The reservation system has become one of the biggest topics of debate in India. There have been debates, rallies and protests, both in favour, and against the policy of reservation system in India. To understand this issue thoroughly one has to peek deep down into the history of India. Where does this system have its inception, in politics, or in ancient India?

Who Introduced the Reservation System in India?

The reservation system was there in India from the pre-independence era. Maharaj Ch. Shahu of Kolhapur princely state introduced it.

Progressive and liberal thinker King Shahu implemented the scheduled tribe and SC reservation in India. The first initiative was started in Kolhapur state.

An important role was played by Maharaj Sahu in the social reformation of Maharashtra. Dr B. R Ambedkar’s social activities also got support from him.

Later, caste reservation in India was constitutionalized by Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Caste System in India

The age-old Manusmriti, which is considered to be the handbook of Brahmins of the time, contains laws based on grounds of caste and not merit. Divisions were made solely on the grounds of birth; if a person was born in higher caste or a lower caste. The higher born people got the best of society.

Bouncing back to the time of independence, Dr B.R.Ambedkar rightfully used the term Representation in lieu of reservation in the Indian Constitution. It is the most precise explanation of reservation.

It must be understood that reservation is something which is not given to an individual, it is given to him/ her for representing the community to which they belong, an underprivileged community so to speak.

What is Reservation?

Reservation is a tool which gives the underprivileged equal representation and participation rights, be it in governance or education. A beneficiary of this reservation is expected to uplift his/ her community.

Like everything else in India, this noble idea also has multiple issues enveloping it. Let’s have a look at those issues.

Justice and Equality

To understand this issue entirely, one has to first understand the terms ‘equality’ and ‘justice’. Equality means treating everyone (people of different caste, religion, age, sex, place of birth) equally despite certain advantages that some individuals might possess.

Justice means correcting the wrong, though it might be perceived as inequality at times. When certain people are treated differently, or inferiorly, basically when they are discriminated on certain grounds, that is when justice comes into the picture.

As we have seen earlier, discrimination has been persistent in India since ancient times. Brahmins and Kshatriyas were considered to be higher than others.

Reservation System in India

“Article 16 (4) is not a poverty alleviation programme. Its singular aim is to redistribute power to those who have been kept out of the state apparatus so as to end their educational, social and economic backwardness and this class is not less than 77 1/2 % of the population of the country” – Justice P.B.Sawant.

It can be said that discrimination (on the grounds of caste, race, sex, religion, place of birth) is a disease. It has become an untreatable super germ. To this, the reservation system is seen as the only antidote.

Prevention is better than cure; no disease, no medicine! But will this change the scenario in a country like ours, where discrimination dates back to 3 BC? It is hard to say.

Caste Reservation in India

Dr.Ambedkar proposed reservation for the marginally oppressed for a period of ten years. This was in 1950, it is 2017, reservation still exists. This brings to light an important question, ‘Is the purpose of reservation being served?’

Dr Ambedkar – “The educated people have betrayed me. I was thinking that after education they will serve their society. But I found that a crowd of clerks had gathered around me, who were engaged in filling their belly”.

This heart burning is proof that educated and intellectual class is alienated from society and is going away from its brotherhood. Because of this reason, atrocities and discrimination have increased on the people living in villages.

The class, who was expected to lead the society, became the most obedient servant of the government, and the movement was left for half-hearted and immature people.

The Mandal Commission Report

The Mandal Commission report said, “It may appear the upliftment of Other Backward Classes is part of the larger national problem of the removal of mass poverty.

This is only partially correct. The deprivation of OBCs is a very special case of the larger national issue: here the basic question is that of social and educational backwardness and poverty is only a direct consequence of these two crippling caste-based handicaps.

As these handicaps are embedded in our social structure, their removal will require far-reaching structural changes. No less important will be changed in the perception of the problems of OBCs by the ruling classes of the country.”

The Struggle of Equality

The SC/ STs living in cities enjoy the fruit of reservation. On the contrary, in the villages, where it is needed the most, people hardly get anything. All that is increasing is discrimination, be it linguistic, or in the form of cow-vigilantes, river water disputes amongst states etc. It seems people are unable to coexist in India peacefully.

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Reservation Percentage in India

There are three types of reservation systems in India for the scheduled class, scheduled tribe and other backward classes. Previously there were only SC and ST reservations in India. Later in 1987, OBC reservation in India started.

Category Reservation percentage in India for Government jobs
SC reservation in India 15
ST reservation in India 7.5
OBC reservation in India 27

Advantages of Reservation in India

  • It is considered as one of the necessary policies for giving equal representations to all sections.
  • This system has helped many and is still helping many to grow and achieve their deserved position in different sectors.
  • Marginalized and underprivileged get social justice through this scheme.
  • It brings people to the same level before coming to any conclusion depending on merit.

Disadvantages of Reservation System

  • In many parts of the nation, this system is considered as an internal partition building walls against marriages outside people’s own caste.
  • It is considered as the biggest enemy of meritocracy by many people in society. It is believed that due to this scheme many less-deserving candidates achieve something which could never have been possible if the selection was purely done on the basis of merit.
  • Caste reservation in India is used as a narrow political tool.
  • The so-called forward caste people, many of whom are striving to earn their daily bread, are not able to enjoy any kind of economic advantage over super privileged rich backward caste people. Many believe that if this situation continues for many more years in the future that soon other backward classes will be formed in the society composed of general caste people.
  • In many cases, it’s seen that children of highly paid professionals who are in no way underprivileged are taking all the possible benefits from the reservation system where the real underprivileged general candidates are suffering.


Ultimately, the onus is on every single person, availing reservation or not, to be rational and say no discrimination. Reservation can be viewed from different perspectives. One of them is that the SC/ STs and OBCs have been oppressed since ancient times when the upper castes alone enjoyed the privileges of education, politics, religion, freedom and wealth.

Now, when the tables have turned, the forward class or the general category is feeling the heat, the same heat which they might have felt for years, and are still feeling. Reservation to many feels like justice as they believe what goes around comes around.

Reservation system in India is a very controversial issue as there are many people on both sides supporting and disapproving the scheme.

The system is no doubt good but many people strongly believe that there should be proper rule which will prevent the privileged backward caste people from using the scheme and only people who are genuinely underprivileged, will get benefited.

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What is the Reservation System? Insights into the Reservation System in India
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What is the Reservation System? Insights into the Reservation System in India
Who introduced the reservation system in India? Are you aware of all the aspects of the reservation system in India? Read on to know everything important about the reservation system.
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About the Author

Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

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