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Provisions for Backward Classes

Provisions for Backward Classes

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Published by Abhijit Jadhav

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Published by: Abhijit Jadhav on Sep 23, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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India is a plural society and a democratic State and, from time to time, facesdemands from various caste, tribal religious and gender groups for social justice.The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs & STs) are regarded as deservingfor historical reasons, and by national consensus accorded positive or affirmativediscrimi-nation. The Constitution provides for special quota or reservations ineducation, employment and other State-granted benefits.There is no agreement about other categories but the demands for their inclusionin the affirmative action (positive discrimination in Indian parlance) list areassuming serious dimensions and the State is under pressure to respond to bitteragitations or compulsions that are purely political. Major categories now are SCsand STs, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Minorities, and Women at thefederal level. Individual States too have faced demands and most recent is thecase of the Gujjars in Rajasthan.It is ironical that the Indian State is increasingly withdrawing from the socialsectors under the garb of liberalisation and globalisation of the economy, yet ithas been yielding to the demands for widening the scope of Reservation andenlarging the list of State-supported categories/castes/ communities.Concomitant with the demands for concessions and special benefits is thechallenge of harmonizing the society and justifying the economic costs of such
lop-sided distribution of social benefits in the larger context of the povertyremoval goals of the Indian State.Constitutionally, contradictory political concept of equality before the law,irrespective of religion, caste, creed, race, and gender, and that of social justice atthe cost of equalit
y before the law continue to strain India’s socio
-politicalstructure. Other democracies too face similar counter claims within theirconstitutional framework. In the United States, for example, the State has takenrecourse to affirmative action to ensure justice for the less privileged sections atthe cost of individual merit and equality of all citizens before the law.In India, large numbers of people have faced social discrimination through
centuries on account of Indian society’s peculiar caste syst
em. AfterIndependence, the Indian State has provided redress to these under-privileged,
socially and economically depressed sections through “the policy of reservations
or quotas for them in jobs, seats in educational institutions and legislatures, andin
governmental aid, loans and other developmental assistance”.
 Mahatma Gandhi, while leading the nationalist movement, recognised the needfor positive discrimination for undoing the wrongs done to the depressed castesand outcast communities. Surprisingly, the Mahatma as a devout Hindu was abeliever in the caste system, but as modern political activists, he also advancedhuman rights and claims of individual dignity. He awakened the conscience of theso-called upper castes to reform the society and remov
e “untouchability” and
other humanly degrading practices. He also brought the depressed castes and
backward communities into the political mainstream and broadened the base of the freedom movement. He renamed untouchables as Harijans (people of God) soas to bring them into the traditional fold of caste Hindus and give his policy of human equality a religious sanction.
Gandhi’s political logic was not without dissenting voices. Most notable
amongthem being B.R. Ambedkar, who resented the patronising attitude of the uppercastes toward the exploited castes and outcasts. Ambedkar saw in the politicalconflict between the Congress and the Muslim League an opportunity to demandseparate electorates for the untouchables, like the Muslims enjoyed under theBritish.The British government, on August 17, 1932, announced the Communal Awardgranting separate electorates for the depressed classes by treating them as aminority. Gandhi protested and went on a hunger strike. The issue was resolvedby the Poona Pact of September 1932. The pact provided for 148 reserved seatsinstead of the 78 separately elected members under the Communal Award. It alsogranted certain privileges to the Harijans, such as educational opportunities,representation in services, and the franchise. A schedule of depressed castes wasprepared in 1936 under the government of India Act, 1935. It covered 43.6 millionpeople or 28.5% of the Hindu population and 19% of the total population of British India. The Constituent Assembly later adopted this very list.Similarly, tribes too got officially listed; the British had treated them separatelyfor administrative purposes. At the 1991 census they were about 66 million
7.75% of India’s population.

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