, as a quota-based affirmative action, can also be viewed as a part of positive discrimination. Moreover, it is governed by government policies that the Indian Constitution supports. 

Delving into the historical background, reservations for backward classes (BCs) were established throughout a large territory even before independence. In 1882, William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule suggested a caste-based reservation policy. Subsequently, the Hunter Commission was established to represent the presidential domains and the princely kingdoms south of the Vindhyas. 

At that time, Jyortirao Phule advocated for free and mandatory education for all children and equal representation in government positions. Following this, the state of Kolhapur approved a 50 percent quota in services for backward classes/communities for non-Brahmins and backward castes as early as 1902, becoming India's first formal case of a reservation plan for the poor.

The Government of India Act of 1909 was the first Act to include elements of reservation. Before independence, the British government enacted a host of other measures as well. In June 1932, Britain's Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, proposed the Communal Award, under which separate representation was to be provided for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans. The depressed classes, essentially equivalent to the STs and SCs, were allocated some seats to be filled by election from constituencies in which only they could vote, though they may vote in other seats. The idea was divisive: Mahatma Gandhi fasted in protest, while many in the oppressed classes supported it, notably B. R. Ambedkar. After months of discussions, Gandhi and Ambedkar agreed to create a unified Hindu electorate with seats allocated for Dalits. Other religions' electorates, such as Islam and Sikhism, remained distinct. This agreement became known as the Poona Pact.

Following India's independence, the Indian Constitution classified some previously disadvantaged communities as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes(ST). 

According to the framers of the Constitution, SCs and STs were historically oppressed and denied respect and equal opportunity in Indian society. Untouchability was a common sort of caste prejudice in India, primarily aimed towards SCs. As a result, they were under-represented in nation-building efforts. The Constitution established reserved quotas of 15% and 7.5 percent of openings in government-aided educational facilities and employment in the government/public sector, respectively, for SC and ST candidates for a five-year term. The situation was to be reviewed after that.

Moving further, significant progress has been made in favor of the backward classes even after India's independence. One of the most notable was the Mandal Commission, which was founded in 1979 to evaluate the social and educational situation of the poor. According to the committee, 52 percent of India's total population (excluding SCs and STs) was 'backward.' They belonged to 3,743 different castes and groups. The committee issued a report in 1980 proposing a 27 percent reserve for backward castes, increasing the current figure from 22.5 percent to 49.5 percent. Until the 1990s, the Mandal Commission's suggestions were not implemented in Union Government employment.

Recently, The Constitutional (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has established a 10% reservation for "economically disadvantaged" people in unreserved government jobs and educational institutions. Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution are changed to include a provision that allows the government to make reservations based on economic disadvantage. This 10% economic reservation is in addition to the current 50% reservation restriction. 


Submitted by Drishti