I HAVE read with great interest Seminar 549 (May 2005) on ‘Redressing Disadvantages: A Symposium on Reservations and the Private Sector.’ I find that none of the contributors to the symposium has referred to Article 335 of the Constitution, which reads: ‘The claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts connected with the affairs of the Union and a State’ (emphasis added). This article thus restrains the right to reservation.1 As a matter of fact, both the Union and state governments have exempted posts from reservation from time to time. Usually, various ministries do this quietly in consultation with the Ministry of Personnel, and information about exemptions is not easy to obtain. This is probably the reason why we do not get a comprehensive list, let alone a serious study, of these exemptions. However, my impression is that since the number of government posts requiring high technical qualifications has been increasing, the scope of exemptions has grown in course of time. The debate and discussion on reservations, however, continues to be concerned with the traditional administrative posts.
The judiciary does not seem to be in a mood to make creative use of Article 335. It does not appear to be willing to go beyond Justice Krishna Iyer’s argument supporting promotion of junior division clerks belonging to Scheduled Castes as senior division clerks in the Thomas vs State of Kerala case: ‘After all, here is a pen-pushing clerk, not a magistrate, accounts officer, sub-registrar, space scientist, or top administrator or one on whose initiative the wheels of a department speed up or slow down.’ However, we should ask: should not the demands of post-modern, globalizing economy and society persuade us to go beyond this mindset? Should we not be concerned with the efficiency of the lower rungs of bureaucracy? Should a person employed under a reserved quota be promoted to a higher post by right even if s/he is found to be inefficient? And should this logic be applied to jobs in the private sector? While the government might choose to carry a certain load of inefficient employees, can the private sector afford to do the same?2
In his article, ‘Does Caste Indicate Deprivation?’, Pradipta Chaudhury has done well to point out that a great deal of economic and other kinds of heterogeneity prevailed among SCs and OBCs in U.P. during the early 20th century. I would go even further to point out that such heterogeneity prevailed among SCs, STs and OBCs in every part of India during the 19th century, if not earlier. To give just one example, my study of the history of a village in Gujarat since the beginning of the 19th century shows that the Chamars (leatherworkers) derived considerable income from selling hides and skins, to such an extent that the government collected a cess from them in the 1820s.3 Later, their income from this business grew and a few of them collected sufficient cash to be able to even lend it to members of the upper castes. When the textile industry developed in Ahmedabad, many of them worked in the mills and became prosperous. A few untouchable weavers in the area were also rich enough to maintain horses to carry their goods for selling from one village to another.
The point is that almost every SC and ST was heterogeneous during the colonial times, if not also earlier. The idea of economic and social homogeneity of a caste or tribe has been passed on to us by the colonial administrators and ethnographers who based their descriptive accounts on superficial observation, and the idea is rarely challenged by modern historians or sociologists. When reservations were introduced, the advantaged section in every caste and tribe was the first to benefit from reservations, which in turn increased heterogeneity further, and the process became incremental. It is also necessary to recognize that the SCs and STs have benefited not only from reservation of government jobs, but many of them are also employed in factories in the private sector, and some have started their own businesses and factories. Consequently, the so called creamy layer in any SC, ST or OBC should be judged not just by the number of its members employed as Class I servants in the government, as is frequently done, but by the number of members who have become prosperous in all economic fields.
Besides heterogeneity within a caste, there is also hierarchy between castes. It is well known that the SCs in every part of India form an elaborate hierarchy. That untouchability has existed among the untouchables themselves has been widely reported for a long time. Almost all over India the caste of scavengers occupies the lowest position and has suffered maximum deprivation and humiliation.4 It is well known that the benefits of reservations for the SCs are cornered by the upper SCs, leaving the lower SCs and particularly the scavengers in more or less the same deprived condition as before. The discussions on social justice, however, give the impression as if one block of castes perpetrates injustice on the other collectively. Injustice perpetrated within each block is not even mentioned. The injustice done by the higher SCs on the lower ones is ignored not only by the vested interests, but sadly by many social scientists as well. Throwing this social reality under the carpet only worsens the condition of the lower SCs, particularly the scavengers. It looks as though the entire system of job reservation is kept alive by the more privileged section among the backward classes for its own benefit.
Former Professor of Sociology
1. There is also Article 33 which specifically provides a check on any possible attempt to introduce reservation in the armed forces.
2. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see my article, ‘Job Reservation and Efficiency’, Economic and Political Weekly, 20 July 1991; reprinted in M.N. Srinivas (ed.), Caste: Its 20th Century Avatar, Viking, Delhi, 1996.
3. See my book, Exploring India’s Rural Past: A Gujarat Village in the Early 19th Century, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000, p. 187.
4. For a discussion of this issue in a regional context, see my article, ‘The “Dalit” Category and its Differentiation’, Economic and Political Weekly, 6-12 April 2002.