Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale has argued that extending the benefit of reservations to the economically backward among Marathas, Jats and Patels would bring down atrocities against Dalits. Athawale, while speaking to The Indian Express, tried to present his argument in numbers. “Currently, the general category, which accounts for roughly 23 per cent of the population, gets 50.5 of the unreserved seats in government jobs and in education institutions. But since selection is based on merit, every community feels that those who are economically backward among them get left behind,” the minister said.
He said this was the reason why a section harbours “a grudge against those belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes as they feel they too deserve reservations in jobs”. “This is one of the main reasons for atrocities against Dalits,” he said. “The only solution is to ensure reservations for those deserving in the general category also,” Athawale said. Athawale dismissed the claim that atrocities against Dalits have increased after the BJP came to power. “The casteist mentality is responsible, neither the Congress nor the BJP is responsible,” he said.
On attacks that are linked to alleged consumption of beef, the minister said “those consuming buffalo meat or those removing carcasses of dead cows” should not be attacked. “They (attackers) were not “gau rakshaks, but nar bhakshaks (man-eaters)”. The leader of the Republican Party of India (Athawale) has been making the demand for reservations to the economically weaker among the upper castes from the time he was inducted in the Modi government a year ago. He said SCs, STs and OBCs together account for 77 per cent of the country’s population but have 49.5 per cent reservation. Therefore, if without touching the existing reservation, an additional 25 per cent reservation is given to the economically backward general category applicants, it will bring down cases of Dalit atrocities, he claimed.
“In order to quell the protests by Marathas, Patels and Jats, the state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Haryana have tried to provide reservations to them, but the move was quashed in the courts. The central government has to step in now and through constitutional amendment provide 25 per cent reservation to the poor in these and other communities such as Rajputs or among Brahmins. That is the only permanent solution,” Athawale said, adding that he had placed the issue before Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Supreme Court had, in its 1993 order in the Indira Sawhney case, restricted reservation to a maximum of 50 per cent. It also declared separate reservations for the economically poor among upper classes as invalid since Article 15(4) contained such provisions only for socially and educationally backward classes and not economically backward classes. This has been the basis for courts, thereafter, for overturning decisions taken by state governments to grant reservations to various forward caste communities.
The draft Bill that proposes to grant constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes is also expected to pave the way to look into some of these demands, especially in view of the upcoming Assembly elections in some of the states later this year. Athawale said the creamy layer criterion currently applied to OBCs, wherein only those with an annual family income below Rs 6 lakh are eligible for reservation, could be applied in the general category reservations also.