By Aakriti Thakur*
The recent unrest witnessed in Gujarat when the Patel community came together for a peaceful rally in order to demand for OBC status to be granted to them invokes the thought in one’s mind of whether granting the status would actually facilitate the betterment of the community along with that of the society as a whole.
The founding fathers of our country had envisioned reservation policies for achieving very specific purposes, viz. those of abolishing discrimination based on caste and uplifting the population affected by such discrimination by affording them equal opportunity. In order to determine whether the demand of OBC status by Patels conform to such visions of the founding fathers, a brief discussion of the facts of the incident along with the vision is required.
The Patel community comprises of roughly about 14% of the population of Gujarat. The stir started when youngsters from Patel community made their demand for OBC status and for availing reservation rights which turned into a state-wide movement culminating into rally in Ahmedabad. Hardik Patel, a 22 years old small businessman and a commerce graduate, became the face of the campaign; as the crowds assembled on August 25 , 2015 were addressed by him.
The demand raised by the community was that of either granting of the status of OBC to Patels, or abolishing the entire reservation system in India. The peaceful rally turned into an agitation after Hardik Patel was detained by police and the crowds resorted to violence. Acts like pelting stones, burning of buses and houses were witnessed by a terror stricken city and the army and police had to resort to measures of lathi charge along with using tear gas to stop the crowd.
The Government’s response to such protests included creation of the Patidar Andolan Sankalan Samiti (PASS) led by Gujarat cabinet minister Nitin Patel. The committee observed that recent Supreme Court judgement in the Jat case along with the provisions of the Constitution and other judgements depicted that no change in the structure of reservation could be made by state government and the limit of 50% reservation, which Gujarat had already achieved couldn’t be exceeded.
The main suspicion which rises in one’s mind now is that the Patels are relatively affluent community. Does their demand for reservations then only serve individualistic interests? Or does it bring to light the greater problem faced by our country at present where the basic purpose for which reservation was established is being overlooked for political reasons.
A deeper look into the visions of the luminary, Dr BR Ambedkar, will help us to understand the fundamental reason for having reservations in our country. Dr. Ambedkar’s successful attempts of uniting the backward classes and therefore granting those classes special rights served the two-fold purpose of endowing upon the community a separate identity that would provide them with an alternative route for development and that of uniting them.
It is an accepted fact that reservations are granted not in an individual capacity, but to the individual in the representative capacity of his community so that he can lead to the development of his community after availing benefit of the system. In the case at hand, an interview of the Patel youth revealed that they were unable to secure seats in Universities due to existing reservation policy of providing seats to the backward classes which secured lower percentage than those students who did not fall under such category.
However, the doctrine of reasonable restrictions as provided under Articles 15(4) and 15(5) of the Constitution, clearly illustrates that such restrictions faced by people belonging to general category will be valid as long as it leads to betterment of the backward classes and therefore their demands become futile in the light of reducing reservations percentage for other community.
Furthermore, Dr BR Ambedkar’s contribution was highlighted when such reservations were incorporated in the Constitution of India through allotment of separate constituencies for SCs and STs to ensure their political representation for a period of 10 years. This signifies the most important factor that reservations were seen as means to achieve equality among all classes and abolition of discrimination, and therefore it was established for a specified time period.
This time period was allotted in order to witness development in such backward classes at a steady pace, but it was also recognized by many in the Constituent Assembly that such period would not be enough. However, over the years, the reservation policy has been ex tended through various constitutional amendments and so the policy still persists in the society.
This paints a very basic picture that discrimination based on caste is still prevalent in our society, even after 68 years of independence. In such a situation, removing reservation system as a whole will not ensure development of those communities which have been securing benefits from such policies over the years.
Therefore, the demand of Patels for removal of reservations, relying on the principle of ‘either all or none’, goes against the very crux of matter for which reservations have perpetuated over the decades, and so this demand cannot even be considered as the granting of the same will lead to a turmoil in the country.
Another important necessity of the reservation system had been outlined in the Constituent Assembly Debate wherein Dr Ambedkar brought clarity to the requirement of recognizing the existence of minorities, as the structure of state would collapse if the minorities decided to protest against a state which did not recognize their rights to be given opportunity for development.
Patels’ requirement to be recognized as minority can therefore be in congruence with Dr Ambedkar’s assessment, as a threat was faced by Anandiben government when the peaceful rally of Patels turned into violent processions. But, giving OBC status based on such reasons will only show that the state succumbed to the show of force, and will create doubts in the minds of many regarding the authority of the state.
Also, the incorporation of any caste under the umbrella of OBCs requires certain factors to be considered. Even though such provisions have not been provided in the Constitution, the judiciary had attempted through various legislations to draft a well exhaustive list of the same. The appointment of Mandal Commission, based on the judgement of Indira Sawhney case, served the purpose of identifying socially and economically backward classes.
It proposed 11 factors under three main categories, viz., social backwardness, economic backwardness, and educational backwardness. Though these factors are not well exhaustive, the question of whether Patels fit into such factors needs to be considered by the competent bodies. In conclusion, the demand of Patels for no reservation at all serves the interest of none and it goes against the very basic purpose for which reservations were established.
Given the very delicate social fabric upon which Indian society works, any change in the reservations system without a careful analysis of the justification, rationale and necessity for extending reservation benefits to other communities will only lead to protests and countercampaigns; hence it is strongly recommended that the government facilitates research by competent, expert bodies in this area and helps in bringing the true picture of ‘backwardness’ of a community to light.
*Interning with the PUCL in May-June 2015; student, Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Source: “PUCL Bulletin” (May 2016)