Edited by: Anusha YG and Arul SK
In Anand Teltumbde’s ‘Republic of Caste’, he discusses how ‘reservations’ have always existed in society, regardless of positive or negative connotations. The Upper Castes, aka the privileged section, complain about caste-based reservation and how “less-deserving” students are picked over meritorious students only in the name of reservations, without realising that reading and writing — a few decades ago — was ‘reserved’ for Brahmins and other upper-caste students. Dalits and other oppressed castes were forced to do socially ‘dirty’ tasks like sewer cleaning and animal slaughter and were actively denied the right to an education by Upper Caste enforced tradition, let alone attend university.
When reservation as an instrument of Upper Caste power existed for millennia, it was the intent of India as a democratic nation to make it an instrument of affirmative action for the marginalized, making it inherent to constitutional fabric, and thus, fundamental to the country.
Brahmins and other Upper Caste individuals were never asked to prove their merit, they were offered positions in governments and schools without question as their caste spoke volumes for their education. However, for generations, the oppressed castes — the ones who were persecuted without a second look — were not allowed to even enter institutions of education, let alone seek education at these places. This has been a long-term problem, and it rightfully led to reserving seats for the education of people belonging to oppressed castes.
Recently, an overwhelmingly Upper Caste Supreme Court has made the call to discard caste-based reservations rather than allowing marginalized communities in policy-making. The reservation that exists today was hard fought for and grounded in socio-economic biases that persist today as a fabric of Indian culture. With Dr. BR Ambedkar leading a movement calling for a separate electorate altogether for the lower castes, seeking autonomy from an Upper Caste dominated social strata — reservation in employment, education, and electoral representation — was brought about as a compromise to maintain the neoliberal Gandhian Hindu pillar.
To deny reservation would mean to return to UC domination, which continues to persist despite socio-economic mobility for Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities. Regardless of Upper Caste bias and the fear of undermining what they perceive to be a meritocracy, reservations have seen only benefit for the oppressed castes, with higher enrollment rates recorded in educational institutions and higher employment rates.
Now that we’ve established that reservations are important and still required for the majority of Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi individuals, the addressing of the next issue is important: What if the government decided to do away with reservations?
In the education sector, reservations have greatly benefitted oppressed caste individuals, with 85% of women and 74% men from the ST sector and 51% of men and 74% of women from the SC sector saying they would not have been able to attend an educational institution without the help of reservations.
Reservations have also considerably helped oppressed caste people to acquire jobs and employment that would eventually get them out of the generational work that was passed on to them without choice. A majority of the “reserved class” students have said that reservations are their main motivation to study, as they’re supposedly guaranteed a seat in college, and therefore a well-paying job. This clearly shows the effectiveness of reservations as an instrument of caste-class mobility.
That being said, the current government has shown disdain for reservations multiple times, along with Narendra Modi adding a 10% quota for the “Economically Weaker Section”, which in technicality only benefits economically marginalized Upper Castes. It negates the connection between caste and class, and therefore, the need for caste-based representation.
The Supreme Court’s recent rulings have proved further that alongside the government, Upper Caste judges also don’t stand in solidarity with the oppressed castes, with the recent occurrence of excluding a Dalit judge from a ruling on caste-based reservations. This came after appointing said Dalit judge in the Supreme Court after almost a decade.
The age-old question of whether we can do away with reservations has always had a definite answer. With Upper Caste people continuing to justify the erasure of reservations by quoting the ever-existing ‘rich DBA classmate who doesn’t deserve their college seat’ creamy-layer anecdote, DBA individuals reiterate that they need reservations — and much more — to gain social capital and mobility.
While it may have been stated that reservation was meant to stand for just 10 years post-independence, no real upliftment other than reservations has been put in place to benefit the DBA community, leaving Dr. Ambedkar’s ultimate goal, the complete annihilation of caste, as a far-off reality. Therefore, it remains essential to the Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities that caste-based reservations continue as a cornerstone for social capital and someday, the promised equality with their oppressors.