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An Overview of Reservation in India

Authored By Siddharth Punj

Keywords #Reservation, #Constitution_of_India, #Affirmative_action


A country with the population over 1.2 billion people which are divided among various castes, religions etc. Indian reservation system is a well-established phenomenon. A structure which can be seen from the Mughal period to the British Raj and from there to the present modern India. A system which was originally meant to uplift the underprivileged and impoverished socially backward classes but now considered as an apparatus for the electoral gains to the political parties.

The framers of the constitution introduced reservation policy in 1950 with certain assumptions. Firstly, it is not a permanent way of bringing the destitute section of the society into socially and economically stable society by ensuring affirmative actions. With the anticipation of appliance of the policy bona fide, a time limit of 10 years was set by the drafters of the Constitution in 1950 which was later on extended[1]. Secondly, it was hoped that this policy will be implemented towards bringing structural development such as medical and educational reforms and provide a healthy and growing democracy o the country.


Reservation as an apparatus to uplift the impoverished

Reservation is a form of affirmative action whereby a percentage of seats are reserved in Parliament, State Legislative Assembly[2], Central and State Services[3], Public Sector Units and in all Public and Private Educational Institutions except in the Minority and Religious Educational Institutions for the socio-economic and educationally backward classes of citizens. The reservation scheme in India is midst by the constitutional structure for reservation. The Constitution of India administers reservation in three fields namely, political, educational and employment and from time to time amended are made and inserted as various provisions for the attainment of it.

Reservation: History (Pre Independence Period)

The need for Reservation arises from the caste system of ancient India. Ancient Hindu texts like Manusmriti classified the society into four Varnas or types on the basis of work they perform[4].

· Shudras which are laborers and other petty service providers.

· Vaishyas which are farmers and traders.

· Kshatriyras which are rulers and warriors.

· Brahmins which are priest or scholars.

The society in which one these four varnas live are called Savarnas and the ones who does not belong to any of these societies are called Avarnas which later considered Dalits and tribal peoples.

The caste system in today’s India is considered to be the result of the diversification occurred during the downfall of Mughal empire and formulation of the British Raj in the mid of 1800.The British colonial regime made the caste system its fundamental paradigm in functioning of its administration in India. In its evolving days the British government misused the caste system to its very instinct by segregating the Indians in more than 3000 castes and more than 100 thousand subgroups altogether combined into a population over 200 million at that time[5]. The British believed that social stratification was the part of their foundation policy for establishing themselves in India, the policy of “divide and rule”. The caste system in colonial period was considered contentious in every form. Jobs and senior posts in the administrative structure were heavily aided to the upper castes and discriminative educational policies were executed which separated schools and educational institution for different groups. That period of British Raj was considered as a social stagnation for the state[6].

With the outset of the 20th century, the element of reservation was seen in the framework of Indian sub continent. In 1901 Maharaja Shahu Ji Maharaj[7], the King of Kolhapur in Maharashtra introduced Reservation in his state. Later on, reservation was aided to various social groups in administrative services by the colonial government. The provision for reservation in electoral process were made in the Indian Council Act, 1908[8]. And in 1935 the historic Government Of India Act, 1935 was introduced which safeguards rights of the minorities and women[9].

Reservation And Constitution Of India

The Constitution Of India has administered reservation to attain socio economic development of the underprivileged and destitute section of the society. It directs the state to promote welfare of the people and contribute to ensure the equal justice[10]. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar during his speech in the 1949 constituent assembly articulated for socio economic advancement to the unprivileged or the lower section of the society by government intervention. And reservation is a way to accomplish it, reservation in educational institutes and public sector employments, which has been served by the Indian constitution[11]. The Constitution is duty-bounded to safeguard the interest and welfare of the backward class by taking “affirmative actions”.

Judicial activism towards reservation

It is believed that the persons of the lower classes are enslaved and exploited from a very long time and even despised from a respectable life, thus it is the duty of not only the state but also the judicial branch of our to ensure safety and enrichment of these down rotten part of the society. There are various instances where the Indian judiciary has made judgments related to reservations or affirmative action which leads to amendment in the constitution from time to time. In Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras[12] the apex court struck down the govt. order of reserving seats of a medical college in such manner to different communities of the society. The apex court considered that manner as a violation of article 15(1) of the constitution and conveyed that the directive principles cannot abrogate the guaranteed fundamental rights. This case resulted into the first amendment of the constitution.[13]

In another case of M. R. Balaji v. State of Mysore[14] the supreme court held that reserving seats above 50% of any educational institution and public employment is unconstitutional and a violation of Article 14 which guarantees equality to every person irrespective of his religion, race, caste, sex and religion of birth[15].

The judgment in Indira Sawhney & Ors. V Union of India[16] with the reference of the Mandal Commission[17] recommended 27% reservation in all government services and in all technical and professional institution of centre and state government.


The fundamental objective of article 14 and 15 is equal opportunity to every person across the country. But some of us are not well privileged to fulfill enmities that are required to grow and sustain. And to solve that dilemma reservation is required. But in India the need for reservation can be more seen in political parties to secure their vote bank than for the down rotten impoverished section. Some political leaders even ready to engage in riots if there preferred caste is excluded or not included in reservation category. It is the high time that the policy makers convert the caste based reservation system into a system in which reservation is given according to the economic and social condition of the needy.

The country from its existence have witnessed the oppression towards the lower class and in no doubt a need for subsidy is still required to them even after more than 70 years of independence. But is it necessary that a whole community whether their current economic condition is weak or not should be given reservation privileges only on the argument that their ancestors were oppressed and despised. We need to think about it before India becomes a state of reserved instead of the deserved.







[1] The Constitution (Eighth Amendment) Act, 1959 [2] Part XIV of the Constitution of India [3] Article 16(a), Article 335 and article 320(4) of the Constitution of India [4] Para 1 “Manusmriti : Laws Of The Manu 1500 BC” translated by G. Buhler [5] Stokes, Eric (February 1973), "The First Century of British Colonial Rule in India: Social Revolution or Social Stagnation?" JSTOR 650259 [6] Stokes, Eric (1980), The Peasant and the Raj: Studies in Agrarian Society and Peasant Rebellion in Colonial India, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-29770-7 [7] Rajarshi Shahu, also known as Shahu Maharaja (July 26, 1874-May 6, 1922) was the first Maharaja of the Indian Princely State of Kolhapur during 1884-1922. [8] Morley-Minto reforms [9] [10] Directive Principles o the State Policy, Part IV of the Constitution of India [11] Article 15(4) and Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India. [12] AIR 1951 SC 226 [13] The Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 [14] AIR 1963 SC 649 [15] Article 14 of the Constitution of India [16] AIR 1993 SC 477 [17]




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