Reservation in India-Meaning and Historical Background

Reservation in India is seen as positive discrimination in India. It is a government policy that was added to the Constitution of India by various amendments. Reservation is considered as an affirmative action taken by the Government of India. In this article on Reservation in India, we will discuss the different types of reservations and the history of reservations in India.

What is reservation in India?

Reservation in India is a system of reserving access to government jobs, educational institutions and seats in Parliament for certain sections of the Indian population. Reservation to certain sections of the Indian population is due to historical injustice done to their caste.

Caste reservation in India

Caste reservation in India is the most controversial issue that you have seen over the years. The main question behind caste reservation in India is whether the government should give reservations on the basis of caste or not? You may consider it a simple question but when you try to answer it there will be a lot of complications involved.

Before going into the depth of caste reservation in India, we must know about caste discrimination in India. Do you think discrimination is still prevalent in India? Is untouchability still practised today? People living in cities might assume that it is not limited to books only and no one is practising it in today’s time. But you will be surprised to know that even today there are many such families in India who are practising untouchability in India. In some districts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh this ratio is more than 50%.

In a survey conducted in Rajasthan, 60% of non-Dalits have fixed a date that inter-caste marriages should be abolished. 43% of people of Delhi say that they are against seat reservation and it should be allotted on the basis of merit, not on the basis of caste.

Those who are supporting caste reservation in India believe that caste discrimination still exists in India so they want caste reservation to be continued. Those who are against caste reservation in India said that seats in government jobs and elsewhere should be based only on merit and not on the basis of caste.

History of reservation in India 

There are various theories related to the caste system. If we talk about the principle found in Rigveda, according to this theory, the first human on earth destroyed himself to create us. Due to the destruction of different parts of his body, different categories of people i.e. the different Varnas were created.

  • From the head- Brahmans-because they are considered as more intelligent and knowledgeable. They are responsible for our education.
  • From the arms- Kshatriyas– Powerful and strong and also known as warriors.
  • From the thighs- Vaishya- known as traders.
  • From the feet- Shudras- to do menial jobs in our society.

But in this whole process, you will see that Dalits are missing. That is why we are also called our Avarna and they are entrusted with the task of cleaning the society.

The second principle says that caste depends on the deeds of your previous birth. According to this principle, if you have done a good deed in your previous life then you will be born as Brahman in the present birth. And if you have done the wrong deed in your previous life then you will be born as Dalit in this present birth.

This principle also says that if a person wants his next birth to be in a higher caste then he should do good work in his present life.

But if we talk about the views of the people that our caste does not decide our profession, but our profession decides our caste. Since the Brahmins were more intelligent than others, they were considered to be of higher caste and became teachers to distribute their education to other people. But it is not that only a Brahmin can become a teacher, any other person from the lower caste can also become a Brahmin by acquiring knowledge.

With the passage of time, this caste system became more rigid and rigid. And the time came when we began to determine the caste of a person according to his work. Gautam Buddha was a Kshatriya and he was against the caste system. He helped many lower caste people to change their Varna by converting to Buddhism. In 1956, BR Ambedkar facilitated mass conversions, in which about 5 lakh lower caste Hindus converted to Buddhism.

British influence in the caste system

The principles we read above did not hold much in practice. But when the British came to India, this system changed and became more rigid. The British found the caste system in India very complex. They wanted to make it easy.

In 1872, Henry Waterfield thought that it would be easier to classify Indians if he divided or classified them into four Varna systems.

They divide us into 4 Varnas

  • Brahman
  • Kshatriya
  • Vaishya
  • Shudras

WR Cornish was the person who was responsible for the 1871 census in Madras. He believed that historically, there was no time when Hindus were divided into only four categories, namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras. He believed that more divisions existed in history.

So it was the British who popularized the Varna system in India But the question arises that who helped the British in making it? They were Brahmins. In 1772, Warren Hastings initiated the making of Hindu Muslim law. He had 11 Brahmins to make this code for him. These Brahmins took advantage of the situation and implemented Vedic law also known as Brahmanism. It was imposed on the Hindus because the caste system was not widely prevalent in Hinduism at that time. It was forced to divide the upper caste and lower caste in India during the British period. The harshness of this can be seen in a report in which during the time of the British there were only Brahmins who could participate to gain political power.

The pre-independence situation related to castes

In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were many people who took the initiative against the caste system. The three main people who took the initiative against the caste system were Shahuji Maharaj, Jyotirao Phule and BR Ambedkar.

Shahuji Maharaj was the first person in India who implemented reservation during his Kolhapur reign.

Jyotirao Phule was born in a Shudra family and was greatly inspired by the struggle of slaves in America at that time. He founded the Satyashodhak Samaj in 1873 for the upliftment of the lower caste. He also refused to accept the Vedas.

In the 20th century, it was BR Ambedkar who made his biggest contribution against the caste system in India. He has written two books on the caste system which are ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and ‘Liberation of the Untouchables’. They used to degrade the caste as an oppressed or downtrodden class. In the 20th century, they were demanding separate representation for these classes.

The fruitful result of these demands came in August 1932 when British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald accepted the demands of BR Ambedkar. He decided to allot a separate electorate for the Depressed Classes.

When Gandhi came to know about the decision taken by the British for separate electorates for Dalits, he started “Fast unto Death”. Gandhi believed that this policy was creating differences between the Harijans and the rest of the Hindus.

But BR Ambedkar stuck to his point of view as he believed that separate representation was the only way to uplift the Depressed Classes.

But the reasons for the movement launched by Gandhi were against the decision. BR Ambedkar was left with no other option and had to negotiate with him which is known as the “Poona Pact”. In the Poona Pact, Gandhi assured them that instead of separate electorates, more reservation could be provided for the Depressed Classes in joint electorates.

Many people believe that if Dalits had been given a separate electorate, their situation would have been very different from today. But all these are only guesses for the people, we cannot say what would have been the actual situation.


After India’s independence, the Depressed Classes were given reservations in India and political reservations in educational institutions and public employment. This is the reason that there are 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, out of which 84 seats are for the Scheduled Castes and 47 seats are for the Scheduled Tribes.

Also, when the constitution was being drafted, Article 15 and Article 16 were added to the Constitution of India. These articles in the Constitution of India allow the government to provide special provisions for the upliftment of socially and educationally backward classes. According to the population ratio in India, 50% of the seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes.

Reservation in India

Before 1993, reservations existed only for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. But after 1993, reservation in India was extended to other backward classes as well. This was done with the help of the “Report of the Mandal Commission”.

According to the Mandal Commission report, OBCs were given 27% reservation in government jobs and later in educational institutions as well. This brought the overall reserved seats under the central government to 49.5%. But if we talk about the state governments, they have been given the right to increase the reservation for the rest of the communities. This is the main reason why you can see state governments talking about reservations for the lower classes in their states.

This reservation went a step further in 2019 when the Modi government gave 10% reservation to the economically weaker sections of the general category in higher educational institutions. This brought the total percentage of reservations in India to about 60%.

People debate about reservation in India, but very few people know the fact that whether caste reservation has really been effective in changing the lives of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes or not? Or is it effective to reduce caste discrimination? And if the answer is yes, then to what extent?

Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India empower the government to reserve seats in educational institutions and in matters of any public employment. According to the population ratio in India, about 22% of seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. So the question arises whether the representation of SC and ST has increased as a result of reservation in India?

The answer is yes. According to the survey from 1970 to 1990, there has been an increase in the representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. But can we really say that this increase was done with the help of reservation? It may be possible that this representation of SCs and STs has increased due to economic development in India and not because of reservation in India.

Representation has also increased in the political spheres but there has been no major change in the underground sectors of the society. As we saw a case where a Panchayat President, who was from Scheduled Caste, had to sit on the floor because of her lower caste. Similar is the case of Tamil Nadu district. There are many research papers that talked about similar phenomena and concluded that including reservations in political representation does not guarantee benefits to marginalized communities.

Why is the reservation in India not enough?

There are many benefits of reservation in India but still, today there is a huge difference between upper caste and low caste people. Data from 2011 shows that a Brahmin adult attained 5.6 years more education than a Scheduled Tribe adult.

The solution to reducing discrimination

There are many solutions that can reduce discrimination in India.

Greater social integration

It simply means that people of different castes live together in every aspect of life. It is not limited to just living in the same society but also participating in similar activities and participating in inter-caste marriages.

Schools are the best place for integration between upper caste and lower caste. A social experiment conducted in Delhi schools found that in classes where poor and rich children study together, rich children discriminate less and interact more with poor children. If such conversations take place in more schools and colleges, inter-caste marriages will automatically increase in the country, resulting in a reduction in discrimination in India.

Also in another research, it was found that if women in India are given the freedom to choose their husbands for marriage, then 20% of such cases are related to inter-caste marriages. But in reality, only 5.8% of marriages in the entire country are inter-caste marriages as per the 2011 census. It can be clearly seen that women empowerment leads to an increase in inter-caste marriages. This is the reason why some state governments have tried to promote inter-caste marriages.

For example, the Odisha government has announced a scheme to increase inter-caste marriages in the state of Odisha by launching a Sumangal portal. But it is not just the government’s job, the police and judiciary also need to take necessary action.

Prevention of Atrocities Act 1955, to protect Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from discrimination. But as per the survey, the provisions given under this Act have been barely utilized:

  • Conviction rate too low
  • There are many backlogs

There are many cases related to lower caste which is not even registered in the police station. Sometimes the lower caste people are pressurized by the police to compromise with the accused.

To improve this system, the government should provide free coaching to marginalized groups as well. The same scheme was launched by the Ministry of Social Justice in 2016 to offer free coaching to SCs and OBCs for UPSC and NEET exams. This scheme provided benefits to 10% of the students who had taken advantage of this scheme to crack the exam.

These are some of the solutions and suggestions to improve reservations in India and reduce caste discrimination in our country. you can give your suggestions to reduce caste discrimination.

Is reservation in India against merit?

Many people give their opinion that reservation in India is really against the right to equality because the reserved classes have given more benefits than others.

Let’s take an example that you are taking an exam where you are competing with 1 lakh people for only 100 seats where 50% seats are reserved. This means you are competing for only 50 seats. Now suppose, there are no reserved seats and 1 lakh people are competing for 100 seats. Now just imagine how difficult it is to compete with 1 lakh people for just 100 seats? It is already very difficult to compete with 1 lakh people for just 100 seats. But now imagine there were 2000 seats instead of 100 for 1 lakh people. Now the difficulty will automatically subside.

In such a situation, it is not right to blame the reservation in India. If the exam is so tough and there are so few seats then it is the problem of our education system. The youth should ask the government to build more colleges and universities so that seats can be increased.

The government should make the education system healthier so that students can go to other areas of education and can get jobs in other sectors as well.

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