By Damini Sharma
As a part of their fight to end caste-based discrimination and to uphold the equality provided by the constitution, many governments, while in power, have passed legislation which benefits the socially downtrodden. While most of these laws either did not make it out of Parliament or did not have the expected effect, there was one initiative by the Morarji Desai-led government, back in 1978, that led to a long and often controversial policy which has lasted till date.
The birth of the Mandal Commission
The Mandal commission of 1979, or the Second Backward Classes Commission, was established in India and introduced its citizens to new reservation policies, which were incorporated to provide equal opportunities to people belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Tribes (ST). The opportunities involved places of education and work, mostly in government institutions. It was also responsible for introducing a new category of people who require reservations, known as Other Backward Classes (OBC). The commission was set up to redress caste-based discrimination and used eleven different social, economic and educational indicators to determine the backwardness of these classes, as compared to the others.
However, the policies that were introduced or modified by the commission were done so according to the circumstances of the society and the status of the people of backward classes and castes, in those times. Over the 38 years that have passed since its inception, the citizens of the country have developed, and there has been quite some change in the mindsets of people and their perception of right and wrong.
The onset of a creamy layer
The current times have seen the rise of education, literacy rate and financial growth, both in urban as well as rural areas – however, the disparity between the economically well-off and poorer sections continues to widen with the passing of each day. Adding the existence of casteism on top, and we are left with a large community that is not allowed to come out of the folds of poverty, mainly due to the society-induced backwardness of their castes.
The reservation system, initially introduced to help in uplifting and providing opportunities for the whole of the lower castes/tribes community, is now being used to primarily benefit the upper cream – the ones who can afford to send their children to good schools and colleges, who already make enough money to sustain themselves and their families, who live in urban areas and who do not face severe discrimination. This has led to unrest and dissatisfaction in people belonging to both the same as well as other castes, since it has led to opportunities being snatched from a meritorious student/employee and being given to another, simply on the basis of their caste.
The biggest demerit of such a situation is that the oppressed and underprivileged people continue to remain in this vicious cycle of poverty and backwardness, despite the existence of benefitting laws and policies. They still face discrimination; they are still at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. They still don’t have opportunities for their upliftment, since the richer members of the same caste take away all the reserved seats in the job and education sector.
A PIL for a division within reservation
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed recently by some members of the SC/ST community that sought the introduction of the concept of the ‘creamy layer’ in SC/ST reservation – that is, a division on the basis of education and financial standing of a person or a family belonging to the lower castes. They justified their PIL by stating that since no caste has stayed homogenously backward, the ‘creamy layer’ or the more privileged among the community, should not be allowed to avail reservation benefits, a move that proves to be unfair for both the general quota people as well as the lower strata SC/ST members. Currently, the concept of ‘creamy layer’ exists only in the (OBC) community. The petitioners sought “instructions and guidelines prescribing parameters and criteria for excluding the creamy layer from SCs and STs, in pari materia to OBC.” The PIL will be reviewed by a Supreme Court (SC) bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Reservation has long been a point of debate amongst the Indian people, with both its merits and demerits being dissected and discussed at length, with various forms and amendments being introduced and castes and sub-castes being taken on and off the categorical list. However, the implementation of such measures should pertain to the needs of specifically those who are still underprivileged and still discriminated against despite the rate of evolution, modernisation and development of the country.
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