So who needs reservations?

Supreme Court does well to throw up the question. The search for answers need not be caste-centric

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot , Jusmeet Singh Sihra | Updated: March 23, 2015 3:00 am
 Jat reservation, Jat quota, Supreme Court, SC Jat reservation, Jat reservation SC, Jat OBC quota, Muslim quota, Muslim  reservation, indian express column, IE column Supreme Court does well to throw up the question. The search for answers need not be caste-centric

Last week, the Supreme Court made an important point about positive discrimination in India. Quashing the UPA government’s decision to include Jats in the OBC category, Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton F. Nariman said : “An affirmative action policy that keeps in mind only historical injustice would certainly result in under-protection of the most deserving backward class of citizens, which is constitutionally mandated. It is the identification of these new emerging groups that must engage the attention of the state.”

This judgment was well in tune with the Bombay High Court in January, when it directed a stay on reservations for the Maratha community, which, according to the judges, “is not a socially and educationally backward class” (and is certainly not lagging behind the Jats), and at the same time, allowed 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in educational institutions. The court made this decision on the basis of empirical evidence and emphasised this point: “In so far as reservations for specified Muslim communities, is concerned, there exists sufficient material or quantifiable data to sustain their classification as ‘special backward class’.”

What is this evidence? Primarily the data the judges found in the Mahmood-Ur-Rahman Committee report (2013). According to this, while Muslims constitute 10.6 per cent of Maharashtra’s population, their share in public services is only 4.4 per cent and their “representation” among prisoners, 36 per cent (similar to American Blacks, who constitute 37 per cent of prisoners and are about 14 per cent of the population). But the judges of the Bombay High Court found the figures illustrating the educational backwardness of the state’s Muslims even more alarming: whereas 47 per cent of Muslim children go to primary school (against 38 per cent for Hindus), dropout rates are so high that only 11.3 per cent remain in middle school, 4.2 per cent in higher secondary (against 6 per cent for Hindus) and 3.1 per cent at the graduation level and above (against 5.9 per cent for Hindus). This is why, according to the court, the previous state government was justified in exceeding the ceiling limit of 50 per cent to add another 5 per cent of reservations in educational institutions.

Interestingly, these figures are not so different from those used by the Post Sachar Evaluation Committee headed by Amitabh Kundu. In its report submitted to the Union minister of minority affairs, Najma Heptulla, in 2014, the committee highlighted that the literacy rate of Muslims (70 per cent) was below that of Hindu OBCs (74 per cent) and “General Hindus” (86 per cent). It also showed that the percentage of graduates among Muslims (5 per cent) was hardly superior to the proportion of graduates among the SC/ STs (4 per cent), and much below the percentages for Hindu OBCs (8 per cent) and “General Hindus” (11 per cent). But the most disturbing point lay elsewhere: while the monthly per capita expenditure of Muslims has increased by 60 per cent between 2004-05 and 2011-12 according to the National Sample Survey Office, it has increased by 69 per cent for Hindu STs, 73 per cent for Hindu SCs, 89 per cent for Hindu OBCs and 122 per cent for “General Hindus”. The gap is broadening, especially in urban India, where the proportion below the poverty line is now higher among Muslim OBCs than among Hindu SCs.

This trend matters for policies of positive discrimination intended, as Justices Gogoi and Nariman pointed out, to identify new backward classes that are not necessarily caste groups. As they said, “Backwardness is a manifestation caused by the presence of several independent circumstances, which may be social, cultural, economic, educational or even political. New practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved, moving away from a caste-centric definition of backwardness. This alone can enable recognition of newly emerging groups in society, which would require palliative action.” Muslims are eligible for at least some forms of positive discrimination among “new” backward groups. That is why the previous government of Maharashtra had identified 50 Muslim communities that would qualify for the 5 per cent quota. This is also why the Kundu Committee, considering that the UPA’s 15-point programme for minorities included a limited number of social schemes, recommended its enlargement and that some Muslim groups should benefit more from positive discrimination. According to the committee, Arzals have to be included in the SC category and “artisanal groups (Ajlafs) can be included in the ‘most backward’ sub-category, along with other similarly placed caste groups from other religions”.
None of these recommendations has been to the liking of the BJP governments in the state and at the Centre. Heptulla has spoken against reservations for Muslims. In Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis government, while supporting the 16 per cent quota for Marathas initiated by the Congress/ NCP government, scrapped reservations for Muslims in education, against the interim decision of the Bombay High Court.

These actions (or inactions) stand in stark contrast with the assessment of the situation of Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his first speech in Parliament in June 2014, he had declared: “Even the third generation of Muslim brothers, whom I have seen since my young days, are continuing with their cycle-repair job. Why does such misfortune continue? We will have to undertake focused activity to bring about change in their lives. We will have to bring such programmes. I do not view such programmes within the prism of appeasement. I see them as a way to bring a change in their lives. No body can be called healthy if one of its organs is disabled. All organs of the human body needed to be fit in order for a person to be healthy. Similarly, all sections (organs) of society need to empowered.”

Indeed, no nation can truly develop with 15 per cent of its population lagging behind. That was precisely the rationale of the positive discrimination programme in favour of SCs. It has helped, to an extent. This policy — which does not need to be caste-centric, as the Supreme Court has said — could be tried in the case of Muslims. Or the 15-point programme, which has made hardly any difference, could be upgraded. But inaction is certainly not an option, especially for a PM projecting the image of a doer. While a politician thinks about the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation.

Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS (Paris), professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute (London), global scholar at Princeton University and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Sihra is an alumnus from St Stephen’s College (Delhi) and Sciences Po (Paris)

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First Published on: March 23, 2015 12:09 am
  1. G
    gaurav
    Feb 1, 2016 at 10:54 am
    Quiet Interesting Regarding the facts and figures of our data. They are much worried about the 15% Background Communities but no one caes about remaining 85% communities. I would like to raise one Question does really government take the initiative for this 85% category or the family members of these 85% categories but as usual government thinks they are god, they only worry about each and every thing. Does giving them reservation is the only option to increase their basic condition. It will only uplift their percentage but their mindset will always remains the same. and would it be justice with some other whose seat these ineligible person is going to occupy. It will only be like to make your system more degradable and more worse because the person's that going to occupy that seat does n't really holds the value for that position....
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    1. R
      ReviewMantra™
      Mar 30, 2016 at 10:19 am
      Caste-based reservation will only keep the people divided among themselves (due to change in their financial or social status in the society), and shouldn’t the focus and locus be to promote equality across all castes and end social discrimination?lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;
      Reply
      1. R
        ReviewMantra™
        Mar 30, 2016 at 10:19 am
        Reply
        1. H
          Haradhan Mandal
          Mar 23, 2015 at 10:59 pm
          Interestingly for the first time I read an article that speaks for reservation for Muslims. This is true for states like West Bengal - where Muslims (predominantly from agricultural back ground like local SC/ST communities) make more than 25% of the potion - but make hardly 5% of ALL the Govt jobs - which includes primary /secondary teachers, 3rd and 4th grade employees. Even in a predominantly Muslim area and with predominantly Muslim students - hardly 1 out of 30 teachers in the school will be Muslim. This is in spite of the long Congress, Left and Mamtaa Banerjee Rule - who all have been 'accused' in the past of being 'sympathetic enthusiastic' to the cause of "secularism'.
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          1. P
            Patriot
            Mar 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm
            This is excellent research by Mr Jefferlot. It's high time to give reservations for the people that need i.e. the economically most backward. Otherwise, the most marginalised section of society will have no option but to indulge in robbery and dacoity to sustain themselves. And this is the trend that we see today with the statistics given by the author.
            Reply
            1. A
              Aseem
              Mar 23, 2015 at 10:35 am
              No one disputes that Muslims do have some of the worst economic and social indicators in India. But what is missing in your analysis is a discussion on how reservation is the best suited action for the specific factors behind Muslims lagging in development. In absence of any concrete evidence, the action of extending reservations to Muslims could come out to be as spurious when extended to OBCs.
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              1. H
                hariharan
                Oct 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm
                The consution provides for reservation on basis of caste only and not on religion. For the certain beliefs on religious lines like allowing polygamy, discouraging family planning measures are all averse to the welfare measures suggested by the government for practice by the citizens. As such one cannot have both the privilege to defy the measures suggested by the state that would improve the quality of life and also the demand concessions from the state.
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                1. A
                  Arya Kumar
                  Mar 23, 2015 at 3:50 pm
                  This writer is an agent of xtian missionary, he thinks he can fool us Hindus. First give reservation to the black slaves. Bible preaches slavery.
                  Reply
                  1. M
                    Manoj
                    Mar 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm
                    If a positive discrimination regime can not depend solely on caste centric criteria , how it can solely depend upon RELIGION alone. Again how the exception of caste is also being made for one specific religion. Job quota should be based only upon Economic criteria it will benefit poor from all communities. But this may not enthuse political cl. BTW mr jeffrelot your articles are biased and nothing more than propaa.
                    Reply
                    1. M
                      M Patel
                      Mar 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm
                      Propaa vs Facts: The fact is that India's Mandal based OBC reservation, and ST reservation, is secular and includes all castes regardless of religion. There are plenty of examples. Here are few from official govt. list: 1) Both, Hindu and Muslim, Gujjars get preference in Rajasthan & HP.. 2) All Khatri's (Sikh, Hindus, and Muslim) get preference in Gujarat & Maharashtra. 3) Both, Hindu and Muslim, Ghachi's get preference in Gujarat. 5) All tribals, Christian, Hindu, Muslim etc, get preference across India. 6) Exclusively Muslim tribes, like 'Siddi', get preference across India. 7) Exclusively Muslim castes, like Gaddi, Ghosi, Chikwa, Manihar, Momin, Rangrez and Hajjam etc, get preference in several states. Preference is decided at state level. India is diverse so a caste designated as forward, or non-preferred, in 1 state would be designated as backward, or preferred ,in another state. For example, Khatri is a non-preferred caste in Punjab but it is a preferred caste in Gujarat & Maharashtra.
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                      1. N
                        Nitya
                        Mar 23, 2015 at 1:27 pm
                        I am sick and tired of hearing about reservations based on caste and religion. What is the problem in giving reservations to people who are economically poor? Why are people like this author not doing a survey about forward caste people, who have no money and no benefits either. Who is supposed to look at them? Its rather ridiculous that even now, in the 21st century, India is looking at reservations based on a stupid label rather than a more practical need. Yes, many Muslims are poor, but are all Muslims poor? So why reservation for all? Why not to those who don't have any money?
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                        1. H
                          History
                          Mar 24, 2015 at 10:12 am
                          Caste discrimination among Muslims ? What happened to brotherhood concepts of Islam ?
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                          1. R
                            rajkumar
                            Mar 23, 2015 at 4:00 pm
                            good topic and good presentation
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                            1. C
                              ct
                              Mar 23, 2015 at 1:29 pm
                              One aspect most of the people miss out in this kind of discussion is the genetic haemorrhage/suppression occurred among the dalits, tribals and other backward caste due to thousands of years suppression and slavery they were subjected to by the higher caste people. So certainly dalits, tribals and other backward caste people certainly need still more years of inclusive support from the government in the form of reservations, financial istance, training etc irrespective of their present financial /social status so as to enable them to come out of the genetic suppression occurred to them due to the thousands of years of holocaust. So even creamy layer among the dalits, tribals and other backward caste should be provided with the facilities of reservation by the government. So the option would be to give first preference for reservation to noncreamy layer among dalits, triibals and other backward caste people and then second preference for reservation should be given to the creamy layer among the dalits,tribals and other backward caste. Allowing reservation on the basis of religion may not appear to be a good idea as it is a well know fact that a lot of higher caste people have got converted to religions like Christian ,Muslims etc .Those people have not suffered genetically any suppression due to caste system . It is little bit difficult to identify who all are higher caste convert and dalits/tribals/OBC caste convert except in some cases of Christian Religion where we can identify in some cases dalits/tribals/OBC converts and those dalits, tribals and other backward community people even after getting converted to Christian religion are experiencing discrimination from even Christian religion also. So only those people who can prove that they are actually dalits/tribals/OBC converts should be provided with reservations. But if you take the case of officer cadre of Indian defence service which is almost 100 % dominated by Higher caste people and is presently the most affluent and rich section of the Indian society is provide with reservation facilities in various job opportunities after their retirement from the defence service and also their children are provide with reservations in premier Engineering colleges & Medical colleges without any rational grounds. So the think is that if the children of such rich and affluent higher caste Defence service officers can be given reservation why not we give reservations to our poor Musilim brothers & Sisters and dalit/tribal/OBC Christians so that they themselves can come out of some of the wrong practices of their Religions.
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                              1. T
                                Think Deeper!
                                Mar 23, 2015 at 11:35 am
                                Another argument to band-aid the cut rather than cleaning the wound! Had reservation as an affirmative action tool worked, there would not have been any SC/ST at the very least in disadvantage by now! So, the society needs to look deeper into the cause and address them without any consideration to the caste or creed of the disadvantaged. One can not change their caste unfortunately but that can not be said about the religious practices if they were proven to be the cause of disadvantage and no amount of reservation can change disadvantage inflicted by religious practices!
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                                1. I
                                  Inquisitor
                                  Mar 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm
                                  Aha, 'the proportion of Muslims is x and the proportion of them in govt jobs is x-y' I am sick and tired reading this argument. One why is there so much clamor for govt jobs? is it not that in today's India Pvt companies provide best opportunities for talent and better pay and work conditions. two is it not that govt jobs byword for inefficiency and (ask Kejriwal) corruption? Unless this author and the w Muslim community wants to work in a environment which discourages hardwork / skill & creativity that have all been hallmark of Muslims (Read the credits of any Bollywood movie) this is not a point. Let us see more data on how much SME loans are being disbursed to Muslims, how much venture capital goes to them, how many small firms are run by them (I mean proportion). How many young girls of this community go to school as against rest of India. This is where the future of India lies, and if we do not measure them now, when such future arrives this very author says Muslims missed the boat yet again.
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                                  1. P
                                    prashanth
                                    Mar 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm
                                    Author: But the most disturbing point lay elsewhere: while the monthly per capita expenditure of Muslims has increased by 60 per cent between 2004-05 and 2011-12 according to the National Sample Survey Office, it has increased by 69 per cent for Hindu STs, 73 per cent for Hindu SCs, 89 per cent for Hindu OBCs and 122 per cent for “General Hindus”. Less number of people work, less would be the income and lesser would be spending. The labour partition rate among Muslims is around 10 % less than that of general potion. The labour partition among general potion is in the 40 to 50% range and among Muslims it is 30 to 40% range. With more children per capita (who can't work) and less Muslim women joining the work force, relative to the general potion, the family income and spending is lower among the Muslims. Muslim workmen do not earn less than the general potion; they just have more dependents to support.
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