Libertatem Magazine

Disadvantages of Caste-Based Reservation in India

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The Indian reservation system faces many backlogs and has many disadvantages and there is a need to repeal or amend the reservation system in India. The prevailing reservation system faced many backlashes resulting in anti-reservation protests in the past due to its disincentive nature.

What Is Reservation?

Reservation can be called an incentive that provides disadvantaged group’s representation in education, employment, and politics particularly to SC, ST, and OBC. In simple terms, reservation in India is all about reserving access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions, and even legislatures to certain sections of the population particularly to SCs, STs, and OBCs.

Reservation is a system of affirmative action that provides historically disadvantaged groups representation in education, employment, and politics. Based on provisions in Indian Constitution, it allows the Indian government to set reserved quotas or seats, which lower the qualifications needed in exams, job openings, etc. For “socially and economically backward citizens”.

Why Reservation?

  • The reservation is provided to resolve the historic oppression, inequality, and discrimination suffered by those communities and to give them a place.
  • To provide a level playing field for backward sections as they cannot compete with those who have had access to resources and means for centuries.
  • It is meant to achieve the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution.
  • To ensure adequate representation of backward classes in the services under the state.
  • The main objective of the reservation system in India is to improve the social and educational status of underprivileged communities and thus improve their lives.

Historical Background

  • The reservation was born when the idea of a caste-based reservation system was originally conceived by William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882.
  • The reservation that exists today was introduced in 1993 when British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the communal award. This award made a provision for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and the Dalits. But the communal award was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi, whereas, B.R.Ambedkar supported it. Therefore to address this situation, after long negotiations between Gandhi and Ambedkar the Poona pact was signed by them. According to this pact, the country would have a single Hindu electorate, with seats reserved for Dalits.
  • After Independence, initially, reservations were provided only for SCs and STs
  • OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.
  • In 1992 the case Indra Sawhney & Others v. Union of India’s judgment laid down the limits of the state’s powers: it upheld the ceiling of 50 percent quotas, emphasized the concept of “social backwardness“, and prescribed 11 indicators to ascertain backwardness.

Constitutional Provisions Governing Reservation in India

  • Article 15(4) provides for making any special provision for the advancement of other backward classes and SC and ST.
  • 16(4), (4A), (4B) of the Constitution enabled the state and central government to reserve seats in government services for the members of SC and ST.
  • Part XVI of the Constitution deals with the reservation of SC and ST in center and state legislatures.
  • Article 243D provides reservation of seats for SC and ST in every panchayat.
  • Article 243T provides reservation of seats for SC and ST in every municipality.
  • Under Article 340 of the Constitution, the government must promote the welfare of OBCs. A 1992 decision of the Supreme Court of India resulted in a requirement that 27% of civil service positions be reserved for members of OBCs.

Reservation Disadvantages

  • India has a typical caste system for which the framers of the Constitution believed that, due to the caste system prevailing in India, SCs and STs were historically oppressed and denied respect and equal opportunity in Indian society and were thus under-represented in nation-building activities. So the Constitution laid down the reservation for them for five years, after which the situation was to be reviewed. But after introducing the provisions for reservation once, it got related to voting bank politics and the following governments and the Indian parliament routinely extended this period, without any free and fair revision. Later, reservations were introduced to other sections as well. This was the major drawback of the reservation system which persists and has become the root of the perpetuation of the notion of caste. Even Dr B.R.Ambedkar thought that the caste-based reservation system would affect the social fabric of India, and he even mentioned that this is the reason why he had called for the reservation system to be reviewed after 10 years.
  • Reservations are the biggest enemy of meritocracy. It is due to the reservation made in the education sector. The reservation in education offers relaxed entry criteria, due to which there is no fair competition among the students which violates the code of conduct of education and even the right to a fair education. This reservation has led to the migration of many students from India to other foreign countries to pursue education. Even the people who are looking for a job or who deserved better for the job are being outlined due to the reservation, so even the people are migrating to other countries in search of jobs.
  • We live in a country comprising people from different religions, different caste and where discrimination based on caste, creed, religion etc. is an offence. Then the point of the reservation is against the idea of secularism and also violates the right to equality and many other rights.
  • Reservations are not a solution, they have become a problem. Prof Andre Beteille says “what has gone wrong with our thinking on the backward classes is that we have allowed the problem to be reduced largely to that of job reservation. The problems of the backward classes are too varied, too large and too acute to be solved by job reservation alone. The point is not that job reservation has contributed so little to the solution of these problems but, rather, that it has diverted attention from the masses of Harijans and Adivasis who are too poor and too lowly even to be candidates for the jobs that are reserved in their names. Job reservation can attend only to the problems of middle-class Harijans and Adivasis; the overwhelming majorities of Adivasis and Harijans, like the majority of the Indian people, are outside this class and will remain outside it for the next several generations. Today, job reservation is less a way of solving age-old problems than one of buying peace for the moment”.
  • In State of Madras v Champakam Dorairajan the Supreme Court ruled that caste-based reservations as per communal award violate Article 15(1) of the Constitution. But the government was not satisfied with this and thus made the first amendment to the Constitution which invalidated the judgment.


The reservation has become a drug or a dichotomy between the upper class and lower class people. Its purpose has been flawed. The prevailing reservation system must be abolished as it harms society and ensures privileges to some at the cost of the others, it hinders the competition, steals away the opportunity of deserved students. Reservation was meant to eradicate caste and not perpetuate the notion of caste. All this happened due to the misuse of reservations and particularly caste-based reservation. Even great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr B.R.Ambedkar etc. also wanted the end of the caste system. So if they were alive seeing the present situation they would be heartbroken.

There is no need for reservation if the caste system is abolished, which was even the dreams of many great leaders.

Instead of giving reservation, the government should give free education to all as it is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 21A of the Constitution and can also provide some economic stability to poor people for well being. If Article 21A of the Constitution was properly implemented by the government then the reservation would have been abolished. It again lies in the hands of the people and the government to abolish the reservation. In the hands of people because the caste system which prevails is because of them, and only they can abolish the caste system, not the government. In the hands of the government because they should provide free and fair education to all and it is mandatory as it is one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution under Article 21A.

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