Tackling the Caste Based Reservation Debate – Positively

For a few years in every decade, the discussion about caste based reservation becomes hot. The 60’s and 70’s saw anti-upper caste movements in many states esp South India. In 80’s, there was a huge anti-reservation movement in Gujarath. In 90’s we had the anti-Mandal commission movement. The decade of 2000’s saw consolidation of castes and some some improbable alignments between SC’s and so-called upper castes in states like Uttar Pradesh. In this decade, this discussion has once again started. However, the tragedy is that the stakeholders don’t progress towards a solution and positions only become more rigid. What are the reasons ?

Period of Turmoil is the worst period to engage in a free and fair discussion. Basically because issues are clouded due to prejudice, personal experiences and positions are strong. However, considering that the discussions are now rampant esp on Social media platforms, it  maybe worthwhile to examine the issues raised.

Those who oppose reservations Say 

  1. The constitution makers envisaged only 10 years for reservations. Why is it continuing till date?
  2. Why should merit suffer ? It leads to mediocrity.
  3. Is this not reverse discrimination ?
  4. Reservation should be on the basis of economic criteria

Those who support Reservations Say 

  1. The lower castes were subjected to discrimination for centuries by Hindu society and hence seek redressal.
  2. Discrimination is still rampant and large sections are still unprivileged and therefore a case for reservations.

In both positions, there is merit in the argument. However, instead of seeing each other point of view by dialogue, the groups have transferred their power of attorney to politicians who make good use of the issues to further their cause.  Personal rivalries, Election clashes, land and family disputes also take up that vicious form. Further, the politician or the interested person gives it the colour of conflict between two castes just to save his skin and serve his political ends. At such times, unfortunately, many well-meaning persons are made pawns in this game.

Let us try and address the issues one by one :


The standard terminology that is used is “Discrimination of centuries by upper castes”. The character of a society is revealed during times of crisis. History bears testimony that for centuries that all castes stood by each other to fight the invaders. In fact, there are no instances in history which show inter-caste conflict as the reason for a loss. So-called lower castes like Jat,Mina, Meo,Bachgoti, Baghela,Tomar,Barwaris,Gonds, Bhils, Satnamis,Marathas,Oraons, Gujars, Kunbis, put up a heroic and determined resistance to the invaders.

Battles that we lost were either due to personal ambition, treachery, excessive chivalry or under-preparedness.  The subsequent treatment of all Hindu jaatis by the invaders was the same – oppression. In fact, the so-called upper castes were subjected to the highest form of discrimination. Many of them were later made to menial jobs like manual scavenging and it lead to an increase in castes which were later enumerated as Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes.  The book ” Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Medieval India” throws great light on the same.

Unfortunately over a period of time, leadership of the rest of the so-called upper castes of society became rigid, forgot its moorings & intrinsic spirit of our scriptures of Atmavat Sarva Bhuteshu .  As Swami Vivekananda puts it, “Touch me not ism” became prevalent. So much so that some communities were debarred from temple entry, getting water from the same source as others and also basic respect.

 British Rule 

During the British period, many artisan jaatis ( castes ) were destroyed effectively making them backward. Some castes which revolted were marked as criminal castes. When the British introduced their education system, many of the then upper castes took to it ( or motivated to take to it ) and were given jobs in administration positions. This was the period when the systematic discrimination was brought in.

Pre-British rule surveys by British surveryors show that all sections of society received education in large numbers. This was later documented in the Beautiful Tree by Sri Dharampal. The British education system made it difficult for lower castes to get educated. The caste system became legally rigid during the British Raj, when the British started to enumerate castes during their ten-year census and meticulously codified the system. A system which was self-managed was made dependent on government for grants and sops.

Reverse Discrimination 

The argument by the anti-reservation groups is that what is being practised today is reverse discrimination. ” Why should we suffer ” they say ?

At the face of it, yes it does seem unfair that those who had nothing to do with the “wrongs” of the past are facing the brunt of a policy in which they feel wronged.  However, in a nation’s life,  esp when one considers the society as an extended family, it is inevitable that some sections of society sacrifice some of their comforts for the sake of the less privileged. The term less privileged in this case is not from the economic point of view but from a social perspective. However, this cannot run endlessly. Community leaders from all sections have to come forward to discuss these issues and work out solutions.

Post Independence :

After Independence, the Constitution makers gave a provision for reservations to certain sections of society to enable them to regain social status in society. However, the implementation of affirmative action seems to be flawed and instead of the number of reserved castes reducing over time , it has only increased.

What Does this lead to ? 

  • Society, esp the unreserved categories lose confidence that reservation as a policy would ever go away and therefore they make efforts as groups to become part of the bandwagon viz to stake claim of backwardness or seek other forms of reservations.
  • The most needy communities in terms of social status still don’t get the benefit of reservations which makes the case for the same to be retained.
  • There is no movement from the politicians to instill a feeling of swabhimaana and motivation to move forward. Before the British came, there were hundreds of instances of communities moving forward from so-called lower caste status. It effectively meant that the desire of communities was to be respected.
  • Politicians make communities a pawn in their game of power showing the carrot of benefits.

Growth of SC ,ST’s and BC’s post Independence : 

In 1950 we had 1208 SC castes. 2011 census : 1241; List of SC’s in 1950

In 1950 , we had 664 Scheduled Tribes. 2011 we have 705;

1950 we had 1257 communities enumerated as Backward Classes. It must be noted that the constitution framers scrupulously used the word “Other Socially and Educationally Backward classes” and not castes for OBC’s. However, new political movements use the word Other backward Castes for OBC’s.

In 1979 –  3743 castes and communities were enumerated as OBC’s;  In 2013 – this number was put at 5013.

The above numbers are a consolidation of the castes and communities enumerated in various states and Union Territories. There are many castes which have an overlap in the states.

It effectively shows that instead we now have more and more castes aspiring to become part of the SC,ST and BC community list. The constitution has been amended dozens of time to include more castes into this list.

The recent movement by the Patel’s of Gujarath also falls in the same category. It either shows that communities are being further impoverished by government policies or that there is a rush to fall backwards. It also shows that the government is not the agency which can stop this.

How can we Win Over this Situation  ?

This problem cannot have  political solution because it requires political parties to have a view bigger than electoral politics. It can be solved by 3 stakeholders – Individuals, Community leaders (non-politicians ) and Sadhus. We cannot wash away the fact that some of the castes were subjected to inhuman social discrimination, lack of temple entry during a period of time as stated above .

a. In 1921 Census- The Race Was To Rise In Hierarchy – Understanding Why ?

Hindus never believed in living at the mercy of other. Swabhimaana or self-respect was an essential part of our value system. In 1921, jaati ( caste ) sabhas put up representations to be called as Higher castes. The representations included – Ahars as Yadavas, Yadava as kshatriya, Aheria as Hara Rajput, Ahir as Kshatriya, Banjaras as Chauhans and Rajputs, Barhai as Dhiman Brahman, Chamar as Jatav Rajput, Gadaria as Pali Rajput, Gujar as kshatriya, Jat as Jaduvanshi Thakur, Nai as Nai Brahman, Patwa as Brahman and so on..This list runs to 63 pages . Each of this caste demanding a higher place in the social hierarchy. Contrast this with the movements later where movements were made so that Scheduled castes be called as Crushed communities- Dalits.  

Shift in Caste Numbers : Also, the census thereafter showed that numbers in castes changed frequently. For example,  Yeatts, who was the  British Census officer compared 5 successive censuses and wrote that caste enumeration is useless since the figures swing.  He gave examples of Ambattans who were recorded as 2,27,000 in one census and in successive ones, they came to 10,000 because they went to other jaatis. Similarly, the number of gollas declined but Yadavas increased. The reason being one Jaati had many upajaatis ( sub-castes ) and transmigration among upajaatis was common. It is for this reason that the British made enumeration of caste rigid and tied benefits like jobs, sops etc to caste.

 The Census Commissioner of India for 1931, J.H. Hutton noted,

Sorting for caste is really worthless unless nomenclature is sufficiently fixed to render the resulting totals close and reliable approximations. Had caste terminology the stability of religious returns, caste sorting might be worthwhile

. With the fluidity of current appellations it is certainly not… 227,000 Ambattans have become 10,000, Navithan, Nai, Nai Brahman, Navutiyan, Pariyari claimabout 140,000 all terms unrecorded or untabulated in 1921

Only explanation for this could be that most of the Ambattans of 1921 changed into some other caste. Similarly, the number of Marathas in Central Provinces and Berar increased from93,901 in 1911, to 206,144 in 1921. This more than 110% increase in number can be explained by the mass mobilization of Kunbis ( Kurmi’s) to Marathas during the period. It was also found that Koli’s could rise to the status of Maratha Kunbi by taking to cultivation.

b. Ending Social Discrimination 

As the 3rd RSS Sarsanghchalak, Sri Balasaheb Deoras put it,

” In this task of bringing about social equality, we should be able to win over the support and cooperation of various types of people. We should, for that purpose, conduct our selves with restraint and grace. Then only we will be successful. There are our religious leaders, saints, sages and scholars. They hold a sway over the popular mind. Their cooperation in this task is essential. Sometimes we feel that they are firmly attached to only the old customs and would not like to see them changed. However, this should not make us mistake their good intentions.In other countries too there are religious teachers pinning their faith on ancient systems. Nevertheless the people there do not ridicule them on that account. We too, with proper approach, could plead with our religious leaders that they should, in their preaching’s and discourses, tell the people which facets of our Dharma are of eternal value and which of them changeable according to the times, and that such an exposition on their part would be more impressive and pervasive in its effect. We should also submit to them that the responsibility of protecting the society is theirs and that it can be discharged only by their coming out of their ashrams and mutts and unreservedly mixing in the society.
Though this appears as an uphill task, actually it is not so. Fortunately there are already auspicious indications that our Dharma Gurus have started working in this direction.”

c. Invoking Swabhimaana  or Self- Respect

The above examples show that the so-called “backward” communities also did not ask for the mercy of anybody. They only desired an equal status with others and that too on their own merits. The Dalit Chamber of commerce is one such initiative in instilling a feeling of self-confidence and aspiration among the scheduled castes. We are seeing individual instances of people from SC,ST and BC’s giving up reservations for themselves and their children as a contribution from their side for the nation. Such people must be celebrated and discussed. Dr.Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr.BR Ambedkar also stepped in stating that it is time to end Political reservations .

It is for the communities getting reservations to think and strive and chalk out a time-bound plan of rising themselves up. A day has to come when all of us will feel equal, equal in our worth and capacities.And it is for them to decide how long these privileges should continue. Groups of such individuals must educate their own community members to give up reservations for the sake of the more under-privileged ones.   Read also – Social Equality & Hindu Consolidation

d. Empathy

I complained I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet “. While it is true that many beneficiaries can actually give up reservation for their next generation, it is equally true that there are many more who deserve affirmative action. It is important that the socially upwardly mobile communities share a emphatic view on the situation of communities who are socially deprived. The entire society must invest in educating the more underprivileged communities and give them a sense of self-respect.

e. See Through the Game & Let Us All Show Maturity 

Some people are making derogatory caricatures on both sides showing the other group as wily characters. This is the work of those who want to divide the society and a continuation of the British mindset.. This is not the first time a social issue is being discussed in our nation. A social issue needs to be handled with maturity of a society which has a civilization history of atleast 10000 years.

We must show ourselves, the world and our generation next that we are worthy descendants of ancestors who wanted to Ennoble the World by Krunvanto Vishwam Aryam .  We cannot allow a set of political leaders to hijack the nation’s progress. At the same time, we must know our history of handling social issues and then Discuss and Resolve Issues – We must !

– Ayush Nadimpalli

Sources :

i) Government Census – 1950 to 2011

ii) Social Equality and Hindu Consolidation – By Sri Balasaheb Deoras

iii) Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Medieval India – Sri KS Lal

iv) Falling Over Backwards by Sri Arun Shourie

v) Caste by MN Srinivas

vi) RSS resolution on reservations – 1981


7 thoughts on “Tackling the Caste Based Reservation Debate – Positively

  1. Rahul Shastri

    The positive approach of the note is very welcome. Not only should we discuss, but we should alos avoid condemning fellow hindu jatis who are pressing their claims -flippantly or viciously.
    To my mind six questions can be raised in relation to reservations:
    1) Who should get reservations?
    a) Should they be group based – caste based, or individual based (economic criterion)
    b) If groups, which groups should get reservations
    2) What should be reserved, and what not:
    a) what posts and positions are functionally important and blind to social origin: eg. pilot of plane, surgeon, army etc.
    b) should reservation be confined to education and not to jobs? Should reservation in jobs include promotions? Should reservation in promotions be limited to a couple of opportunities or lead right to the top? The answer to these questions is linked to 2 a) above.
    3) Should reservations be self perpetuating or radioactive? The ultimate test of any good welfare policy is that it should lead to a position when welfare is no longer needed. Dr. Ambedkar had envisaged such an end with his 20 year limit.
    But is the reservation policy designed for radioactive decay? Or is it irreversible? Can state policy alone ensure the emergence of backward into the light of self-dependence? Or should it complement social action? What is the effective design or mix?
    4) How to negotiate the distance between social reason with individual reason?
    The reservation question brings out the sharp difference between individual reason, which is based upon functionality of systems and individual justice, and social reason which is based upon the logic of social advantage and empowerment.
    That is why questions 1-3 above have been debated for donkey’s years, and we can argue till we beat each other’s brains out without reaching consensus.
    Europe traversed the distanced between the logic of ‘classes and masses’ to that of individuals over two hundred years by creating the ‘citizen’, a master of his home and slave to the market. And they had the advantage of negotiating the first 200 years after the French revolution with a truncated democracy that narrowed the definition of ‘masses’.
    We do not have the luxury of two hundred years. So what do we do?
    5) Can reservation policy be used as a political tool?
    Democracies are shaped by ‘masses’, who consist of groups and individuals. But everyone that has an opinion is not ‘masses’.
    ‘Masses’ in the political sense are defined by the nature of politics that we advocate. Five yearly elections define the masses as those who come to vote. Agitational politics define ‘masses’ as those who come into the street.
    The tension between the two is epitomised between the two Delhis: the Delhi of India, and the Delhi of Delhi. The second model follows the JP model of total revolution, for which India may be ripe, for good or for bad. Leadership becomes of fundamental importance in this process, and forfeiting this is committing suicide.
    There is a second aspect.
    Reservations were originally conceived as affirmative action for groups among whom backwardness persisted owing to the Hindu ‘jati trap’. Whether the logic was right or wrong, historically justified or not, sufficiently large number believed in it, as post-Mandal events showed.
    But before the last elections, reservations were offered like lollipops to communities that do not have a ‘jati’ trap, and who have ruled India for 800 years, in order to redefine the structure of electoral masses.
    That shameful blot on Indian history, Mannu Baba, even offered the first claim on national resources to those who have ruled India and looted Hindus through jizya and open plunder etc. for hundreds of years. That they failed is no consolation. This time round they will do things more brazenly and determinedly given a chance.
    So this brings me to the question, can reservations be used to redefine the nature of masses in the sense of ‘boots on the street’? Can a united stand of Hindus outflank the growing cry of separatists? The number of people that I saw on the streets of Gujarat were considerably higher than those in the streets of Bombay last month. They were all Hindu. To be sure, agitations can always be taken for a ride by agent provocateurs. But the question is, if Hindus unite on this difficult question, can we keep the separatists at bay?
    Of course, solution even along Tamil Nadu lines, will require constitutional amendments and confrontation with the judiciary. But if Hindus can be organised and united to amend constitutions on this one question, there are so many other constitutional amendments that are also required … can this pave the way?
    Confrontation with judiciary will mean a long battle. Will that not be a good training ground for organised and sustained mass action of Hindus, united across most castes? If history has shown us anything, it is the lack of sustained mass and organised action of Hindus.
    This brings me to the last question.
    6) What is the slogan that can unite all or most Hindu jatis? It cannot just be reservation for this jati or that. We already have reservations for SCs/STs and OBCs. What remains then? Only NRCs or Non-ruling castes, and economically poor families of former ruling castes.
    To my mind, the broadest slogan therefore is:
    1) Reservation for all non-ruling castes or NRCs {(defined by region, for the last 700 years (?)} with 5% reservation for the economically poor of the the ‘ruling jatis’ over this time. The target can be the Tamilnadu system (85% ? check)
    2) One generation norm for each nuclear family in reservation. Job reservation to be confined to less functional posts, promotions to be confined to two after entry.
    3) All jatis, especially those excluded from the quota, should work to see that no vacancies arise in quotas, and reservations are effectively implemented.
    Once this policy is effectively implemented, the rationalisation of older blocks of quotas will become possible. Even so, active and open work of all castes on this question is very important. Anyone who is against reservations can end reservations, only he or she works for the successful implementation for ‘radioactive reservations”. Otherwise, it is merely his arguments against anothers.
    Let us work for reservations in such a way as to end the need for all reservations.
    Reservation to end all reservations!

  2. Vikrant Shah

    Very well written article providing a comprehensive mix of historical background, arguments from both sides, perceptions vs reality and actual supporting data. It does make sense to appeal to people to show mutual respect, empathy, see the big picture and avoid getting into the trap of selfish entities rousing emotions of people for their selfish gains.

    One thing that I have been looking for are some case studies across any country in any period of time having more objectively resolved / tackled the affirmative action problem, possibly around how it can be made dynamic enough ensuring the benefits reach the most needy and the issue doesn’t become a tool in hands of politicians. That may also give some directions to build roadmap ahead.

    All in all it is a great article that should be used as a reference for long time to come whenever this discussion arises so that focus stays more on objectivity and practicality rather than narrow perspectives towards selfish gains. This article will help ensure that the integrity of the nation is not compromised while enabling equal opportunities for all considering the past, present and future scenarios.

  3. Dhamma

    Article effectively covers the causes and throws light on how; seeking political solution to the problem is in vain. We have many constitutional and legal safeguards to save the vested interest of our fellow citizens irrespective of the class or caste they identify themselves with. Though we see these safeguards are not effective in solving the problem at ground level because of the complete sabotage of identity issues by political domain. We need to strengthen our social activism to build a nationwide awareness among people to:
    1. Take caste problems away from political space
    2. It is equally important to raise the self-esteem of the people (of all castes) by making them aware of the fact that, there was no concept of untouchability in Bharat before foreign invasions. Castes are devised as a political tool by foreign rulers to rule the people and break the nation. Caste tool proved so great that today everybody aspires to become Dalit and compete with our fellow citizens and further break the nations.
    We need social movements which re-establish the dharma in our punya bhoomi. Important points which needs to be part of this social awareness
    1. Treating no body as lower caste, in fact working towards merging castes (The real ghar wapasi). There are strong evidences that mahars were marathas and mehatars were rajputs and so on.
    2. Dignity of labor is important, hence we should eradicate all the jobs which involve menial work like manual scavenging and come up with innovative solutions for waste management.
    3. Absolute eradication of caste prejudices by promulgating the thought of samarasta in the society. Considering oneself or others of higher caste or lower caste is mental sickness.
    4. Empowering the rural economy to be more participative so that people are dependent on each other and hence they tend to respect each other.
    Our saints, spiritual gurus of various panths including buddhists, jains and sikhs and other dignitaries in society should take a lead in promoting this sense in Hindu society. In current scenario, these issues are not political but social and hence it can be solved only by means of social movements.
    Fragmented societies form weak governments which ensure political sustainability through further fragmentation. United societies form strong governments which facilitate the empowerment of every section. On the debate on reservation, reservation is not an issue at all but tool by political parties, to divide the society. We want reservation free and discrimination free Bharat and hence snatch the issue from political parties and work towards social harmony, which is not symbolic but real.

  4. Niraj

    Casteism in today’s India gets most of it’s sting due to the issue of reservation. The reserved castes are understandably reluctant to let it go as it fetches them a way to to coveted jobs and seats … while unreserved are also rightly peeved at reduction in chances … in all this debate we shd focus of the key element which stokes passions – scarcity.

    unless jobs and seats are as scarce as they are, there is no end to the heated exchanges. the point is merit becomes a much overused word because the competition among the ‘reserved’ quota is no less fierce … getting a seat at the elite institutes of India becomes a matter of luck rather that merit … after all how much a difference in merit can be ascertained by the difference of mere 1 mark out of 500 … say 234 vs 235? yet such differences usually mean getting admission or not. and the situation is more or less the same in the reserved quota. Please dont get me wrong … there are truly meritorious individuals who do obtain 495 out of 500 even in the intense exams, but this is 1) only one minor aspect of “merit” and 2) these individuals are least affected by quotas anyway. the ones affected by reservation, either fairly or unfairly, are ppl who are average, which means the great masses among us.

    so any sensible policy of addressing this divisive issue must address the “scarcity” as first priority. any thing which reduces the ferocity of the competition a few notches, it is a step in the right direction. after this animosity is addressed, then the natural hindu culture will have time to heal all wounds and heal it will.

    such a step will have to come as a top-down policy change, with or without dialogue between the stake holders. as I see it, the only thing that emerges as a culprit is our 60 years of socialistic economic policies. socialism aims for equality of outcomes, rather than opportunites … the result is an artifical scarcity of education, skill, jobs and goods … not to speak of a total lack of investible capital and trampled property rights of individuals. this situation is tailor made for strife. if there was no casteism in india, something else wud come up and take it’s place to tear apart a socialist india.

    The sooner we get rid of socialism, the sooner we will get rid of caste acrimonies.

  5. सुमन्त शर्मा (@sumanthbharatha)

    If we take a civilizational view of mankind, if there is one civilization that stands out in terms of, being constantly able to find solutions to challenges of time, geography, demography and other important factors like cross fertilzation of population after invasions etc, then it is bhArath or Sanatana Hindu civilization that as found solution from within.

    The extremes of, trivialization of the matter as murderof merit, or the recent demand are both lacking in depth of understanding the “issue” which is genuine.

    It is something like the recent Vikaspuri incident in Delhi where from later reports, it appears that it was quite to the contrary the girl created nuisance and played victim, If true, or when this happens, the boy suffers no doubt, but the real long term victims are the women themselves as it weakens their real battle for their safety in public life.

    Extreme views like all men are molesters or all cases are fake fail the purpose.

    Not a direct parallel though.

    Here too, without a historical perspective as to my so many communities became backward (partly due to British Historians and later political gimickry of the same), has led to political and media narrative that backward jAtis have always been oppressed by so called forward jAtis. This has to be set right by reclaiming our history and Indians re telling the Indian history.

    The other side of the spectrum is the so called forward jAtis taking exception to this “prolonged period” of affirmative action/reservation – In extreme cases there have been movements and in Bihar for ex even hatred enemy groups too formed during 80s,

    As highlighted by the Author Sri Ayush, what has suffered finally is that there is no meal ready in the end.

    As righlty pointed out, it is time high for an objective evaluation of stated purpose and the progress made in the direction of bringing the backward jAtis at par with the rest of the nation.

  6. Rajgopal Gundgurti

    Most of us resort to emotions mixed with ego and finally fall prey to politicians. It reminds me the story of two cats(two ideologies anti and pro-reservation) fighting for butter and finally monkey(politician) eats it in the name of “justice”. We should think beyond it to resolve the issue.


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