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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

How to make Reservation Policy a success?


Reservation Policy is a very sensitive issue. From its very nature, the policy is discriminatory and exclusive. To some, this discrimination is positive and to others, negative.

The main aim of the reservation policy is to uplift the submerged sections of society. How to make reservation policy fruitful?

Democracy demands equal opportunity to all

Government in a democracy tries to ensure for all its citizens equality of status, wealth and opportunity to develop their personality to the fullest regardless of birth, circumstances, gender or race. Denial of equal opportunity in any walk of life simply means denying to its citizens basic human rights to grow, govern and give ones best to the nation. By any chance, if a large number of people are denied of its basic needs and its share in shaping the destiny of the nation, the nation can not flourish.

In the past many theories and policies have been formulated to create conditions for redress to the deprived, to uplift them, and to bring back the historically disadvantaged groups into the mainstream. Theories like Communism, Socialism, Marxism etc. were propounded for their benefit and uplift. The whole history of twentieth century is full of the concerns and efforts of the nations to uplift the underclass and to provide them a wider base in the power structure of a nation.

Why Reservation Policy?

There is a section of people, which feels that in today’s highly competitive world, open competition with advanced sections of society, gives the backwards very little chance to get a place in the political institutions, which would give them power, prestige, position, security and a decent amount of money for livelihood. There can be equality only among equals and to equate unequal perpetuates inequality further. To make weak to compete with strong on equal footing is throwing the dice in favour of strong. Therefore, backwards should be treated differently by giving them extra attention and facilities. In order to give the submerged a fair start and to make their upward movement quick, reservation policy has been initiated by some countries.

Goals of Reservation or Affirmative Action Program

Reservation or Affirmative Action Program is one such policy, which has the following three goals: –

  • To remove social and religious disabilities of the deprived people, on account of their social segregation and cultural isolation.
  • To facilitate and promote equal participation of all in the nation building activities.
  • To protect underclass from all forms of social injustice and exploitation. 

Reservations – a tool

The low status and sufferings of submerged section of society or their exclusion from the mainstream for centuries has gradually stopped growth of their personality and made them completely dependent on others for their livelihood. Centuries old enslavement, ignorance, suppression and ostracism shook their confidence, deteriorated severely their condition and made them to suffer inhuman treatment by other sections of the society.

Therefore, the Constitution framers thought of Reservation policy to be used as a tool to remove the continuing or after-effects of inequities stemming from discriminatory practices, which had resulted in social, educational, economic and political backwardness of a large number of people.

Reservation Policy was supposed to pave way of prosperity for the disadvantaged groups. It would provide to capable persons opportunities for advancement. It would also expand the pool of talent for employers to draw on and bring diverse skills into work force. But so far it has failed to yield desired results.

Reservations to uplift the underclass

Reservation was supposed fulfill the legitimate dreams and expectations of really submerged sections of society and give them access to decision-making organs of the power structure. Despite all the goodwill of fore-fathers, serious discrimination still prevails against lower strata of the society, minorities and women everywhere in almost every sphere of life. It restricts them from actively participating in nation building activities. Reservations policy has failed so far to facilitate fair distribution of power between different sections of society.

How to make Policy successful?

For assessing the relevance, rationale and value of a policy and making it a success, the following two aspects need attention of authorities: –

 Ø Proper Policy analysis, and

 Ø Management of the Policy.

The first part takes care of the theoretical and ideological side of it and the second, the practical side of it.

Negative aspects of the policy

There is a section of people, which regards that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Reservation Policy, which basically rests on the philosophy of discrimination. In the name of social justice, the fundamental rights of many deserving people are curtailed or negated.

It benefits only a small fragment and increases the number of those, who are desirous to find an easier way-out. This policy is contrary to principles of equality, fraternity and social justice. It empowers the state authorities to give preference to one or more groups in the society to the exclusion of others and to encroach on the domain of the right to equality.

Success of the policy

Rejinald Wilson, a senior Scholar of American Council on Education, says, Affirmative Action is a very conservative artificial policy that has attempted to change gradually our artificial policies, legal and illegal, of discrimination and racism. It has aroused such emotion due to what it symbolizes rather than what it really has done.”ii

 The success of the policy depends on policy articulation, building national support in its favor, development of a strategy of implementation, creating a proper structure for its implementation, monitoring, review and modification. For effective management of Reservation Policy, the following requirements are needed:

  • Skilled executives,
  • Effective information system,
  • Building effective public support by popularizing it,
  • Highly responsible and accountable organization-structure,
  • Culture of innovation rather than rigidity or arbitrariness,
  • Effective management of organization spearheading the policy, and,
  • Effective networking to reach policy objectives.

Reservation policy to be handled carefully

Reservation policy, being a very sensitive issue, should be implemented very carefully and cautiously as a corrective or remedial measure to remove the ill effects of the iniquitous social system. A hasty and unrealistic approach in this matter may prove a disaster.

The practice of preferential treatment, for uplifting the downtrodden is hardly conceivable to hard-working qualified people. Therefore, benefit of reservation should be given to anyone after careful study of the factual position. All possible attempts should be made to protect it from whims or illusions of politicians having vested interest.

The policy-makers should keep the following aspects in view while formulating the reservation policy: –

  • Reservation is not quota

Reservation, as a policy, has never been about quota. Under the law, quotas should be declared illegal. Many politicians in their self-interest perpetuate the myth that affirmative action and quota are the same, or the two sides of the same coin. According to American Association of University women, Affirmative action has always been about providing the deprived sections with full educational and job opportunities.iii

 In USA, race, gender and national origin have been recognized as factors to be considered for Affirmative action, but relevant valid job or educational qualifications are never compromised. The US Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear, times and again, that the action will be invalid if : –

  1. An unqualified person receives benefits over a qualified one,
  2. Numerical goals are so strict that the plan lacks flexibility,
  3. The numerical goal bear no relationship to the available pool of qualified candidates and could, therefore, becomes quota,
  4. The plan is not fixed in length, or
  5. Innocent bystanders are impermissibly harmed.
  • Valid grounds for Reservations

The purpose of reservation is to provide the employer with a large pool of qualified persons having different background, from which to choose and not to devalue merit or efficiency. Unqualified persons have no place under the policy, as no compromise with job – requirements or academic qualifications are permitted. The provisions of Reservations must be flexible, realistic, renewable and fair. The US Supreme Court considers two valid grounds for affirmative action –

    1. To remedy a clear and convincing history of past discrimination by the employer;
    2. To cure a manifest imbalance in the employer’s workforce.
  • Fixing ‘Qoutas’ not an affirmative step

It has been seen that discrimination is not the sole reason for the absence of certain groups in the power structure. In times of economic insecurity or availability of fewer employment in organized sector or fewer educational opportunities, people feel the need to blame or scapegoat others or systems. In such an atmosphere, quota politics gets a chance to blossom.

In developing and underdeveloped nations, the socio-political and economic upheavals cause deprivation to many groups. People and groups in distress become receptive to such illusions that their respective interests are being jeopardized by other groups. Therefore, certain sections of society seek legal protection through fixing a quota for them in the power-echelons.

In such an atmosphere, some sections become intensively vocal about their separate identity based on racial, gender, religious, Caste, linguistic or even regional grounds. The aim of their becoming an integral part of the society can never be fulfilled in such a situation.

  • Merit included in Reservation

Many people say that persons in positions of power should be selected on the basis of ‘merit’. One must be clear, what actually merit is? Ability to score high in an examination is not enough to be referred as merit. It is much more than this.

Along with knowledge and intelligence, merit includes understanding the issues. It requires capacity to meet challenges in solving the most pressing needs of the time and work sincerely. It needs cultural sensitivity toward persons from different backgrounds. Interpersonal skills, ability to communicate effectively, ability to lead the changes in right direction and decision-making capabilities are the qualifications that matter, while performing a job in administration.

‘Merit’ is very much recognized and incorporated in Reservation Policy. It does not subvert merit. The courts in USA have repeatedly observed that the purpose of Reservation is to create An environment, where merit can prevail and that If a party is not qualified for a position in the first instance, affirmative action considerations do not come into play.iv

Unqualified persons from beneficiary groups are disqualified to avail the benefits of reservations. Only qualified persons amongst the deprived groups are supposed to get benefited under the policy. Quite often, it has been seen that some qualified or meritorious persons amongst the weaker sections have refused to accept any kind of favor, preference or dole from the Government.

Nepotism and favoritism in appointments disillusion the bright and upright persons. It decreases, to a large extent, the efficiency and effectiveness of a system.

  • Temporary in nature

In principle, reservation policy is supposed to be temporary in nature. Since Reservation is a means to achieve some specific objective, it can not be made a permanent feature. It should be followed for limited duration, be conditional in application and specific in object.v  In short, objectives of the policy could be: –

  1. To make the submerged people aware of their rights,
  2. To remove persisting or present and continuing ill effects of past discrimination,
  3. To remove the limitations on access to equal opportunity in admission and employment,
  4. To grant opportunity to all for participation in the governance of the nation,
  5. To make the forward classes aware and sympathetic to the needs and agonies of the exploited and disadvantaged people or groups,
  6. To overcome substantial under-representation of some social groups, and
  7. To serve as a means to make the downtrodden to join the mainstream of the society.

Once these objectives are realized, bit by bit, steps should be taken to end the policy. Thorough periodical reviews of the situation must be taken. Presence of substantial number of persons from deprived groups, in the power structure, itself becomes an incentive for others in those groups to work hard and achieve something concrete in life. Therefore, in such a case, the need for protective program finishes.

  • Reverse Effects

Continuation of such a policy after the achievement of goals leads to reverse- discrimination. A program to end discrimination, in the name of justice, can become a program to visit injustice on a different set of people. It could create new victims in the process of removal of past discrimination. It has been felt that Reservation policy is unable to enhance employment prospects for the most disadvantaged

 Unemployment rates of low skilled people always remain high. Therefore, to make people employable needs more attention on extensive training and retraining for different jobs.

 The absence of adequate and proper education and training facilities for the masses leaves a majority of downtrodden out of the ambit of Reservation Policy. Reservation Policy becomes irrelevant to their circumstances. Besides, those selected through reservation, very often, develop a complex that they are being stigmatized and others view their presence or success as undeserved. 

Precautions to be taken  

Some precautions must be taken by the authorities to make its Reservation policy a success: –

  • Reservation policy should be applicable only to qualified persons for a job.
  • It should remedy a clear and convincing history of past and present discrimination.

Human rights law dictates that law should be the same for all citizens. Reservation policy was initially envisaged to protect the historically discriminated groups from oppression and bring them into the main stream of the country. Much has changed in India since Independence. Time has come when law should apply to all the groups equally. Now if any person belonging to any group fall victim of unlawful discrimination, he must get protection on equal terms under law.

  • Recruiting people strictly by numbers, regardless of qualifications is a violation of law.
  • Remedies to address socially or economically disadvantaged person are no substitute for remedies addressing to discrimination in the workplace.
  • Support of other efforts to expand educational and employment opportunity is equally needed.
  • Discriminatory practices should be banned by law.

The efficacy of Reservation Policy cannot be judged on the basis of its alleged merits and demerits pointed by reservationists or anti-reservationists. It is necessary to evaluate its actual performance in achieving its goals. In order to promote the interests of backward, the authorities must not compromise with the national interests. Especially, when the modern world is passing through one of those exclusive times in history and is witnessing a revolutionary change – the fall of the industrial era and entry into information technology period.vii

An individual should not treat prejudice as a road block every time he/she encounters a difficulty. Prejudice is not a daily intrusion in one’s life. One should be well trained to face up the challenges of real life. 


i Sheth DL – Reservation Policy revisited edited by V.A. Pai Panandikar – The Politics of Backwardness 1997.

ii Testimony presented to Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on Constitution, Federalism and Property Rights, Higher Education and National Affairs, American Council of Education Sept. 25, 1995.

iii AAUW, Program and Policy, April 1995.

iv Neas, Ralph g. Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 3.7.95.

v Indira Sawney Vs. Government of India, AIR 1992, p 334.

vi Bloch, Farrell, Affirmative Action has not helped Blacks, The Wall Street Journal, University of Michigan Press 1992 P.16

vii Toffler, Power Shift, p XIX, 1991.

November 17, 2010 - Posted by | Reservation/Affirmative action program |


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  2. Keep up the good work! Response with regards to the corruption:
    Q: Guruji, there is so much corruption in politics, should Art of Living enter politics?
    Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:Reform and administration are two different streams. It is essential for both the streams to flow. If the ruler becomes reformer and reformer becomes the ruler then both works will stop.
    But spirituality will have to be brought into politics. Corruption will have to be dealt with. Though thousands of crores of rupees have been allocated under different programs, it is not reaching people at all.
    I would say that you sadhaks should take part in it. Good people have been running away from politics as if it’s a dirty drainage pipe. With so many dirty drains flowing, Gangaji has disappeared. New direction will have to be brought to politics, we all have to work towards it.

    The decisions which world leaders make have a great impact on us while the work that we do on an individual basis impacts only other individuals…
    H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: First, you should not think that politicians are a special species, they are one among us. Many times, they feel helpless. They want to change the society, turn around the economy, but find themselves helpless. Any sane politician wants to have violence out of society, but they feel their hands are tied. It has to come from society. You may think the other is powerful, in fact it’s a collective effort of everyone that make the society move – and NGOs, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, play an important part in bringing inspiration, inner strength.
    The four pillars of society – politics, business, civil society and faith-based organizations – have to work in unison. The World Economic Forum has recognized the need for everyone to come together, so has the UN, and that is why they have made a caucus for religious leaders. A role has to be played by everyone, and we have to play in rhythm.
    We need to spiritualize politics, to lessen corruption. We need to secularize religion, to lessen extremism and terrorism. Many think only they are going to heaven – I tell, you they make life for everyone a hell!
    This is what spirituality is about – when you see the whole world as part of you, and you as part of everybody. There is that sense of sacrifice. Gandhi is a perfect example of being spiritual in politics. He was deeply spiritual, believed in truth and non-violence.
    Finally, we need to socialize business, take up CSR (corporate social responsibility).
    With these things, society will find a new level of understanding.

    Q: I feel sad and sometimes outraged looking at the corruption around. When will we have a Divine society to live in? What should be done?
    Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: When people like you will collectively move ahead, then definitely it will happen. But if corruption goes on increasing like this only, then forget about that, it will not happen in 2060 as well. There is no end to it. That is why, only now is the time. There is corruption in bureaucracy, there is corruption in media, there is corruption in the entertainment industry, and only a wave of spirituality can cure this.
    You know some of our children wanted a license for a factory, and they refused to pay any bribe. They said that they follow spirituality, and they are not going to pay any bribe. They confidently agreed to come back ten, 30, 50 times if needed, but they got the license the very next morning. If people of the society will be on the right path, then officers will automatically start following you. If society is corrupt, the officers are also corrupt, then that becomes an accepted norm. When you make your mind strong, when you take this conviction to be not corrupt, people also change

    I am a member of the art of living and the above are His Holiness: Sri sri ravi shankar responses with regards to corruption!

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