Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 3: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

Caste Based Reservations In Education- The Never Settled ‘Bone Of Contention’ In India


India is a secular nation. It is a land of diverse religions and cultures. Indians take pride in saying ‘Unity in Diversity.’ But in reality, a lot of discrimination prevails pertaining to caste, creed, and religion in almost every strata of the society. The backward class people are generally looked down upon by the upper-class bureaucrats. To get rid of all such inequalities in the society, the concept of reservation came into the picture. 
Reservation in India has always been a debated topic. Some people positively accept it while others are against the system. It is a highly controversial topic in our country. Before going into further analysis, it is needful to know, what reservation actually is. Reservation is a quota-based affirmative action of facilitating people in education, scholarship, jobs etc. that were faced with historical injustice and also those people with economic instability. Reservation in India is administered by constitutional laws, statutory laws and also by local rules and regulations. It constitutes a number of initiatives like preserving access to seats in the legislatures, to government jobs and even to enrolment in higher educational institutions. Reservation is primarily given to 3 groups: Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
This paper seeks to probe this reservation policy and how it has progressed in all these years and analyse its effectiveness and implications.


The concept of reservation system dates back to the late 18th century. The idea of caste-based reservation system was originally conceived by William Hunter and Jyoti Rao Phule in 1882. The reservation that exists today was introduced in 1933 when British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the Communal Award. The award was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi, whereas Dr B.R. Ambedkar supported it. To address the situation, Poona Pact 1932 was signed. After the pact, the caste system came into existence in India which suggested special reserved seats for Dalits within the Hindu electorate.
After the independence, a lot of initiatives were taken in favour of the backward classes namely the SC and the STs. In 1954, the Ministry of Education suggested that 20% of places should be reserved for them in educational institutions with a provision of relaxation of cut-off to 5% during admissions. A notable change was seen in the year 1979 when by the recommendation of the Mandal Commission, also known as the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC) the OBC caste was also included for these special benefits through reservation.


There are separate provisions in our Constitution specifically speaking for the reservation policy of the SC ST communities. The father of the Indian Constitution Dr B.R Ambedkar, one of the main framers to it had made certain arrangements for the upliftment of the minority classes. The reservations is broadly of three major categories- political, educational and employment. Under political reservation, the Constitution provides for reservation of seats for the SCs and the STs in the Lok Sabha (The Lower House) in its Article 330, and in the Bidhan Sabha (The Upper House) in Article 332. Article 15 (4) of the Constitution of India explicitly states that the State can make special provisions for the social and educational advancement of the SC/ST community and nothing in this article or in Article 29 (2) can prevent the State from doing such. Article 16(4), Article 16(4A), Article 16(4B), Article 335, these articles provide explicitly for reservation in educational institutions for the backward classes and also vests the authority of the state the power to make any required changes if required.


In Indira Shawney judgement of 1992, the Supreme Court gave a verdict that the total number of reserved seats for the minority quotas cannot exceed 50% of what is available, and that under the constitutional scheme of reservation, economic backwardness alone could not be a criterion. In January 2019, the union government has introduced 124th Constitution Amendment Bill in the Parliament which provided for 10% reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) among the general category candidates in higher education and government employment. In a recent case, in the response of a petition seeking reservations in OBC quota in medical colleges of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court of India ruled that reservation in jobs and promotions is not a fundamental right and it’s the discretion of the state or central government to provide reservation in promotions. One another notable case of 2006 need to be mentioned in this aspect, M. Nagraj v. Union of India, the Supreme Court itself held that reservation has to be used in a limited sense otherwise it will perpetuate casteism in the country. Equality of opportunity has two different and distinct concepts. There is a conceptual distinction between a non-discrimination on principle and affirmative action under which the state is obliged to provide a level playing field to the oppressed classes. There had been several new provisions coming in after various notable judgements. The Indian Judiciary System has been upholding various Judgements in reservations and in some cases has opted for modification of its implementations. Lots of judgments regarding reservations have been modified subsequently by Indian parliament through Constitutional amendments.


Right to Education was not a part of fundamental rights till 1992. It was a part of directive principles of state policy under Article 45 of the Indian Constitution. Later in the year 1992, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its landmark ‘Capitation fee case’ (Miss Mohini Jain vs State of Karnataka And Ors,1992) held that Right to Education is a fundamental right under Article 21. A decade after this judgement in the year 2002, in the 86th amendment of the Constitution of India, Right to Education was incorporated as a fundamental right under Article 21 (A). Indeed, education must be a primary requisite for every sections of people in every strata of the society.
I agree that the reservation system was introduced with the aim of helping out students coming from the backward, minor deprived classes. Conventionally, these backward classes had been denied basic rights in the very past. So, introducing reservation quota for them in educational institutions no doubt made perfect sense back then. But the situation has changed now. More and more people are misusing this caste-based reservation system and toying around with it for their own advantage. The system forms the backbone of any country. The biggest contributing factor to the dreary condition of the Indian Education System today is the 50% reservations to students from the SC/ST/OBC community in educational institutions. It has threatened the progress and prosperity of the nation. The only motive behind reservation system was to ad-lib the conditions of the backward of the society. But what we can notice presently, the effects of reservation have been severe and damaging.
To bring in a general understanding, I am stating the approx. cut-off marks for admissions in the notable and renowned institutes of India.

1. IIMs (Indian Institute of Management): CAT exam cut-offs

2. JEE Mains cut-off

3. NEET cut-off 


4. NLUs: CLAT cut-offs (according to rank)

This is the general picture of today for admission in top educational institutes. The data mentioned is approx. and can vary a little year wise.
It is of no doubt that reservation system proved to be a boon for all the backward community people long back when these people were discriminated and were also financially unstable. But these days, students who hail from SC, ST and OBC community, and those who have good financial resources, are also making use of reservation quota to claim their reserved seats. Besides, the SC/ST/OBC caste people who are not financially stable are also deprived of education in some cases.
Isn’t it unjust? Is that what everyone calls equality before the law?


It is very important to analyse the impacts of reservations on education. Below discussed are some of the general implications of the reservation system.

1. Capable Students from General Category have to Struggle and Compromise
A country’s success and advancement largely depends on the advancements of the students. Students hailing from general category in India are frustrated. To be honest, this frustration takes the form of jealousness at one point of time. The SC/ST students, even if they are financially stable easily dodge the ‘creamy layer’ criteria. These eventually implies that good marks are nothing in front of reservation. Even if a general student gets 1st div. marks, a reserved caste student often jumps the queue getting less marks. So, merit is at times compromised. This is a sad reality.
2. Division of Society
What we read in history is reservation came into existence to bring the backward caste people in par with the upper sections of the society; to make equality before the law. But the main objective is being compromised. It has divided the population into many castes and religions which has done no good for the nation as a whole. The quota system has made the SC, ST, and Other Backward Classes (OBC) as the primary beneficiaries of these policies under the Constitution. But this is not what we call as equality!
3. Migration of merits
Brain Drain is one of the severe impacts of the reservation system. When good students don’t find admissions in good colleges and don’t get good jobs due to reserved seats, they prefer migrating to other countries with better opportunities to make a better living, totally based on their performance levels. This has forced many prolific brains to leave the country and settle abroad. The Indian Youth is the future of the nation which makes, so it is imperative that it is not given to remove the crutches of reservation but is made competitive, skilful, and efficient. Let the efficient win the race.
Apart from all these, there are other implications as well. Often the economically sound people make use of most of the seats reserved for backward castes thereby making the aim a total failure. Rich people from backward caste do not need a reservation, by using reservation they deny poor people from progressing caste to come forth.
On the contrary, reservations are also doing a great harm to the SC/STs. Reservation acts as clutches for them and thus weakens them. These people should also realise that they cannot succeed in their struggle for social upliftment if they are isolated. They must join hands with other class people and fight along with them in merits and prove that they are not intellectually inferior to those of upper classes.


Every lock has a key…. Every problem has a solution (Thomas John)

I am not against reservation, but I am against this type of reservation. Right to education is a fundamental duty under the Constitution of India. Indeed, government has duty to provide education equally to everybody, but this should not be achieved by compromising the rights of others.

Article 15 (4) of the Constitution of India reads as-

Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

To start reforms, parliament need to amend almost 70 years old Article 15(4) of Indian Constitution. It is just a personal opinion from my side, the Article could be amended like this-

Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially, educationally, and economically backward classes of citizens without depriving other classes of citizen’s equality of opportunity.

Undoubtedly, we need to aid the deprived citizens, but we should not deprive others who have merit. Reservation on an economic basis is a much more logical and reasonable outlook in a nation like India as the main motive of reservation was uplifting the weaker sections of the society. All individuals who are poor and do not have the means to study will get reservation regardless of their castes. Thus, if the country needs to bring equality between citizens, then it should select economic based reservation rather than caste-based reservation.

In the case of Balaji v. State of Mysore, the Supreme Court held that caste of a person cannot be the sole criteria for ascertaining whether a particular caste is backward or not. Determinants such as poverty, occupation, place of habitation may all be relevant factors to be taken into consideration. The court further held that it does not mean that if once a caste is considered to be backward it will continue to be backward for all other times. The government should review the test and if a class reaches the state of progress where reservation is not necessary it should delete that class from the list of backward classes.

I would rather recommend both caste and creed to go and take the back seat. To put an end of all grievances due to this caste-based reservation, as a conclusion- reservation should be based on the financial background of students and their family. The rules regarding ‘creamy and non-creamy layer’ should be made more rigorous and sterner. Also, the documents should be well checked and made sure that no foul play is involved, that no financially well-to-do student manages to feat the reservation quota.


After going through the whole discussion, it is quite clear that Reservation is not an reparation of our past sins and should not be used to pay off for the damage inflicted in the past. It is still a vicious fact that certain sections of the society are exploited and deprived of their rights. At the same time, we should also have in the mind that despite the provision of reservation being continued for around six decades, the problem of social inequality remains. Afterall the system has resulted in further inequality. So, it is crystal clear that the solution to remove inequality is not ‘reservations’ but something other. Reservation is not a tool to social justice. The current policy fails to accomplish its very purpose of giving equal opportunity to everyone.
Merit should be the primary yardstick in any selection. India needs to be a truly secular nation by abolishing all references to caste & religion not only in educational sectors, but in other sectors as well. Such a policy of favouring persons on the basis of their birth will surely pave the way for balkanization of India, which we need to avoid. Caste is a feudal institution which has to be destroyed if India wants to progress, but reservations further entrenches it. Immediate amendment to the reservation policy is needed for the betterment and prosperity of the society as a whole.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reservation_in_India#History
2. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-caste-based-reservation-is-compensation-for-historical-exploitation-and-marginalisation/355100
3. https://www.iasexpress.net/reservation-system-in-india-upsc-ias-gk/#What_is_the_reservation
4. https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/reservation-in-india
5. https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-supreme-court-tells-modi-govt-to-scrap-reservations-from-institutes-of-higher-education-2139383
6. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/reservation-as-right/article30785768.ece
7. https://www.sarvgyan.com/articles/neet-cut-off
8. https://targetstudy.com/articles/impact-of-reservation-on-the-quality-of-education.html
9. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l155-Abolish-Reservation.html
10. https://indiankanoon.org/
11. https://www.scconline.com/?login=true 

This blog is authored by Shinjinee Namhata

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